Friday, December 19, 2008

The storied history of my my hair.

Before I get to the meaty part of this entry let me say a few things.

A lot of what I'm going to say comes from an emotional rather than rational place. I have no personal issues with the people I'm linking to. Mainly, what I've read sparked me to want to record these thoughts.

Got it?

The entries that got me thinking are these.

This one from Womanist Musings.

And these two from Racialicious.

Please read them the links will open in new windows or tabs.

For perspective I have worn my hair natural, relaxed, very long as a child(down to my ass) very short as an adult (a fade).

As I've aged my hair has changed a lot. From birth up through about 3-4 I had silky straight thick hair. And as an infant due to complications from being premature in pictures I actually look more Hispanic than I do Black. Odd tidbit but true.

As I got a bit older my hair developed a deep S shaped type wave. It grew to be very dense with fine individual strands. That was the same up until I started puberty then my hair started to change texture as is quite usual in my family. For a few years I had regular nappy hair. And after begging and begging and begging for a relaxer my Mom gave me one when I was around 13 or so.

Unlike other Black women I've spoken to it wasn't so much about peer pressure to have a certain kind of hair. I was blissfully essentially unaware it could even be an issue. I really just didn't want to spend whole days sitting still in the kitchen getting my hair washed and braided. Or worse blow dried and curled.

Up to that point people by and large had teased me about my hair, I'd had it pulled, strangers try to yank it straight off of my head. I remember very vividly one Sunday after getting my hair blown dry my Mom let me run around outside for a bit with it down so I'd stop whining and wriggling before she braided it. A little group of older Black girls cornered and grilled me. Why would my Mom let me get a weave? Why was I so dark skinned with such straight hair?

I remember being terrified. I didn't know what a weave was. I didn't understand why they were so angry. And they were very angry.

That kind of anger I became very familiar with. On one hand I would have Black people praise me for my "good" hair. It took years for me to grasp what that might mean. On the other hand there were lots of Black folks (lots in my family) who often without being direct about it hinted that I was somehow less than because of my hair.

Fast forward some years and I started to do things with my hair that were deemed to be "white" things. At some point during puberty I fell in love with big metal hair, big hair in general. A love that continues to this day and I entirely blame early loves of Chaka Khan, Dolly Parton and drag queens. I rocked big puffy mall rat bangs, I rocked some Bettie (R.I.P) bangs, I rocked bangs dyed deep luscious purple. Incidentally my first hair dye love was in fact a color by Pizazz called "Electric Plum".

For my sixth grade pictures I woke my Mother up at zero dark thirty and the two of us armed with crimping irons, crimped my entire head of hair. That I wore half up and half down rocking that ponytail on the side.

Around this age and a little older I started becoming painfully aware of the schism in the Black community around the idea that Blackness is somehow measurable and monolithic. If you do a, b and c you are better than if you do a,q and r. At that age I didn't have the language or experience to express my rage.

I was hurt. I was devastated.

My pain was compounded by being very aware that I lived and moved in a very White area. And to be rejected out of hand by people I (at the time) assumed would be as happy as me to find each other, was heart breaking and terrible.

At that age I would sometimes go a year or more between relaxers and wind up totally natural. The attitudes I was faced with varied as much as my hair texture.

Back to the entries I linked. I have to be honest, my first reaction when reading the entry at Womanist Musing was quick, hurt anger. Even after all these years when the relaxed vs. natural debates come up that is my first reaction. It's usually (in this case as well) not about the person giving whatever opinion. It's generally more about the hurt I feel in my heart that we are still arguing about this.

And that personality flaw I mentioned where people assume their reasons and struggles are my reasons and struggles and I get irritated.

Now after that initial feeling had passed I started to wonder more why do we have to go there?

My hair is currently what is commonly referred to in the hair forums as "texlaxed" it means I do use chemical relaxers to alter the texture of my hair however, I do not relax my hair bone straight. I haven't done that in probably 3-4 years now mainly because I don't like my hair that straight. I don't know what to do with it.

