Getting to Know and Love Yourself Without Regard to Others’ Expectations or Thoughts: On Trisha R. Thomas’s “Nappily Ever After”

DON’T LET the title fool you. This story is much deeper than hair. Trisha R. Thomas’s novel Nappily Ever After and the film that was made from it revolve around a character named Venus Johnston in the book and Violet Jones in the movie. I will simply refer to the main character as V. moving forward to avoid any confusion. The main theme of the story is getting to know and love yourself without regard to others’ expectations or judgments.

Learning to love yourself is necessary for you to mentally grow, and it empowers you to make your own choices in life without fear of other people’s desires for who and what you should look or act like. Being yourself relieves stress and can eventually lead to happiness and peace. In both the movie and the book, V. finds inner peace because she comes to terms with her truest self.­­­

The book and the movie show V. shaving her head, but even that is much deeper than hair. It is part of Thomas’s message about relationship issues, and that women in the workforce need to build the courage to take control of their own lives. ­­­­It was ingenious of Thomas to title her book Nappily Ever After, as it is a catchy title that most definitely got people talking. But having lured us in with the title and some moments and discussions that deal with hair and hair products, both the book and the movie address larger concerns. V.’s primary love interest, Clint, is a doctor. However, Clint does not share V.’s aspiration to get married. She thinks that Clint (her live-in boyfriend) will be giving her an engagement ring at her birthday party, but instead he gives her a dog. The gift upsets V. and leads her to later shave her head (in the movie) due to her disappointment and lack of advancement of her relationship with Clint. Shaving her head then causes her to take a closer look at her inner self, allowing her to focus more on learning who she truly is. Clarity sets in, and V. is allowed to discover who she is because less of her time is spent worrying about her relationship with Clint and her hair. Her breakup with Clint prompts the soul-searching necessary to discover what she truly wants out of life.

V. is not the only person in the story with relationship issues. Several of the characters have problems creating a satisfied, happy, and loving relationship. For instance, several characters in the book deal with infidelity. However, there are some positive, loving, and healthy relationship moments that are in both the book and the movie, moments that provide us with a roadmap and hope.

But the book and the film are not just about love; they show the way the rest of one’s life requires the same scrutiny and the same tools. Women — including V. — are often stereotyped in the workplace. V. is pigeonholed by her bosses at the ad agency where she works, who confine her to working mainly on beauty products. She is not taken seriously and is frequently overlooked for ad projects that don’t deal with beauty. In the book, V. feels that she is also overlooked at promotion time, and that she is not appreciated for her hard work.

The story is a call to have the courage to take over your own life, to not let others get in your way. I personally enjoyed this message. The ability to take control of your life and decisions is a powerful, strong thing to accomplish. As Janet Jackson sings in “Control”: “When I was 17 I did what people told me […] but that was long ago — I’m in Control — Never gonna stop — Control — To get what I want.” V. is eventually able to obtain this sense of control.

V. also has a very opinionated mother who wants her to be perfect, and that perfection includes having straight hair and marrying the perfect man.

However, in the book V. is not the only person dealing with expectations from others. Clint deals with the expectations of his older brother Cedric and V., both of whom pressured him to finish medical school and become a doctor. Additionally, Kandi (a female character featured prominently in the book) has a mother who, like V.’s, is very opinionated and demanding.

Kandi’s and V.’s mothers both want too much control and say in their daughters’ lives. This is far from uncommon. Many parents want to script their children’s path in life. They want the best for their children and sometimes lack the understanding necessary to see that their children want to live their own lives, based on their own desires and not their parents’ — a very relatable problem.

Getting to know and love yourself is something that we all as human beings need to do. This positive and universal message helps the book most definitely hit the mark, and in a way that transcends lines of gender, race, and age.

As is always the case, there are some differences between the book and the movie.

In the book, Clint has a brother named Cedric, as I mentioned, who is not in the movie, and although Kandi does appears in the movie, she has a more dynamic role in the novel. A little girl named Zoe adds some depth to the movie; she does not appear in the book.

In the book, V. shaves her head for financial reasons (the cost of paying for salon visits) as well as her growing frustration of trying to fit in with a rigid standard of beauty, which in her opinion includes straight hair. In the film, she shaves off her hair (and this was one of the most talked about scenes in the movie) sparked by relationship problems with Clint.

Lastly, the ending of the movie is quite different from the ending in the book. However, I will not spoil the ending for those who have not seen the movie or read the book.

So, which one first: the film or the novel? I personally recommend reading the book first, because I think you would understand the depth and main theme of the story better. However, I do think the filmmakers did a fairly good job adapting Thomas’s novel and can recommend both.

The book Nappily Ever After was originally published in 2000. Some 19 years later, readers and fans still want to read the book. It gained even more popularity after the Netflix movie was released in 2018, with actress Sanaa Lathan playing the lead role. The movie has sparked more interest in the book and the entire series, which now spans nine novels. So far, only book one has been made into a movie. But given on the main premise of this series, its emphasis on self-identify and self-love, I see a future miniseries for television in the making. And like many readers, I’m wishing the best for V., as well as for the author, Trisha R. Thomas, who has created this bountiful and intriguing character.




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