Monday, November 8, 2010

My Natural Hair Experience is OVER . . . For Now (Pt. 1)

So after nine months of being chemical-free I made a compromise with Mr. Love Bird and got a relaxer this past weekend.

Here's what I look like now:


The shortest my hair has been since I was a baby!

Why did I venture down this path in the first place, and how did I end up going back to the creamy crack?

I'll be doing a series of posts to answer those questions.

We have a diverse group of readers on our blog so I'm going to break things down plain and simple. As the Bible says, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6), so here we go . . . 

Growing up I did not have a say whether or not a relaxer was put into my hair. This article from Clutch really hit home when I read the following:

"Like so many Black girls, I never had a vote on whether I wanted my hair relaxed. My mother made that decision for me at a young age. I believe my first perm was around the age of 10, and I've been perming my hair since."


Photo credit: Clutch Magazine
Some people call it a "perm," but it's not. That refers to a permanent wave which makes hair curly. It's actually called a "relaxer" because it relaxes the texture of one's natural hair. When a relaxer is applied to virgin hair it's a bit rough at first but subsequent times only the new hair growth has to be relaxed. This is called a re-touch.

There is a myth that black hair doesn't grow long, but indeed it can. The appearance of non-growth is due to the over-manipulation, chemical application and damage that many black women subject themselves and their daughters to.

Like all ethnicities, the hair one is born with changes as one grows so while many people of African descent are born with what appears to be straight hair at birth, it coils over time and has a tighter curl pattern. 

So far with Nia I've witnessed so many non-blacks amazed by this, but it's no different from white babies who are often born with different hair or eye color and it changing by adulthood. 

Here I am as a newborn:



Here I am in elementary school with chemically relaxed hair (and melanin!):
  

As most African-Americans are of mixed heritage, as is my family, one family can have a myriad of hair textures as do me and my siblings. Going back to slavery the inferiority that many blacks were made to feel was internalized and the distinction of "good" vs. "bad" hair developed as well as light vs. dark skinned with these classifications based on how much white blood blacks had in their heritage.

Sick, I know, but it's reality. 

*** If you want to understand this idiocy I recommend the book The Color Complex; it's very helpful in breaking down the color/hair issues within the black community. *** 

Still today many blacks like to point out when someone has what they believe to be "good hair" and continue to make those distinctions.

I. HATE. THAT. 

All hair is good hair.

I REPEAT: 

All hair is good hair, and I don't want my daughter to be poisoned by this slave mentality that still exists. 

This is why the Sesame Street video, I Love My Hair, has resonated with so many people:



When I heard the opening line: "Don't need a trip to the beauty shop cause I love what I got on top," I said, YES!!!! After over 20 years of going every six to eight weeks to the salon to get re-touches I said, "ENOUGH!!!"

But it wasn't the Sesame Street video that spawned that, it simply re-affirmed my decision. The decisive point goes back to when I saw Chris Rock's film Good Hair. While I didn't think this was the best film to discuss black hair, at least it got a dialog going. In the film Chris Rock describes the impact of straight hair on his young daughters and their desire to have straight hair. 

I found Anu, the founder of Khamit Kinks, to have a more accurate discussion of the issues Chris Rock's film brought up. As one commenter posted after watching the discussion of Good Hair on Oprah: 

"The fundamental question was avoided, unless I missed a segment, of the Eurocentric framework of beauty that was indoctrinated from slavery still is the operating, internalized, motivating factor that drives the de-nappification obsession." 

When flipping through TV or through mass-magazines we're inundated with images of white standards of beauty. If this was flipped and all we saw were people with Afro-textured hair, full features and dark skin then that would be the common standard. Instead bits of black features such as thick lips and tanned skin are associated with beauty and accompanied by thinness and long hair, usually blond. No wonder why black girls are running around confused and hating themselves!

I don't want this for my daughter, so when I found out I was going to have a girl I decided that I would stop perpetuating this white standard of beauty by no longer relaxing my hair. I also wanted her to see that I was proud of the texture God blessed me with and that there was nothing wrong or difficult about it and that it didn't need to be tamed or changed.

When a young child is told their hair is nappy, hard to manage or too coarse these negative comments are internalized and self-hate often begins. When our own parents believe these things and perpetuate them I believe it's a form of self-hatred.

Anyway, since moving to New York I have suffered at the hands of Dominican salons which have literally tore my hair apart. I've alluded to it before in other posts, but this article in the Wall Street Journal fully explains the phenomenon of Dominican salons. They are inexpensive and specialize in getting hair super straight at the expense of healthy hair.

I first heard of Dominican salons in Boston but never frequented them as I knew of the damage raking a blow dryer through chemically straightened hair could cause, but once I got to NYC and saw the fruits of their efforts I decided to give it a try.

I lived in Boston for 9 years (4 for school followed by 5 for work). While there, I started going to Liz's Hair Care after graduation in 2002. The founder was formerly of Olive's, a highly esteemed salon that's often quoted in Essence and other leading magazines. I saw my broken, dry, brittle hair quickly transform after weekly appointments. 

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when I decided to get color in 2005. I had got color before so I knew my hair could handle it without breakage. I was assured over and over that the owner of the salon would walk the stylist through the process step by step and that it would be safe for my hair. I had a thorough consultation afterward to discuss the process. On the day of the appointment I walked out looking like a striped, blond lioness. It was hideous! When I called back for a color correction after sleeping on it, I was told I'd have to pay to have it toned down! This after being a loyal weekly customer for nearly two years and constantly bringing in new clients to the salon. So I walked away.

The new stylist was a man, and honestly, I felt better about that as there's an underlying belief that black, female stylists often sabotage their clients' hair by over-trimming and damaging on purpose out of jealously and meanness. Sick, I know, but sometimes true.

My new stylist was great, but didn't do roller-sets. He corrected the color and used a razor to cut my hair. Here I am at my sister's 2006 graduation:



By Christmas 2006 my hair was much healthier:


Here's a picture of me from Christmas without curl: 



Not too long after my stylist discovered patches of my hair that had fallen out. I went to a dr. in Boston but he didn't know what it was. I thought perhaps it was from the stress of the blow dryer and not getting roller sets anymore. It wasn't until a year later when I made it to New York that a dr. quickly diagnosed me with discoid lupus.

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Up next: Dealing with lupus, the battle of African-American vs. Dominican salons and continued thinning hair.

2 comments:

  1. I like this post!

    I prefer to avoid the Dominican salons. I only go if I really really need my hair done. My stylist lives about 1 hr away from me so I can't get to her very easily. She is the only person I will let relax my hair. I love her.

    I've just never (yet) had a desire to go natural. Right now, I desire to keep my routine as simple as possible and that means sticking with what I know.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @keyalus Thank you! I'm glad you liked it =)

    ReplyDelete

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