"I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live" -Francoise Sagan Novelist, Screenwriter


Friday, November 6, 2009

I Am Not My Hair!

So, I don't know if posted a PSA, but I have come to a cross-roads in my life...more like a 4-lane highway. I've decided to transition my hair from permed to it's natural state. What started off as part of a simple healthy hair maintenance regime has now become a full blown project and life style change!  I've turned to some of my sisters who wear their hair natural or whose strands are twisted or locked and what I received from our conversations were the laws of hair dos and don'ts: absolutely no shampooing, wide-tooth combs only, NEVER comb when hair's dry, silk scarves, not cotton please, use this cream, condition with this daily, make sure the product doesn't have mineral oil in it.  I've found myself reading websites and blogs, watching videos on Youtube, subscribing to magazines, reading product labels, conducting polls.  I feel more like I've joined the research department...or a cult!  I hope I don't have to sacrifice a 3-legged virgin goat before I can become a part of the club.
     Over the past few years, I have definitely noticed a divergence of the sisterhood - the permed hair and natural hair wearers.  Sort of similar to this...(to silence currently playing music, go to the right margin and hit the Yankee girl's pause button on her iPod Shuffle)

This has only been heightened by the popularity of Neo-Soul music and it's artists.  Singers like Maxwell, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott have made it more fashionable and socially acceptable to rock a natural do.  When I go to the concerts, I've definitely received sideways glances from my afro-wearing or locked haired sisters.  Like "How dare you still conform to that European look!  You're not a real fan!  India.Arie wears an afro!!" 
     But not even my alligence to Jill Scott would sway my decision to completely go natural.  It just seemed like there was too much work I'd have to put into untreated hair.  The ease of styling and up-keep is the reason I got my hair permed in the first place.  Those who attended Girard College with me may remember I didn't have a perm when I first started.  Here I was 12-years-old, 95 miles away from home at a boarding school,  playing sports, running wild and without an adult to care for my hair.  There were many a-night I sat between someone's legs getting my hair cornrowed for the week or "rocked rough and tough with my afro puffs" like Lady of Rage.  I begged my mother for a relaxer just for the leisure of quickly slicking my hair into a ponytail and heading out the door to school as opposed to the hour-long beating I'd have to give my natural hair in order for it to have the discipline of staying in a barrett.  All these bad memories came up in conversations with friends when I was asking for advice about "going natural."  Sensing my frustration, and my urge to give up, go to my Dominican beautician and have her give me a touch-up, a friend of mine suggested we go see Chris Rock's movie, "Good Hair."  I needed a little follicle comic relief and I'd heard friends say great things about the movie.
     The premise of the film is an exploration of a topic that has been discussed in the Black community for generations now: "good" hair.  That was a phrase I remember being thrown around so often in my childhood and I always despised it.  Good hair, meaning without kinks or curls, long and silky like a doll's synthetic mane.  In the 90s, Blacks started saying "have Indian in your family" in lieu of "good hair."  The phrases are so demeaning.  To say that any part of a race's body in it's natural state, whether it be large or thin lips, noses, hips, rear ends, etc., is not good is unhealthy for the mind of society.  How could something passed down from my the blood line of my people not be beautiful or meet your standard thereof?  A host of female celebrities interviewed for the movie all state how getting their hair relaxed as youths made them "look beautiful" and "feel pretty, like Farrah Fawcett."  I cringed listening to that in the theatre.  I grew up with so  many girls whose self-esteem was low because their hair was not straightened or didn't dangle down their backs.  And worse yet, other kids would tease them about it. 
     Chris Rock delves into the rise of the hair care industry's remedy for short, kinky hair - the wig and weave.  With costs ranging upwards of $1000, weaves are an expensive quick-fix - sort of a new age plastic surgery for women of all races.  The major source of most human hair used in weaves are the from the heads of innocent Indian women.  This, to me, was the most disturbing of all facts in the film.  The natives of India believe that hair is a suggestion of vanity.  It's a great sacrifice to God if one forfeits her hair.  In a tradition, whose name I can neither remember how to spell or pronounce, women are going to the holy temple and having their manes shaved off with a razor similar to the props used by a barbershop quartet.  Almost every woman in the country has had her head shaved at least twice in her life, even as a toddler.  What concerned me most was the irony of the holy duty of removing an Indian woman's hair and the multi-billion dollar a year business that is transporting that hair to America and using it in weaves and wigs.  Capitalism at it's finest!  The love of God is being used to get women "good" hair.
     For me, what the documentary really brought to light was the rousing that we suffer through all in an effort to, amusingly enough, relax our hair.  From straightening combs to perms, it's a form of self-inflicted torture.  Forget waterboarding, the government should give terrorists a perm in order to get them to talk.  Better yet, scratch their scalp first, then administer the perm.  I think I am going to try going natural, if only to give my follicles a break from chemical warfare with Dark'n'Lovely.  Sure it will be a lot more work than I'm used to.  I just may be bald within a week because I don't have the green thumb of hair care.  Aside from grooming utensils like combs and brushes, I have 0 hair products in my home and the only style I know besides the result of taking my hair out of a wrap, is the ponytail.  Pray for me.
     "Good" hair is healthy hair.  Well taken care of hair.  Whether you're making weekly trips to a salon (being subjected to the telenovelas on constant rotation) or performing Pilates stances in your grandmother's kitchen to get your head underneath the faucet, let's make sure our procedures are promoting healthy hair growth.  It doesn't matter if it's short and kinky-cremed or long and free-following like the Pantene girl, please don't let society decide if you have "good" hair or not.  I refused to be defined by what adorns the crown of my head and am determined to be defined by what's in it.  I am not my hair.

And uh, I don't even have to say it, do I?  Ah, what the hell.  WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!  Great series boys!  Hats off to the Phillies - definitely the defending champs.

Just some reflections from my heart.  Love is contagious, spread it!


Georgia Peach said...

Ms. P -

It's funny that you write about this topic as I ponder what I should do with my hair. I've been thinking about getting a chemical curly treatment (somewhere between a texturizer and something else) over here just because I don't have a great place for a Barber in this city. I have also considered getting my hair twisted again, but you are 100% correct when you say it's scary going from straight to natural. It's also the same way when considering going from 100% natural to some other chemically treated state.

Pray for me too girl! No idea what I want to do with my hair right now, but I know I need to do something it can't stay the way it is right now.

Lendise said...

It's been 9 and a half years since I had my last relaxer. I had locks for five years of those years. I cut them off about 4 years ago. So, I can tell you that it gets easier. Transitioning is difficult because you are blending different textures together. Also, some of the advice people give is their preference. Some of that stuff isn't necessary. I personally don't use hair grease or things like that anymore, but it is different for every person.

Dylana Suarez said...

What a great post! I've never done anything to my hair (I have virgin hair), but still enjoyed reading it!

Just came across your blog!