As I sit here, having spent another Saturday wrestling with the knots, the tangles, and the tears, I feel compelled to write about the one thing that has been the bane of Black women’s existence since we were but a gleam in Baby Jesus’ eye: HAIR.
Now, my white friends are going to have to give me some room to move here. I know that they, too, have hair. And I know that they have their own hair issues (jumping into the ocean and coming out looking like the Swamp Thing generally not being one of them). And I know that some of them can truly empathize, having experienced the backbreaking, tear-prompting pain of thick hair and/or tight curls (Hava Nagila, sistren. Hava Nagila.). However, today, I’m speaking to my Black beauties. Those who have to factor into their regularly scheduled programs the hour(s) that it takes to twist their hair each night, and/or comb, brush, curl, flatiron, moisturize, steam, wash, wet, or gel it into compliance each morning.
Now, I can already hear some of you talking: “I see your picture, Curly Gurl. You don’t know pain. You look like you got that ‘good hurr.’ What is you? Navajo?” Unto you I say: “UNTIL YOU HAVE TRIED TO RUN YOUR FINGERS THROUGH THIS HERE MANE, SPEAK NOT.” For the record, neither one of my parents is white. Or Navajo (shout out to my Indigenous peoples). But BEYOND THAT, let’s speak truth to power here, ladies. Whether you rock a perm or a natural; whether your hair is long or short; whether your curl pattern is 1A or 4ZZZZZ, if you have hair on your head, chances are you have cursed it out at the top of your lungs at least a few times in your life.
In my 44 years, my hair has made me laugh; it has made me cry.
My hair has taken me from my bed at the butt-crack of dawn, separated me from ALL my money, and forced me to sleep in a seated position.
For it, I have endured the pain of pressing combs, curling irons, and chemical burns. I’ve allowed hot water to be sprayed at me, cold water to be poured on me, and the heat of one thousand suns to be blown at me, all in the name of silky, straight, sexy hurr. And don’t get it twisted (like what I did there??): I have grown it past my shoulders; I’ve cut it to within an inch of my scalp. It made no difference. The struggle was REAL, and the ends to which I was willing to go for that perfect Prince Rogers Nelson curl were unending.
In response, you say, “But that’s when you were dealing with that creamy crack. It had you out in them streets, feenin for your next fix.” In response, I say: “Why you keep interrupting my flow though?” But then I say: “Yes, Nancy Drew. You’re right.
I have fought the creamy crack addiction.” And what I’ve learned over the past 5 years is that being natural is just as traumatic.
Like, if you haven’t looked in the mirror, 6 months post big-chop, and wondered, “What in the hell have I done,” you don’t know true fear. So now, rather than spend 5 hours and $150 at the salon every other Saturday (and that was for the inch-long hair, mind you), I’m spending $70 every other month on hair products, and saying a prayer to the vanity gods every morning that, when I emerge from my bed and stumble to the bathroom mirror, what I see won’t make me late for work. Again.
To prove to you that hair fails transcend time, space, style, and texture, let us take a trip down memory lane to visit the many cringe-worthy moments that have marked my follicular journey:
There were the feathered bangs of 1986 (shout out to Denise Huxtable and Aqua Net)
There was the Wave Nouveau travesty of 1990 (also known in the Encyclopedia Britannica as the “Great Bait and Switch” – promising little Black girls bouncy, springy curls, and having them out in these streets looking just as wet and drippy as their Jheri Curl ancestors).
And then there were the many YouTube-inspired hair fails, fueled by my post-big chop panic. Like the video of the woman who swore that Dax (yes, Dax – the hair wax that was invented by Little Richard and funded by the Klan) would get me the perfect twist out. The fact that I now know that Yahoo Answers has an entire section dedicated to the removal of Dax Wax (one answer: “Boiling water and a tolerance for pain”) should tell you how that one went.
Short of our lovers and our children, there are few things that have the potential to bring us bliss or to break our spirits quite like those dead strands atop our heads. Their power is rivaled only by the likes of Machiavelli and Michael Jackson. So what are we to do? Cutting it ALL off is always an option. I longingly look at the sisters with barely any hair and have to fight the urge to shear myself like a sheep regularly. But, understanding that not all of us can – or should – rock the baldy (see the brothers with the Sharpei scalps), we have no choice but to deal with the heads we were dealt. And that can be one of the toughest, ongoing exercises in self-love and self-acceptance that there is. So, to help you through your journey, I present to you:
The Five Hair Commandments:
1. Thou shall not kill: ‘Nuff said.
2. Covet not the next woman’s locks: Spending time staring wistfully at the next chick is keeping you from noticing all the chicks staring wistfully at you.
3. Love thyself as you do thy neighbor: Be easy, sis. Speak lovingly to yourself as you would your best girlfriend. And, when all else fails, look in that mirror, throw on that baseball cap, shrug, and say, “You still cute, girl. Tomorrow’s another day.”
4. Put no one before God… except YouTube: Don’t have any natural friends IRL? Well you have them in SPADES on YouTube. Log in, look for your texture twins, and learn their hair hacks. Unless, of course, they involve Dax.
5. Call upon the angels: And, by “angel,” I mean, a stylist. So many naturalistas seem to believe that letting go of that perm means having to relinquish all professional support. We go from sitting in the salon every weekend to doing the solo cry on the bathroom floor. STOP! With the number of natural hair blogs, online support groups, alumnae networks, and BGLOs out there, there’s no reason you can’t find a wonderful stylist in your area, at your price point. Ask some questions, do some research, and call in some back up!
In the immortal words of India.Arie: We Are Not Our Hair. Which means we can’t allow it define us any more than we allow others to define us by it. But, as our hair does feature prominently in our looks and our lives, we have to learn to live with it and to love it. So, we may never have locks like ‘Yonce or Yara, but we can be the flyest damn Yolandas and Yashicas you ever did see. We just have to set reasonable expectations, surround ourselves with support, and start loving the scalps we’re in.