When I shaved off all my hair and was rocking a fade of ever changing color, my vision like Latoya from Racialicious, I was visualizing an afro. I stopped getting my head shaved and watched my hair fill in and grow.

Here is what I discovered to my dismay and private humiliation.

Instead of developing an Angela Davis, ass kicking round little afro. I discovered I have a lot of differening textures in my hair. My Great Grandmother had told me when I was 18 that my hair felt just like hers at that age and that it would change. By the time my Nana passed well into her 70's her natural hair was gorgeous grey with a white stripe and had an elongated S shaped wave much like I had as a baby.

I (who hates overspending on stylists, more so back then) traveled to Portland on Greyhound to consult a lady who claimed to be a specialist in natural Black hair care.

She said to me "You just have too much other in your blood" whatever else she said I can't remember because I was crying. (I hardly ever cry, muchless in public).

I had no idea what to do. I didn't feel comfortable asking family(private reasons, no I'm not going into it but it didn't have to do with my hair) and I had no one to talk to or look to for inspiration. I went as far as trying to approach women I met with natural hair but because of the insanity that is my natural map of textures, many of them felt somehow slighted or insulted.

I tried to persevere and wound up chopping most of it off and rocking a short pixie cut that was dyed many colors and relaxed on occasion.

These days I have finally started to heal myself from some of the hurtful things people have said to me. I have started to learn to remember and remind myself that nobody is the Empress/Emporer of Black Folks thus, they cannot dictate my choices.

Let's talk about my choices.

A few years ago after a disastrous stint on birth control that ended with a shit ton of hair loss and a bald spot I decided to learn to take care of my own hair. Until my bald spot grew back for awhile I rocked a bone straight, bright purple relaxed crew cut.

See below. And let me tells you internets, goddamn do I miss that hair cut and color. I LOVED having my favorite butch hair style and flouncing around in long flowy goth summer dresses. I LOVED IT. However like all love affairs it had to come to an end. You can only bleach your hair so often before it says FUCK YOU.


A moment of silence please.

Now fast forward.

I do not live in an area with a lot of stylists I'd trust. I do not have the extra income to see a stylist weekly or even monthly.

I have learned some incredibly awesome things about my hair.

Regardless of my use of relaxers (at this point 3-5 times a year), my hair is going to be big and fluffy. I have about four curls, the rest varying gradients of waves, and one little section of wee tiny coils. Relaxing my hair as often as I do makes it so that I can take care of my hair to the best of my ability. I can braid and style it when it's all closer to 2-3 textures instead of all of them.

As I'm experiencing my early thirties I can honestly say that I made a very conscious, informed and educated decision to continue relaxing my hair. I did a shit load of research and soul searching and it comes down to this.

The most important lesson I've learned is that it's okay. And even if my feelings are hurt when people decide that having natural hair is "more Black" and more wonderful, I can have my wonderful head of hair and it's fine.

And let me say this.

Relaxed hair does not mean I am bowing to European Beauty standards. There is nothing (as I've mentioned before) that would make me look "more white" and I long ago accepted and embraced that.

My relaxed hair is not ugly, damaged, or an unspoken admission of some internalized racism.

I love my hair.



So in conclusion.

You do you, I will do me.

You with your dreads, afro, curls, waves, weaves, braids, straight, black, brown, big, flat, ironed, coily, hair are beautiful.

We, Black People are beautiful.

And we need to stop arguing about this. How can we expect the rest of the world to respect us as members of the Black community at large and as the diverse individuals that we if, if we can't do that with each other?

At what point do we look at each other and stop with the nonsense?

So to conclude I leave you with my photo paen to my hair.

And the youtube video I made about how to henna your hair.






