Monday, July 26, 2010

My HAIRstory

There was shouting, there was crying, there was fussing and fighting. My dad peered through the door and shouted out, “What are you doing to my baby?” To which my mother responded with a roll of her eyes.

I was about eight years old at the time, and this scene could’ve been snatched out of any given Saturday afternoon. Because Saturday afternoon in my house circa-my elementary school era, meant Hair Day. The day that my mother and I engaged in our weekly war against my hair, which included washing, conditioning, detangling, blow drying, and hot-combing. It was a vicious battle that usually ended with my irritated mom sweating buckets, and poor little me crying buckets of tears. My mom, she felt for me (she really did), and Lord knows my father – who cannot stand to hear me cry – used to find reasons to escape the house on a Saturday afternoon, so he didn’t have to take part in the nonsense.

My mom was of the old-school camp that believed that little black girls should have neat little braids and pigtails with bows and bells and whistles, and a hair shouldn’t be out of place. Unfortunately, my hair didn’t get that memo, and it took a nasty struggle to get it to cooperate. It took a few tries for my mom to get the hang of doing my hair, but in the end, she was able to come up with some really cute styles and I got compliments about how “neat” my hair was. That’s because my mother believed in the hot comb. And hairgrease. Lots and lots of hairgrease.

Now, you might wonder why my mother had to overcome a large learning curve before she became adept at doing my hair. Well, you see, that was because my mother was born (some would say blessed) with beautiful hair. When she wanted straight hair, just a few moments with a blowdryer and her hair would flow down her back, all bone straight and shiny without the assistance of chemicals. And if she didn’t feel like styling it, she’d splash it with a little water, and voila! Her jet black, silky tresses would roll into springy curls almost as soft and sweet as her disposition that would dance and sway around her head like a halo. Much like all the other women on her side of the family who were also born (blessed) with similar locks, she couldn’t walk down the street without hearing someone comment – positively – on her hair. The irony is that she could’ve cared less about it. It was not a point of pride for her. Mainly because my grandmother rejected her own soft, curly hair that at one point during her 20s and 30s, hung to her waist. She saw it as a reflection of the raping and pillaging that white men had done to black women, and didn’t feed into the believe that “straighter is better”, and passed that down to her children.

Well, needless to say, I wasn’t blessed with the same hair texture as the rest of the women in my family. I didn’t hold the winning ticket in the genetic hair lottery. Instead, my hair was coarse, kinky, and not quite curly or straight. A gift from my unmistakably black daddy, that brought my mama nothing but trouble. But despite the fact that my mom was forced to relive Mama vs. Kinks, she never gave any indication that she thought my hair was “bad”. In fact, when I was a kid, and would be emotionally and physically spent at the end of a long day of washing, drying, and straightening, and I’d look up at her with tears in my eyes and say “Mommy, why can’t I have hair like you?” She’d say, “Because you have your own hair, that’s unique to you and only you… and it’s beautiful! It’s tough and stubborn and lively and beautiful. Just like YOU!” I’d giggle and she’d hug me, and then pull me away to hold me out at arm’s length, and she’d say, “In fact… I wish that MY hair was like YOURS. You can do SO many things with it.” She’d pause to tap me on the tip of my nose. “You’re lucky!” she would say with a wink. And for a minute, I’d forget the battle that had just occurred, and I’d actually feel lucky.

I’m saying all this to say, the relationship that black women have with their hair is a complicated one. It may be almost as complicated as black women’s relationship with black men.


So, on Saturday, when I sat down in my stylist’s chair and told her to cut all my hair off, well… that was a big damn deal! But, I’d had it. After two decades of relaxing my hair, I became completely natural. And I have never felt so light, so free, so HAPPY about a hairstyle. I’d forgotten my natural texture, and didn’t have a clue what it would look like when I did it, but I must say I’m thrilled with the end result.

By the time I sat down in the chair, I just wanted my hair off. It’s been so freakin hot and humid in New York this summer and dealing with two hair textures has been a challenge – to say the least. I had been setting my hair on perm rods and wearing my hair curly during my transition, but that was getting old. I’d been invited to attend a pretty high-profile and glamorous party, and I wanted a straight look, so I got the bright idea to flat-iron my hair. I stayed up late one night and washed and blow-dried and flat-ironed my hair, and when I was done… it looked great! Considering the fact that I hadn’t had a relaxer in over 8 months, I was definitely surprised by the results. But by the time I woke up in the morning, my hair looked a hot-damn mess. So I was late to work because I was in the bathroom running the flat-iron through my hair again. I fixed it, thank God… but what did that matter, because by the time I made it to my office, my hair was all over my head yet again. I ended up skipping the party, which was being held in Midtown on a rooftop, because I was so unhappy with my hair, and I’m glad I did because it ended up raining on the party. Not a good look for relaxed chicks. I spent the remainder of the week flat-ironing my hair two times per day. It was hot, stressful, and stupid! So by the time the week was over and I made it back to DC and into the chair of the woman who cut my hair short when I was 16, I told her to skip the style and get straight to the cutting. I did not flinch, I did not cry, I had NO remorse.

And my mama, with her beautiful curls (which are short now), was right there beside me cheering me on. When I was done, she clasped her hands together and looked a little teary-eyed when she cooed “It looks beautiful!” And I believed her… because I agreed!

Of course, there will be those that don’t like it. When I told my grandmother I’d cut my hair, she screamed. She doesn’t prefer one texture over another, but she’s 82 years old, so she’s not from the generation that embraces short hair on women. She said she’d do her best to get used to it, though.

And, then, there’s my doorman. He constantly flirted with me prior to the cut, but this morning in the elevator, he stopped me.

“You changed your hair,” he said.

“Yep,” I nodded in the affirmative.

“It’s an afro,” he said.

“Yep,” I repeated.

“It looks alright,” he said.

Um… thanks, Mr. Doorman. But I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s an idiot. And then, that was confirmed when 5 minutes later as I walked down into the subway, a man stopped me to tell me that I was stunning. Not cute, not adorable (these are the two annoying and completely unoriginal compliments I always get), but STUNNING (which I NEVER get). So, eff the doorman. I could get used to the subway guy’s comments.

Of course, this haircut will take some getting used to. And I’m surprised to find that my hair – underneath the remaining relaxed portion of my hair (she didn’t get it all with the first chop) – I have little ringlets all over. So interesting! I never thought my hair had a curl pattern… the things you learn when you let go of what’s “easy”. I am also surprised to find that I have some heat damage in the front and on the sides of my hair from too much straightening. Once heat damage takes over, you basically have to just let your hair grow out or cut it off because it will never be the same. So I will just continue to let it grow, and go from there.

Oh yeah, I think that’s important to mention. I have no intention of my hair being short for long. My plan is to grow it out into a fierce afro, so that I, too, have a halo of curls surrounding my head. Not curls like my mom’s, but curls of my own. I can’t wait!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this post. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I want to print it out and share it with my girls. Can I? Can I link this to my fb page?