Self-acceptance is a recurring issue that, across the board, every one deals with from time-to-time in our “Is real or is it Adobe Photoshop” world, and depending on your gender, culture, family background and where you grow up what constitutes self-acceptance and what is self-loathing greatly varies.
Which brings us to black women and hair.
Black hair care is big business. But one part of that business – hair relaxers – is on the decline. Many point to the renewed interest in “going natural.” Industry insiders (re: people who sell hair relaxer for a living) believe going natural is a fad, and their customer base will come back as styles and trends change.
From The Atlanta-Journal Constitution: “I don’t agree with the trend away from relaxers,” he said. “Natural hair is more about a look than a rebellion against chemical products,” he said, adding that the trend has attracted converts because it is more economical and requires less maintenance than chemically altered hair.
Economical? Sure. Less maintenance? Ha ha ha ha. Good one.
I used to write about my hair quite a bit, but found myself wanting to write less and less about it because, as a black woman, you always get one of two responses – “It’s just hair” or *insert lengthy explanation on why it is not*.
One side was either “over it” or completely lacking in empathy. (Or was in serious denial, depending on who you asked.) The other side was so caught up in their hair drama it had turned into a greater metaphor for almost every problem ever created by growing up in a minority-majority culture.
I was having a conversation with St. Louis hairdresser Debra Small recently as she did my hair, and Small asked me what I thought was going on where women, who in every other aspect of their lives were confident and self-assured, turned into complete emotional messes when it came to hair.
I surmised that unlike if you were born with dark skin or a rounder than average butt or nose or thick lips or almost any other feature often ascribed to Black American women, and if you were made to feel “bad” about these things, the road to self-acceptance was slightly less complex if it was something you knew you couldn’t really do much about it without drastic, expensive and sometimes deadly plastic surgery.
But unlike a nose, a butt or skin tone – hair is (somewhat) malleable. And if not malleable, the cost of drastically altering ones hair was within reach. Hence – the insanity.
Hair was something anyone and everyone could pass judgment on because, technically, hair was something you could “fix” – if you looked at all black hair as a “problem.”
And pass judgment many, many people did.
It’s human nature for people to find ways to separate each other. No one is immune from it. So in an act that most saw as a way to self-acceptance and, for some, a form of racial solidarity, can at times devolve into the same conversation of haves and have nots that have plagued us all since that first day of kindergarten and we discovered so-and-so had a “nicer” such-and-such than us.
Everyone’s hair is different, but in the case of black women and curly hair those differences can be huge, even surprising for a newbie. Especially one who doesn’t realize that ever so often the “perfect” curls of their dreams are often the end result of a texturizing kit and a curling iron.
In the world of relaxers, it was very rare to ever meet a black woman who tried to convince you her permed, weaved, wigged or sewn in hair just grew out that way. There was no trying to convince anyone that hair did not come without someone (or some chemical) putting in work. But since curly hair is something black women are just supposed to have, I’ve encountered a fair share of women who push “The Great Lye” of “Oh, my hair just grows out that way.”
In the effort to separate ourselves we’re still doing the same thing we always did – assigning value on hair. What is good hair? What is bad hair? What is good curly? What is bad curly? Why doesn’t my curly hair grow out like your curly hair and is there some magical elixir, technique or jar of cream that can make the magic happen?
I see a lot of women and many of them have beautiful hair. Sometimes I will think how it would be “neat” or “nice” if my hair did what their hair did. But my hair is not their hair, nor can it ever be it. Because what kind of curly hair you get is as unique to you as a freckle pattern or a finger print.
But when everyone wanted straight hair, there was a pretty easy answer – get a perm, wig, weave or sew-in. Instant satisfaction, every time! But now that everyone wants “natural” hair – there is no universal answer for how you get Natural Hair Girl X’s curly hair.
At thirteen, I so badly wanted the Shirley Temple-esque ringlets of a biracial girl I went to junior high with. I would spend hours setting my long, then permed hair with hard rollers, sitting under the dryer for hours upon hours so I could have that exact look. But she got that same look just by letting her hair air dry after a shampoo.