If you'd like to follow along with my hair care, read some of my home made recipes and remedies feel free to add my hair blog to your friends list on LJ. I will probably be updating it a bit later on tonight.

Now if you'll all excuse me, I've got to rinse the conditioner out of my hair, bantu knot and pout about a.)being snowed under. (Yes I know there's not much snow in Seattle but I am carless and the buses to get to work were not running) b.)the work holiday party being canceled and me not getting to wear my AWESOME outfit.

And a special note to my non-Black homies. I invite you to ask me anything you want to about my hair. Actually all my homies. Ask me whatever you like.

Homo Out.


Piffle said...

Dang. I'm glad you've gotten to a place where you rejoice in yourself; but dang, what a lot of unnecessary hurt you had to go through to get there.

Not trying to be insensitive here; but boy it sounds a lot like the artificial divide between working Moms and stay-at-home Moms. We're all Moms trying to do the best for our kids, there's no need for guilt or recriminations or feeling that one side is superior. Fighting over which is better for the kids is a distraction from the real work of making sure society does the best for all kids, and instead puts all the work on the Moms instead. Divide and conquer for sure.

Anyway, your hair is lovely and you'd be lovely whatever you choose to do with it. Heck put in a butter yellow spike and pretend to be a conehead if you want!

Twistie said...

I can see why you miss that awesome pixie cut so much! You looked beyond fabulous in that cut and color.

The article on making the transition to natural hair actually kind of startled me in a couple spots. Somehow it had never occurred to nearly-transparent-skinned, straight-as-a-damn-board-haired me that the transition might be difficult in hair care as well as social and political terms. Thanks for pointing me to a couple of interesting clue-by-fours.

In general, my feeling about hair is that it's easier to work with it than against it...but what constitutes working with it varies for each person as much as hair texture and curl level does.

Like you, I think it's sad that the conversation is still going on and that to straighten or not to straighten is still such a loaded social and political question.

In conclusion, you looked so fucking awesome in that pixie cut!

Ms. Heathen said...

Is your hair naturally that shiny or is that the henna? I love henna, but it's sooo damn expensive. (Also, some of the more "helpful" people are complete jerks to you if you admit that you use chemical dyes to color your hair instead of henna.)

I want that pixie cut! My hair doesn't hold shape though, it just lies down and mopes.

Haddayr said...

I would really love to show this post to the next white girl who tells me that racism isn't a problem anymore, what with Obama and all.

I've had hair straight down to my butt, I've had it an inch long. I've permed it and dyed it and bleached it and left it natural.

I've gotten comments and opinions, but never had to soul search. Not one time.

Yet another way in which life is much easier for white folks and we just have no fucking clue.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. As a white person I am/was totally ignorant to how deeply personal and difficult something like hair care is for others. I have seen natural and relaxed hair without comprehending the effort and thought that has to go into that person's choice of style. At least I have a little better understanding now. Thank you for taking the time to write and share your experience.

Raven Nightshade said...

I'll never understand our hair drama, but Black people will always find some way to divide themselves. How the hell do we expect our White allies to understand us when we don't understand ourselves?

In terms of your personal hair experience, I'm on the opposite side of the spectrum from you. I've been natural for 2 years, and the only coils I have are in the very back of my head. Even those aren't very defined, but that's okay. I love my napps, even if my family doesn't.

I guess divisive things like this always invade society, always boiling down to "Us" against "Them". Hair forums are notorious for this. I'm sure you see this a lot of this on LHCF, with the relaxed vs. natural debate. On Nappturality, though, it goes even further. There's always drama somewhere about coils/curls vs. napps, resulting in a lot of "Nappier than thou" talk.

I don't care what anyone does with their hair, and I don't think anyone should care what I do with mine. Just find your bliss and screw everyone else.

On the fluff side, I love the spiky purple hair. I actually henna my hair, too, but I do mine monthly and sleep in it overnight. And your texlaxed hair looks like mine when I used to do my first wash after a perm.

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