By Kimberly Perette
A Black Lady’s Hair Journey
Imani strode into the room; her head held high with a dimpled smile showing perfect teeth. Though she was born in the 1990’s, she was wearing a 1960’s look. Her sparkling cat lined eyes peeked out behind her glasses. She sported an afro that is around four inches high after shrinkage. When her bangs are stretched out, the length of her hair doubles reaching past her chin. Yes shrinkage was real. Depending on the size and degree of curl, shrinkage can be 50% or even up to 75% of the true length. The natural curl pattern of black hair tightens when it’s wet so it appears to shrink. If the curl pattern is tight it can be loosened by braiding or twisting the damp hair and allowing it to dry completely. This is called “stretching it out.”
“As a kid, I always had my hair relaxed because, my mom said that it was easier to deal with. She always said my hair was straight off the boat, like it was straight nappy,” she laughs.
“My mom and dad would do my hair. My dad was actually a hair stylist for a long time. He was much better at white people or black guy, hair. He couldn’t do black girl hair unless it was straightened,” Imani said.
I thought that was interesting so I asked my sister, India who is a professional hair stylist for over twenty-six years.
“There was no focus on one type of hair. It was really all about protection and sanitation. They showed us how to properly use chemicals to straighten hair. The also taught us how to braid. I learned more once I was licensed. The phenomenon of natural hair is amazing. It’s not my specialty at the time, but it has changed the game,” India had told me during a phone conversation.
“I hated getting my hair done. It was like the classic thing, sitting down between my mom’s legs and she would do my hair,” Imani continued.
“I know what you mean,” I said.
“She would make me go get the bucket with all the hair supplies. I hated getting it because she would pull my hair while combing it, and it was so think, and it hurt so much because I was tender-headed.”
Imani has been on her current hair journey after her last big chop back in 2013.
I knew about being tender headed. Tender headed was an old-school term used to describe someone with an unusually tender scalp. These people couldn’t handle even a minimal amount of tension on their hair without feeling a lot of pain.
“My mom would braid my hair. I used to have cornrows during the summer or for a couple of weeks at a time. I would have braids so that I would just have to get my hair done once,” Imani said.
“When did you start wearing your natural hair?” I asked.
“ When I was in middle school, I decided to get dreads because I was tired of doing my hair. I was about 13,” she said.
“And your mom let you?” I asked.
“Yeah, my mom had gotten dreads in 2001, so she had her dreads at that point. My dad wasn’t excited about it. He has always been very traditional about how young women should be. My mom wanted to lock up my hair when I was a kid, but my dad said no,” Imani said.
When Imani decided to do a Big Chop in high school. Once a women made the decision to stop chemically altering her hair, or transitions from locks to another style, she has to decide what path she will take as she transitions to wearing her naturally. This process could take anywhere from weeks to months if she decides to gradually transition to natural hair. Or, she can choose the quicker route, also known as the Big Chop or cutting all the chemicals or locks out of her hair at once. Imani has a whole slide show of her hair journey after her big chop on Instagram.
“I went crazy for a year with my hair. I was just doing everything. I had an ombre style, so it was dark and it faded into brown. I had a mohawk. I dyed it all sorts of colors. Red is a terrible color, because the moment you wash it, it fades,” Imani said.
Imani is a confident young women. She likes to big chop her hair.
“I really liked shaving my hair because my self esteem was attached to my hair for a long time. I really liked my dreads because they were so long. My hair was so gorgeous. Shaving it off completely helped me. I don’t care as much because the cool thing about me is that I have a really cute face so it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m always gonna look good,” she laughs.
“A lot of people wouldn’t have the boldness to say that,” I said.
“I didn’t for a long time and then it was one of those things like, no one else was telling me this. So I’m going to start telling myself this,” she said.
I applaud Imani for her boldness and confidence. Kudos to her mom who raised such a strong young woman. This could be a lesson to women everywhere to embrace your natural beauty. Thanks to Oprah Winfrey and her hair stylist, this is a different time for black women with Type4 hair.
For a long time long wavy hair was good hair and short kinky hair was bad hair in the African American community. However, Andrew Walker, Oprah’s hair stylist, started with the premise that all hair was good hair. Until Andrew Walker created it, there was no typing system to help decode the various curly textures most common among African American women. Now because of his work with the Oprah, Walker’s has set the industry standard for identifying hair types. He is considered the authority on textured hair and has styled other luminaries such as Michelle Obama (Type4) and Halle Barry (Type3).
He began, as all good professionally trained stylists, with the chemistry behind hair. Everyone is born with either naturally curly, straight or wavy hair. The amount of curl, wave, or lack thereof, is dependent on the number of disulfide bonds between hair proteins found in the hair shaft; the greater the number of links, the curlier the hair. Hair is primarily composed of keratin, a protein, which grows from the follicle. Keratins, and other proteins, are formulated in the cells of the hair follicle. All of the proteins become a part of the hair shaft and contain sulfur atoms. When two sulfur atoms pair up and bond, they form a disulfide bond. If the two sulfur atoms in the same protein are at a distance, and join to form the disulfide bond, the protein will bend. This is how your curls are created.
