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Thursday, July 8, 2010

In between hair is "good"

When I was a kid, I never liked my hair. It was fine and wavy, so it curled funny, but it wasn't curly. I didn't have thick, straight hair. I didn't have curly hair. It was just wavy and weird. I always wanted thick, straight hair. OR, curly hair. What I had was in between.

Being Bi-racial, it is likely that Annika will feel this way about herself on many fronts. My goal is to ensure that she doesn't feel this way about her hair. 

I've come to terms with my hair. I'm okay with it now, but I also know that it will never be the long, luscious locks I dreamed of as an adolescent and 20-something. If I had been taught how to care for my hair when I was young, I might have had the chance to make it as beautiful as I wanted it to be. The potential was there. But now I don't have the desire for those beautiful locks as deeply as I once did, nor do I have the time to keep it up. 

Annika has lovely hair. As it stands now, she has relatively "good" hair. She has nice curls, that aren't too tight. If it stays this way when she's older she will be able to straighten it without using relaxer. That's fine and dandy, if that's what she wants to do. But I don't want her to feel like she has to straighten it.

I want her to like her hair. It is beautiful, thick, curly hair. I have known plenty of curly-haired women in my lifetime and most of them have hated their hair at some point in their lives, if not for most of it. My goal is to make sure that Annika has a good relationship with her hair, understands it, cherishes it, uses it to help her feel on the outside, like the lovely person she is on the inside.

That was always my goal, but I recently watched Good Hair, a documentary by Chris Rock about the Black hair industry. Frankly, it scared me deeply. To some it might seem that I am weighing Annika's self-esteem too heavily on her hair. But I know how women work in this country. Hair is important. I want it to be a source of satisfaction for Annika, not part of her sense of worth, but a source of pride.

But this movie left me wondering if I will be fighting against destined, lifelong discontent with her hair.

See, I always knew that Black women did things to their hair that White women didn't do. I knew they used weaves and straightened it. (Sure, White women do that stuff too, but it's not as pervasive.)

What I learned from this film was the extent of the pressure Black women feel, from the rest of the world, to do that stuff to their hair.

They are deeply unhappy with the basic nature of their hair. Tight, curly, afro-like hair is not considered, "good" hair. Good hair is considered to be relaxed, wavy or straightened and silky hair.

The film focused on three areas. How women feel about their hair; where the weaves come from; and the hair dressing industry.

The documentary presents the nature of the industry where hair dressers are rock stars. These rock stars will help you have "good hair," if you can afford it.

A yearly hair show is put on to sell the latest and greatest hair products. They hold a talent portion where the most talented hair dressers show off their hair cutting skills using circus-like skills. This is just the entertainment portion of the show, designed to draw customers in. The rest of the weekend is used to hawk the latest products. These products will help you have good hair. Because, apparently, natural hair is not "good."

Interviews with celebrities who talk about their weave and being addicted to the "creamy crack" (hair relaxer) prove that even the most successful women have hair issues. Once you start relaxing your hair, it is almost impossible to stop.

Women skip paying their bills in order to afford hair weaves that cost thousands of dollars. Rock interviews men who talk about how they are not allowed to touch their woman's hair and costs them intimacy because they feel like they can't get close enough.

All of that stuff was distressing. But the most distressing part, to me, was an interview of a small group of young Black businesswomen. All of the women in the group had straightened their hair and styled it in the way Caucasian women typically do. Except one of them.

She had sisterlocks, which is hair twisted to look like dreadlocks, but neater looking.

I thought her hair was cute. I didn't think she looked any less professional than the other women.

However, the other women disagreed. They told her that they thought her hair looked messy and she looked unprofessional. She was told, by her own peers, that they couldn't imagine her sitting in a meeting with other professionals. They also agreed that if they were hiring for a job, they might not consider her because of her hair.

I don't fault those women for judging her so harshly. What scares me is that they are right -- about how other people would view her. They know better than I do how the world views them. They were simply restating the message that had been sent to them for their whole lives. 

I see things differently than the rest of the world, which can be a real pain in the ass. When I looked at that woman I saw a lovely, professional-looking, young woman. I thought she had pretty hair. But most people won't see her that way.

This isn't really about hair anyway. This is really about the message that hair sends. When a Black woman doesn't straighten her hair and chooses to wear it closer to her natural texture, it sends the message, "I refuse to conform with your standards. I am an independent and autonomous thinker. I like myself."

These kinds of messages scare people in the professional world because it means that deep down, they won't be able to fully control this person. It also means that this person might just be strong enough to rise above you. People who choose not to fully conform are threatening to society because they might not accept the status quo. They might want to make changes. And we all know how most people hate change.

When it comes down to it, this isn't really about Black hair either.

I was in high school during the 1980s. During that time, no woman, White or Black, left their hair "natural." White women permed their hair to make it curly. We all used tons and tons of product and varying combs, brushes, hot rollers, curling irons, flat irons to make us look like we were more closely related to alien life-forms than humans.

I remember the ridiculous feats I had to go through every morning when I was getting ready. Don't even get me started on how much money I spent on hairspray.

I had one friend who knew her hair was close to being "done" when her curling iron started smoking from the hairspray.

Even though I consider myself to be pretty low maintenance these days, I still color my hair. I like the way it looks. I don't feel any pressure to do it. When  I started coloring my hair, I didn't feel pressure either. It was one of those, "sure, what the hell" kind of moments when my roommate was putting some color on her hair.

But I got a lot of attention after that. So I continued. It became part of my regular routine. It became a part of myself -- this idea that my regular old self was not as lovely as this fake part.

It's something I haven't even given much thought about, until now. Now that I have a daughter, who has beautiful, natural, curly hair. Hair that will be seen by some people as messy, or ugly, or not "good."

When women are given the message that their natural features aren't beautiful, it affects self-esteem. Sure, in an ideal world we wouldn't care what other people think. But what other people think does matter. Because it affects your ability to get a job, or get a loan to buy a house, or a car. It affects your ability to prove yourself in certain situations because the first thing people see about you is your external. If they don't like what they see, they won't bother to try to see the internal you.

But you know what? The world is wrong. Black hair is beautiful. It is "good." Fuck hair relaxer that has the potential to burn your skin and blind you. Fuck hair weaves that are stolen off of Indian women during temple sacrifices.

The world is wrong. Annika has good hair. We all have good hair.

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