Thought For The Day:
“I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am a soul that lives within.” -India Arie
Question for the Day:
Are you at war with your hair?
(Originally written on 3/1/15) I’ve been thinking a lot about my hair this week because I’m working on a new style and am currently in transition. If you happen to be reading this blog and don’t know me, I am a Black woman and for us, the issue of hair is serious business. We will often spend days, even weeks, planning and preparing for a new style. Depending on what we’re having done, it may involve saving a significant amount of money, buying considerable supplies, or in some cases even taking time off from work in order to give our style the time and attention it needs to come to fruition. Typically, we are not the wash and wear types. From what I understand, white women can wash, blow dry and be out the door in thirty minutes or less. On the contrary, my African American sisters may need to dedicate an entire day to washing, detangling, and moisturizing our hair. Such is the case for me this week which is the inspiration for this post.
I have worn perms for most of my life. For black women, a perm is the application of lye and other chemicals that straighten the hair. Though it doesn’t make the hair “look white,” as some suggest, it does change the texture of the hair making it easier to style and manage. When I was a girl, I had a mountain of long, thick hair that was full of deep, course waves. Images of Diana Ross singing “I Want Muscles” come to mind when I think about my hair as a girl. However, I don’t remember enjoying all those luscious locks at that age. In fact, I saw getting my hair washed in about the same way that saw getting a butt whooping. You may tell me that it’s for my own good, but at the end of the day I’m still salty because you’re hurting me. After a wash, I would then sit for hours and endure the dreaded detangling process. The pulling, yanking, neck jerking were accompanied by tears, pleas for mercy and countless inquiries of “how much longer?” It felt like torture and my poor mother would be exhausted, heart broken, and emotionally drained by the end of it. She sometimes would save herself the trouble and just pay someone who didn’t have any emotional ties to me to do it. A stranger could more easily rip through my naps and be done with it without the burden of guilt.
It was a sad situation until I got it in my mind to end it all at age 12 and do what all the girls at school were doing, and get a perm. I will never forget how I felt after my first perm. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t fly! I had a long, smooth bob with a feathered swoop over my eye. I was too cold and instantly my hair insecurities vanished. I no longer had to fear getting my hair washed and I had options like never before. I could wear a bouncy pony tail, throw it up in a clip, wear it in a ball or wear it wet and wavy, and the tears were a thing of the past. And so it went, for the rest of my life, until just last year (2014).
Despite my initial infatuation, my love affair with perms wouldn’t last forever. Years of perming eventually took their toll and my once thick, healthy hair had become thin and brittle. I’ve lost hair along my edges and the strength and luster of my Diana Ross days were a thing of the past. Now, the perm which was the very thing that gave me so much confidence in my youth, is now the reason for my current hair insecurities. Until recently, the answer to the increasing damage to my hair was to continue to perm, perm, perm and hide it with straightening for as long as possible because if I let go of the perm, everyone will know what I’d done to my hair. I missed the strong, vibrant mane that used to be the bane of my existence. So, I finally decided last year that it was time to stop hiding and let the perm (aka The Creamy Crack) go and fight for the hair I turned my back on so long ago.
Since I stopped perming my hair, I am now what they call “transitioning” to all natural hair. Essentially that means that I will no longer perm my hair and let my natural texture grow out. As the natural hair grows in, I will trim the permed remains until I once again have a full head of my own natural hair. I am proud of this decision, but weeks like this tempt me to reconsider. It’s still no fun to have to untwist my hair, wash it, then spend hours combing it out. And yes, it still hurts. Yet, this time around I am trying to keep a new perspective. Instead of viewing my hair as difficult to manage, I see it as uniquely special and worthy of tender loving care. Instead of belaboring how much it hurts to comb, I remind myself that as Fredrick Douglas said, without struggle there is no progress. I also consider my daughter who reminds me a lot of myself as a child. She cries and complains like I did when it’s time to get her hair done. However, I don’t want her to not appreciate that the effort is worth it in the end. I want her to embrace the strong, healthy, and beautiful hair that God gave her. I don’t ever want her to think that her hair is a problem. I hope she sees it as a challenge that yields great rewards of confidence, pride, and self acceptance and it is up to me as her mother to be the example.
This post is absolutely not an attempt to shame my sisters who perm their hair. I’m not one of those people who thinks wearing your hair natural is an accurate measure of one’s racial pride. I have always been a proud Black woman even with my perm, and I’ll still thrown in braids or crocheted extensions when I feel like switching it up. I agree totally with my girl India Arie when she sings “I Am Not My Hair.” At the end of the day, the essence of who I am has little to do with my external characteristics. No matter how you wear your hair, the greater work is within. I am letting my hair be a lesson to me about appreciating what I have been given, taking care of myself, not hiding my insecurities, and committing to difficult tasks in hopes of greater reward. In the end it’s just hair, but I’m getting lifted today because I’m happy to be nappy.
****Update, here’s me and my daughter as of today. And in 2020, we’re both proud naturalists. 😊
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.”
Song of Solomon 4:7