Did you get that?
All that said, Walker then created a hair typing system that classified various hair textures and breaks each hair type down into 4 types with added sub categories. Here they are:
Type 1: Straight hair with no evidence of curl pattern or texture.
You know you have type one hair if the journey from the root to the tip literally travels in one straight line. Due to it’s closed cuticle the hair is very resilient, even with frequent styling, and tends to be oily as the scalps sebum can travel in one straight shot along the hair shaft. Straight hair is resistant to styling. The gorgeous Lucy Lu has Type1.
Type 2A,B&C: Wavy hair.
2A is a loose wave, 2B is moderately wavy and 2C has a strong defined wave, all of which form a lengthy “s” patterned curl. Julianne Moore has 2B. Zoe Saldana has type 2C.
Type 3A&B: Curly hair.
3A has a stretched and loopy curl. 3B has a rounded bodyfull curl. It follows a definitive pattern displayed as an “s” or “z.” This type hair is prone to dryness as the scalp’s sebum has a rocky road to travel to naturally hydrate the strands. Equally challenging is the presence of frizz. Alicia Keys has type 3B curls. Sarah Jessica Parker and Andie MacDowell have 3B. Nicole Kidman has 3A.
Type 3C,4A: Very curly hair.
Type 3C has a tighter corkscrew curl with lots of volume. Type 4A is known to be coily-curly and has many short “s” patterns. While it holds all the attributes of curly hair, it is even more prone to tangles, breakage, dryness and frizz. Some types carry the “s” and “z” patterns, or even a texture in between. Tracee Ellis Ross, the mixed daughter of Diana Ross and Robert Ellis Silberstein, has 3C curls. Andy Allo, the singer song writer who was born in Cameroon has 4A. And now, the infamous,
Type 4B&C: Kinky hair.
It is sometimes called Ziggy, Crimpy or Nappy. 4B hair forms tight “z” patterns along the hair shaft. Type 4C may show little to no curl pattern. It appears to be the strongest of hair types while it is actually the most fragile and delicate of all hair types. The strands could follow a ziggy pattern or show no pattern at all, leaving a “puffy” appearance. This hair type also experiences extreme dryness and requires consistent hydrating and protecting. Those of us with Type4B and C hair make sure we sleep in a silk or satin bonnet each night, to prevent additional tangles, knots and breakage. For this type hair you must use thick creamy based products to help hydrate your hair. Solange, yes Beyonce’s sister, has 4B hair. Teyonah Parris of the series Mad Men has 4C. She always wore a wig on the show because there weren’t many happy-nappies in the 60’s. This is also the hair type of Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and me. We all probably sleep in the good old silk bonnet. Can you imagine Michelle Obama asleep in her silk bonnet in the White House? She may have slept on satin pillow cases as I sometimes do in lieu of the bonnet. I imagine Oprah, Michelle and me all sleeping in our bonnets at slumber party at one of Oprah’s mansions. Hey, it could happen.
On an episode in 2009, Oprah Winfrey wore her Type4 hair in a pressed style so that Chris Rock could run his hands through it. Pressing hair is one of the ways to straighten natural hair temporarily without the use of chemicals. It is done by running a pressing comb, also known as a hot comb, through the hair to straighten out the curls. The hair is coated with a light oil and the temperature is carefully modulated as to not to burn the hair.
“When it came to teaching us to straighten hair, there was a way to do it properly, so as not to burn the hair or the client,” My sister India had told me. One of my sister’s specialties is pressing hair. Back to Oprah.
“I knew this was a hair show, so I said, I’m going to wear my own hair,” Winfrey said.
“You’re hair is looking really nice today. I know you have a little extra piece in the back,” Rock said, pointing towards the back of his head. Winfrey wore her hair in a loose style that hung about a foot or more down her back.
“I do not,” Winfrey said as she stood up and let him run his fingers through the back of her hair.
“Whoa!” Rock exclaimed standing up looking shocked.
“I do not. No extra pieces. All mine,” Oprah said proudly.
“Naw, get out of here?” Rock exclaimed, still not believing.
“Look. You can pull it, feel it, see it,” Oprah said, lifting her hair up high. It was about eighteen inches long when pulled from the top. Rock musses the top her head with glee.
“I’ve never done that to a black woman before,” Rock said.
