It is a billion dollar industry that has cultivated lines of shampoos, conditioners, sprays, tools, accessories and lotions; and has found itself in my little cabinet at home. I don’t spend much money on items for my hair because, well I’m just not too knowledgeable when it comes to hair. But I’m working to change that.
You see, I am the owner of a beautiful head of African-American hair. Possibly one of the most misunderstood and quizzical of all human types of hair. Sometimes, I am extremely proud of the hair I rock on my head. Other times, I wish I could hide out in my room.
Yes, I’ve had hair envy since I was a little girl, back before I knew what pride was. I would fit my turtlenecks around my forehead and stand in my room flinging my “long hair” around more times than Willow Smith could command me too. All I wanted was to have long, full, easy to manage hair like my friend Nicole. But alas, I am a beautiful Black woman, and its just not that easy.
Growing up, I was asked a million and one questions about my hair:
Why does it stand on its own?
Why does it feel different?
Why doesn’t it grow as long as mine?
Can you get it wet?
Can I touch it?
That last question is one that I know other Black women hate hearing, like this one. See, as Black people, we understand that not everyone gets the chance to ask questions about things common to other races. When you’re a child, you will literally just go right up and ask, which is awesome. When you’re an adult, you understand what the term “filter” means, and so tend to keep yourself from asking those questions you are hankering for an answer to. That is why everyone should be friends with everyone, so you can feel comfortable enough to ask those questions. For the sake of today’s post, I’m going to pretend that everyone reading this is a friend of mine.
I have felt embarrassed over my hair many times in the past. As I said before, it was mostly when I was younger and only beginning to understand the pride I should have in being different than my peers (yes I was raised in an all white area). I remember a specific instance where I was riding on the bus home from school, my scrunchie (yes, scrunchie) fell out and someone else grabbed it. They played keep away with it until someone accidentally tossed it out of the window. If I could have blushed, I would have, as I was left to sit and hold my pony-tail the reminder of the trip. I let go at one point and someone asked me how I had hair like Pippy Longstockings. A favorite movie of mine, yes, a great comparison…no.
Muy horrifico! Don’t worry too much though, I’ve grown past that minor incident. But now, its funny the questions friends of mine will ask about my hair.
Am I ever envious of White hair? Yes!
Oh, the hair envy! But don’t get me wrong, I do have nice hair. I have what we call “good hair”. While in the beginning stages of dating Matthew, I didn’t necessarily hide my hair needs and routines, but I wasn’t exactly screaming about it either. Finally, I told him that if he was going to love me, he was going to know me. The eyes of this blond hair, blue eyed kid from the midwest couldn’t have gotten any bigger as we sat and watched, Good Hair. He couldn’t believe I put that much chemical in my hair or the fact that the chemical I use, can burn through a can! (or any of the other complications that can arise) Us watching this movie together opened a flood of questions and conversations that, while I’m glad we can have, can be downright annoying. Perfect example, “Babe, I’m looking at your roots and…I think you need a perm”
Yeah, uh thanks for looking out babe…
I still need perms every 6 weeks, I sleep on silk pillow cases and yes, I uphold the stereotype that Black women do not like to get their hair wet. People ask me all the time about my hair, how it looks so straight, if its fake or not…which makes me completely understand this writer’s comments regarding the fact that White people just don’t understand…
Now to circle back to that little stereotype I threw out there, about Black women not liking getting their hair wet, this is a big one that many people have asked me. With no offense to my dear parents, I didn’t learn to swim until I was 22 or 3. I knew how to doggie paddle, and tread water, but never how to actually swim. Now that I do, I pick and choose when I’ll actually get my hair wet. For the amount of time it takes to re-do my hair if I do get it wet, it just doesn’t feel worth it. But for many Black people out there, its not a fear of hair wettage, but a fear of water in water too.
Now, if I were to delve into the world of fake hair, I’m sure I would be even less keen on getting my beautiful locks wet. Admittedly, hair extensions are something I would love to try. It has become a much more mainstream thing than it use to be. Once upon a time, it was if your hair flowed and moved, you must have a weave in. And yes, I am even guilty at times of seeing a mass of hair on a Black woman and thinking, I wonder how much that cost. But its a myth that Black hair can’t grow long, its just super hard to get it there though. Which brings in the extensions. Now, the thing that would keep me from pursuing such a bountiful dream is…the cost.
The Black hair industry is a BILLION dollar one! What happens when you have tons of Black women who want to live up to an ideal that waving your hair back and forth is pretty and locked or braided hair is ugly? You get people spending billions of dollars! This, I cannot afford. I’m not paid enough to even trick out my super sweet Chevy Cobalt, let alone the hair I already got on my head. I even bought a half wig to see and this is what it turned out as:
Yeah, thats just weird. It looks fake! If you want hair that looks as real as Beyonces (idk if her’s is or not so no judge), then you need the money to make it happen. None here, so moving on.
Outside of weaves though, maintaining Black hair is a ton of work. Like, enough that I don’t do half of what I should. Yes, I am an extremely lazy person, but now that I’m growing up, I’m much more aware of how I’d like to present myself. But still, its a TON of work. I give myself a perm and I wash my hair once, maybe 2x a week. Any more, and it would dry out and break like crazy. When my hair is pulled back in a (my mother characterizes it as messy, I say playful and creative) bun, then you know I’m in need of a wash-dry-straighten.
When I think back, its amazing the transformation I’ve taken when it comes to understanding and loving my hair. I use to feel less than my White counterparts. And for me, a light-skinned woman, I can’t imagine how my darker counterparts must feel at times. When you grow up in a White area, you question yourself more merely because, guys don’t look at you that way. Like Gabrielle Union says, anytime of rejection and you immediately think you’re not light enough or your hair isn’t straight enough…
Now, I love my hair. Yes, I straighten it and run my fingers through it instead of wear it in a puff or in locks, but its my hair; this is what genetics gave me and I love it. I have no problem talking about my routine because its MY routine. Whether my hair is thicker or longer or shorter or nappier, it will always look perfect on me because, I’m blessed with some awesome Black hair. And any questions you have, you can ask me, because I have no qualms with telling you what its like to whip this back and forth!
India.Arie: I Am Not My Hair (in honor of!)