I just saw Nappily Ever After, a Netflix original movie based on the novel of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas. I remember reading the book and have been waiting on the movie ever since. The film centers on Violet Jones, a middle class, professional black woman who’s unconsciously obsessed with perfection, down to her perfectly coiffed and straightened roots. She anticipates an engagement to the perfect man to complete her perfect life. When things don’t go as planned she is unexpectedly positioned to reassess herself, her life, her version of success and her relationship with perfection. She shaves off her hair, the symbol of her efforts to maintain a perfect image and begins a journey to discover her authentic self. I remember a similar experience.
Like Violet I grew up bearing the weight of other people’s expectations of perfection. I could rarely achieve those forceful requests. First and foremost I was never thin enough to please my mother. I was a good student, responsible, and didn’t cause much trouble but my weight was always a disappointment. As an adult I’ve pretty much made peace with my weight and the weight of the past, but I’ve had moments where I’ve struggled to meet my idea of perfection, one that was shaped by unfair criticisms. When I went natural I remember feeling a new freedom, looking at myself differently and appreciating myself in a new way.
I’d been growing my hair out wearing braids for a couple of years. One day, when I took them out, I just didn’t have the stamina to put them back in. I put my hair up in an afro puff and felt new and unburdened. Not only did I feel untethered to all of the time I used to invest in my relaxed hair, I took in my features in a different way. With my hair up and not cascading down my shoulders and framing my face I felt like I was almost a new person. I had somewhat detached from the beauty expectations placed on me and that I’d placed on myself. The external transformation afforded me the opportunity to realize I’d needed an internal shift as well.
Deciding to rock my nappy roots was liberating. That liberation spilled over into other aspects of my life allowing me to give myself a break and realize that I didn’t have to hold on to a former version of myself, the one who often didn’t feel good enough. I realized I was “allowed” to change and let my perspective on perfection shift. And over the years I’ve recalibrated my idea of perfection and can rely on my own personal metrics to create standards instead of others’. I still experience insecurities from time to time, and have to catch myself when I’m holding on too tightly to unrealistic ideals, but overall have much more personal peace.
What I’ve learned is that nothing in life is perfect. We just get blessed with moments of perfection. For the rest of the time it’s up to us to find a place of acceptance while creating as much satisfaction and joy as we can. So to all the Violet Joneses out there (and the brothas too) attempting to hold on to a perfect life, it’s easier, in the end to just let it go. Shift your relationship with perfection, cut the chains, or even your hair, and be free.