Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Good Hair or My love and hate relationship with my hair



The comedian Chris Rock made an interesting documentary about the relation between African American women and their hair. The documentary called Good Hair is airing in theatres nationwide. After hearing so much about it and seeing clips on the Internet, I decided to go watch it. I was looking forward to see Good Hair because like any black woman I have had, and still have a love hate relationship with my hair. Some days, I love my coarse hair, some other days, I just wished I had long, silky and straight hair. My hair is usually short (neck length, although in the past it had reached my shoulders), brown and naturally thick. I always wanted it to be long and silky smooth. Back at school, I always envied my friends who had longer hair than me. I wonder why I was not blessed with the good hair genes.
I come from Senegal, a country where like the United States, women spend a lot of time and money on their hairs. As far I could remember, all women I knew, would do anything to have this perfect do, this perfect hairstyle that could make them more beautiful. As any woman, I enjoy having my hair done. Yet I went through several stages with it.

Hair do (made at a salon after having my hair relaxed)



When I was a child, I did not worry much about my hair. My mother was there to do the worrying. She would style my hair in way she thought was appropriate. I would have cornrows, petite-queues (a hair style in which you have your hair parted and braided with a string in it). As I grew older, I took interest in my hair. I started to have it relaxed. It was sometimes painful. However, when my hair became straight and smooth, I realised that the pain was all worth it. I kept straightening it in between hair styles such as braids, cornrows and something called Live (it is just hair that is breaded without extension). I would never leave my hair natural because I am so bad at styling it myself. And going to a hair salon every now and then is too much time and money consuming.
In all my teenage years, I had all kind of hairstyles that was fashionable back then. However, after 18 years of living at home and having no problem when it came to my hair I departed for Japan. Having and maintaining a hair style there proved to be a hurdle for the simple reasons that first of all, it was hard to find a relaxer, second Japanese hair stylists did not know how to do African hair and finally I did not have someone I could go to for help. Therefore I had few options when it came to doing my hair. The first one was to do braids that I would keep for 3 months whenever I went back home for vacations. The second was to stack up on relaxers to use later on. And the third was to do my hair myself; my favorite low maintenance hairstyle is Live.

My favotire low maintenance hairstyle: Live



In Japan, I was also independent for the first time in my life, therefore I was free to have any kind of hairstyle I wanted. I decided to color my hair red. Needless to say that my mother freaked when she heard about it. But she should have not because the red was so dark that it blended with my brown hair making it barely noticeable.
I liked my hair the most when I was in Japan. Living there I became aware of my uniqueness, because I was probably one of the few African women in a college full of Japanese and foreigners. I stand out even without trying. Therefore, every hairstyle I tried would bring out curious looks and comments. I always remember the look of one Mongolian guy when he saw me taking off the extension of my braids from my hair. He screamed:" Michelle is taking off her hair". He, and other foreigners believed that the long extensions braided were my hair and that I was getting rid of them.

Braids




To top it all, in college I lived with a fine hair white girl who was in awe of my hair, particularly when I kept it all natural. She was always touching it and astonished at the fact that it was so thick it could go all the way up without the help of styling products. She always asked me to have an Afro. She made me feel like I was special.
I was always experimenting with my hair but for some reason, I stayed away from having a weave. Some of my girlfriends were trying the trend. Yet, the weave was not the thing for me. I guess I was afraid because it was a hairstyle that required the use of needles. I am sure people are careful with those, but the only thought of the needle puncturing my scalp made me quiver. The first time I tried the weave, I was 25 years old, married and pregnant. The moment I had it on, I regretted it. First of all the style was not as pretty as I expected it to be. And to top it all, it was so painful and itchy. I did spend days patting and scratching my scalp, unable to breathe. It kept it for three agonizing weeks. Then I had one of my girlfriend redo the whole thing, leaving my front hair free of the weave. Only then could I stand the style.

Weave (my second and last weave. I kept it for 2 weeks because it was so painful and itchy)



After seven years in Japan, I moved in the US. I was happy at first because in here I would not have any problems maintaining a good hairstyle. I was so happy when I saw an important variety of relaxers and black hair products on the shelf at Walmart. I eventually used some on my hair. Moreover I tried to go to salons from time to time but they were so expensive, I stopped going there altogether. I would just go when I had a special occasion like a cocktail party.

Cornrows with extension ( I had these done at a local hair salon before leaving for a vacay in Hawaii. I did not want to have to comb my hair every day during the stay)




After giving birth to my first son, I did not have time to take care of my hair. So one day, I just decided to shave it all. It was the first time since I was a toddler ( My mother shaved my hair then because I had lice) that I shaved my hair. At first I was surprised but then I began to like this new style. I was skinny then so my small head matched well with my figure.

Bald Hair



Unfortunately I quickly realised that there was not much I could do with a bald head. I could not style my hair and I became extremely bored with it. Moreover, I went back home for a visit and my family was worried of my new style- I have to admit that I looked like a starving child back then-. I had to hide my bold hair with a wig. Eventually my hair grew and I could style it better. However by then, I had discovered how efficient wigs were. They were cheaper than weaves and easier to put on. In less than 6 months, I had bought 6 wigs that I would switch depending on my mood.

Wig 1 (this was the first wig I bought after shaving my hair)



Wig 2 (My favorite wig. I was so cute I looked like I had a weave on)



Wig 3 ( I hated this wig because it made me look old, I bought it before a high school reunion)



Since last year, I have started to cover myself. Therefore I do not bother with my hair that much because no one except my loved ones is going to see it. I keep a low maintenance hair style, and relax it whenever I feel it becoming to coarse. And I do not use extensions, wigs or weaves in my hair anymore because I discovered that it is against my religion. It is kind of hard because all the beautiful hairstyles require some kind of extra hair. But I am trying to stick to my choice.
Recently I have decided to have dreadlocks. They are low maintenance and they make your hair grow longer. I would have them pretty thin, not thick like Whoopi Goldberg. With dreadlocks, I do not have to waste my time doing and redoing my hair. I would probably just have to rub some oil or other hair product in it to keep it shiny and healthy. And I would make them so I could take them down whenever I feel bored. Because that is the problem with me, and every other woman in the world, we are bored easily.

Good Hair was very interesting and funny. I have learned a lot about hair, hair products, hair industry ect..I was astonished to learn that the hair industry was worth $9 billion, but that only a fraction of black people profited from it. The people who benefited the most from it were Asians and White. It was also interesting to see how dangerous relaxer was for my hair. And I laughed at the fact that weave can indeed shape the sex life of African American women and their partners.
Overall the documentary opened my eyes on how ridiculous it is to spend so much time and money on a hair. From the get go, I do not like to spend to much time and money on my hair because I believe that hair-or what they call good hair- does not define me. There are so many other interesting things about me besides my hair. However, from an early age, I was coerced into thinking that having a good hair makes me a better person. But as India Arie put it so well: " I am not my hair"

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