Hair is a MAJOR issue for Black Women. (holler if you feel me) It has a great deal to do with how we feel about ourselves and our image. I am the baby of nine, there are 6 girls and 3 boys in my family. I remember with great distinction the time before hair relaxers were a household item. In our house we had “hair washing day”. We would go in shifts, the older girls washing theirs and then mine. For that Saturday or Sunday my mother was a permanent fixture at the stove hot comb in hand pressing out one head after the other. I was always last. I recall the smell of hair and pressing oil wafting through the first floor of our home. Since the girls were the majority in the house I never thought that this hair ritual cost me precious hours of free play time and that if I had been a boy instead of waiting form my fuzzy plaits to dry and be pressed out, I could be whizzing around the corner on a big wheel. Later Revlon liberated my mother from the stove, at least where pressing and curling hair was concerned.
I think I got my first relaxer when I was 11. It was an old school lye relaxer that burnt and smelled but did the job. After 45 minutes of toil, my hair was a close to Barbie’s as it was ever going to get. There were no more edges to contend with (Edges are what black people call the hair line when it is fuzzy) and my “kitchen” ( the nape of the neck, where the peas of kinky hair appear) were all but vanquished, that is until the new growth started to show letting you know that it was time once again to have your hair touched up. Hair straighteners were life altering for the black women. For years though the desired aesthetic of straight, silky hair like that of Caucasian women was obtainable through pressing out the hair, with the slightest hint of humidity the illusion dissipated. With a permanent relaxer all those worries were a thing of the past.
Later I went back to my natural kinky state, it was in the early 90’s. Oddly though I felt liberated in a way, no longer beholden to what we now call the “creamy crack” of a relaxer, it took a long time to feel myself attractive with my kinky halo. What was more interesting and telling was the reaction I got from others. All of the sudden Black men referred to me as “sista” on the street, when my hair was twisted, I was “rasta” and though I lived downtown in the west village, where ever I went people assumed I lived in Brooklyn. It was then that I realized that in the African American Community hair was in some way used as an identifier, if you were natural you were “down” if you had a relaxer you were assimilating, or just not down. I didn’t quite understand it and I certainly didn’t prescribe to it. My hair has never been a political statement, if it was saying anything at all it would be that this is what I find attractive for me at the time. My hair is like a bag, or shoes, or a pair of earrings, it is an accessory, it has nothing to do with how I feel about my blackness (or anyone else’s for that matter) It does not herald my consciousness, or lack thereof, it is for me just hair.
Black women have long been at odds with and/or conflicted about their hair, it’s type, and grade, it is part and parcel of the light skin/dark skin issue and societies concept and perception of beauty- that of which we traditionally do not fit into. Recently I took out the double strand twists that I had been wearing for about a year, I put them as an homage to the passing of Farrah Fawcett, it was what I called my Charlie’s Angel hair. About a month ago I released the beast of my Afro and let her run wild. I had forgotten what it was like to be “natural” and have an glamorously unruly head of hair and I love it, however there was that transitional moment when I looked at myself in the mirror and thought that I did not look attractive. I had to get used to it, again. Now am rocking what I call my rock Star look!
Below is a video of , Cassie, Solange and Selita Ebanks talking about “Good Hair”, what that is and what it means to them with Lisa Price