Usually getting my hair done is a love/hate relationship. My hair is thick with three textures on my head, the softer looser 4C-A kinks in the back of my head, the 4C-B kinks on the left side of my head, and 4C-C kinks on a little circular patch on my right side. In Ghana, when we braid my hair up, it takes anywhere from 4 to 7 hours of several people standing around me painstakingly parting and braiding to make up all the fabulous hair styles I’ve worn over the years. It’s a labor of love, but it wasn’t always this way.
When I was 14, I stopped relaxing my hair because it was literally destroying my hair. I had a scalp burn in the most resilient point in my hair, my 4C-C curls, and my lank hair always frizzed up immediately after I undid my braids, excited to be itself again.
Do you want me to be honest? I can’t lie.
Okay, here goes.
When I started growing out my natural hair, I was most concerned with when my tiny ‘fro would be long enough to flip it over in the cool hairstyles I had seen done with natural hair. There, I said it! I’m not a picky person by nature, and its kinky texture was only a pain in the neck while combing. There was no grand awakening with my hair, I just liked it and wanted to do more with it. I didn’t do the big chop, so for a while, my hair was like a mad scientist’s wig if he was ever black, with the whole alphabet of 4C and my perm tendrons hanging on for dear life. Finally, the day came that my hair was a glorious 6-7 inches above my head, defying gravity. It was too thick to flip it over, but I went with my favorite style of anything: my parted afro, and walked proudly with it whenever I was between braiding sessions. My hair has had a cycle of being natural for a couple of weeks and then being in braids for a couple of months. Braids were the easiest to manage but natural was the most amazing for bed head days for just letting it do whatever it wanted until it was time to comb it and go.
When I came to the US, that changed. My mom wanted me to get a perm to make my hair more manageable for whoever would be braiding my hair after that. I said no.
The women who would be dealing with my hair would most likely be black; African American if you would. Given, they were fewer, but still, they should know what to do. So we made a compromise; I would get a blowout. I was excited. I was hoping to get like one of those Anegla Davis afros from hot-blowing my hair and rocking that for the short period time before getting my hair braided.
My auntie took me to an Spanish hairdresser’s on Boston Road. I was a little confused. Why go here if there were African hairdresser’s in the area? Couldn’t they do blowout? I came with my bedhead fingering the kinky coils in a place that looked like a sand box with three Hispanic cats waiting for a customer. My auntie gave the directions for them to ‘curl the ends’, and finally realized that the blowout would be like my professor’s own where she straightens her loosely curled hair to lank straight. My hair couldn’t do that! It wasn’t as if I was going from slightly curly to straight, even though I imagine that causes damage to their hair too.
This woman took one of those tiny toothed combs and attempted to coiff my hair, then, losing her patience, started trying to comb African texture hair with it. I teared my head away from her grasp and then shoved a larger toothed comb into her hand. She took it and went to town, starting at the base of the hair, and retching the comb up, up, trying to reach the tips before pressing the hot comb to it and drawing my gravity-defying hair back to the ground. Her hand slips once, and my scalp is on fire. I tear up and hold up my hand up (she’s not fluent in English, so we talked in the universal language of gestures) and wait. I can’t do this. Had it been that my auntie hadn’t paid for my hair, I would have walked away. She went to another customer and I took the largest comb on the table and went to town on my hair the right way. You start from the tips, one, then the body, two, then the scalp, three. I combed through the remaining patch of hair left. It looked like the last living shrub in a charred forest.
My dad called, and he could tell by my voice I was not into this. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to be angry with the Hispanics that ran a business a lot of African American women frequent, blowing out their own locks, never mind the scalp damage, and their inability to learn from me combing my own hair with minimal discomfort. But there was nothing to be said to the women who were of my own hair texture who had no idea of how to deal with their own hair.
The woman doing my hair was as impatient as I was for me to leave. Without even brushing me off, she waved me out the door as I forgot the one word in Spanish that I confidently knew, ‘gracias’. The moment the cool evening air hit me, my new lank hair started fluttering in my face.
My hair doesn’t do that.
On the street, I must have had a beastly frown plastered on my face. A Hispanic man complimented my hair as I walked past him. I walked back to my aunt’s apartment, but couldn’t bring myself to knock on her door without tearing up. I took a walk around the park, looking at the advertisements at the bus stops having advert after advert having black women in their natural hair. Even Wellesley, with all of its white residents, has an African American woman in their Gap store with her tiny ‘fro, smiling in the shoot. 3C-ish alright, but natural all the same. All the kids that ran past me wore their hair natural in pigtails, or in braids and beads. My world started to look like me…and then I saw the adult women. Every single one had on a weave, a perm, or a bonnet. Braids were hard to come by in this Bronx crowd.
I saw this FaceBook post by black women for other black women about how ugly an afro wig looks to them and then it all makes sense. Even if everyone else, the media, black men, even your own kids wear their hair natural and like it, you will always look at it as unnatural because it’s not the standard of beauty. Let me repeat that. You want perms, blowouts and weaves because it mimics the standard of beauty.
But why would you want to meet the standard? From our bodies to our personalities to humor, we don’t follow the common flaxen maiden. You don’t mind ridiculous booty implants or our caricature base humor, but you want to complain about your own hair, and wonder why those Hispanic hair stylists did not know how to manage my hair, despite being in a predominantly black neighborhood? But African American women don’t know what to do with their own hair! And that infuriates me more.
We need to treat ourselves with respect before we can expect it from others. I think I’m going to end my rant here. It’s 1:40am and I need some sleep. I’ve been lowkey putting dabs of water in my hair for my kinks and curls to return. I won’t let them go when they do.