Until now, Type4 hair was considered bad hair by just about everyone in the black community, as featured in Chris Rock’s film, Good Hair. According to Rock, he was inspired to make the movie after his three-year-old daughter asked him, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” She has Type4 hair. He realized she had already absorbed the perception among some blacks that curly hair was not “good.” So Rock did extensive research into the $9 billion black hair industry. He visited such places as beauty salons, barbershops, and hair styling conventions to explore popular approaches to styling. He also visited scientific laboratories to learn the science behind chemical relaxers that straighten hair and explored why black women adopt so many different styles for their hair. Techniques designed to straighten hair appear to be intended to give it characteristics of European hair. Actress Nia Long says in the film, “There’s always this sort of pressure within the black community like, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears the Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle.” Rock questions why African-American women adopt a concept of “beauty” that is not based on the natural characteristics of their hair. Some endure, sometimes painful, hair treatments in order to achieve this definition of beauty. If the treatments, such as hair relaxers, are done improperly, they can cause hair loss or burns on the scalp. Truly the black scalp needs a rest and our notions of beauty need to relax.
Our Hair Journey
When I saw my friend Sheila the other day, I noticed that she was on another hair journey. She had taken out her braids. Sheila had worn braids for the two years or so that I’ve known her. She usually had additional hair braided into her own natural 4B hair. This created great shoulder length style which she sometimes wore in an untwist. Getting your hair braided can take several hours in the shop.
“I always wanted the girls to wear their hair as natural as possible,” Sheila’s mom, Evelyn said.
Evelyn is in her 60’s and has been wearing her natural hair for many years. She has worn her current style, a short gray afro, for at least eight years.
“I never cared what any one thought. I didn’t care about having long hair. I did what I wanted to do,” Evelyn said.
“You sound like you’ve been pretty independent around your hair,” I said.
“I was always independent,” Evelyn replied.
“Where did you grow up?” I asked.
“I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. My grand-father bought a ranch in the 1940’s,”she said.
“What type of ranch was it? Horses? Cattle?” I asked.
“We grew cotton,” she replied.
Cotton, I thought. Black people growing cotton? That peeked my interest, another interview another day.
“I had tried lots of natural styles. I would go into braids, afros, you know,” she said.
“What type of braids? Did you have hair braided in or did you do cornrows?” I asked.
“I did both. I would have a lady come to the house and do mine and my girls’ hair,” she said.
I remember watching a KQED special African tribal live. There were scenes of women sitting together cornrowing their hair. This was a time for women to commune together, not unlike the quilting circles in the American south. My mother used to cornrow my hair to prepare for the warm sultry summers in Louisiana. We could go swimming in cornrows and not have to get our hair pressed. I remember these relaxing times. We sit on the ground drinking lemonade and sleep on pallets in front of the fan. Cornrows bring back fond memories of my childhood. Cornrows or braids are an ancient traditional African hair style. The hair is braided very close to the scalp, using an underhanded, upward motion to produce a continuous, raised row. Cornrows are often formed in simple, straight lines, but they can be formed in complicated geometric or curvilinear designs, as well. Cornrows are worn by men and women and are sometimes adorned with beads or cowry shells. Depictions of women with cornrows have been found in Stone Age paintings dating back as far back as 3000 B.C. There are depictions of the cornrow hairstyle in Native American paintings, from as far back as one thousand years ago. Cornrows are favored for their easy maintenance, rows can be left in for weeks at a time if maintained through careful washing of the hair and regular oiling of the scalp. In Africa social terrain: religion, kinship, status, age, ethnicity, and other attributes of identity can all be expressed according to the cornrow hairstyle. The act of braiding was important to some cultures because it was believed that it transmitted cultural values between generations, expressed bonds between friends. Cornrows made a comeback in the 1960s and ’70s, and again during the ’90s, when NBA basketball player Allen Iverson started wearing them. So how did we go from women braiding hair for cultural values to burning and pulling out our hair?
I woke up this morning and, as I do every morning, I picked out an outfit, took a shower, and when I was done with that, I thought, now to figure out what to do with my hair. You see, I have Type4 hair.
Type4 hair is called kinky or nappy hair. It can be the nappiest of nappy and the knottiest of knotty. In the past nobody wanted type4 hair, it was the thing that defined you as the blackest of black. It was the thing that indicated that you were not beautiful. And, it was the hair type of most dark skinned women of African descent, all over the world.
In the past, the information about how to handle kinky hair was missing or just flat-out wrong. Many myths arose around kinky hair, that it was hard and coarse, that it was bad hair that needed to be tamed and transformed into straight long hair. Many ideas about beauty and femininity were, and still are, centered around the length and texture of one’s hair. A head full of long flowing hair was the definition of feminine beauty, so for many African-American women, this meant they were not beautiful. In fact it, in the western Christian world, it meant just the opposite, that they were unattractive and undesirable. In fact, it is written in the King James Bible, one of the most popular books in the world, “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” I don’t know how many times we’ve heard that in church. Many African Americans are of the Christian faith and these beliefs, among other things, have had a psychological effect on women for generations.
However, because of the rise of the internet and YouTubers, African American women, for the first time in history are embracing their natural Type4 beauty. No more ripping and weaving, no more perms that burn out your hair, it has become all about being happy nappy.
In recent times, the transition to wearing your hair naturally, or from wearing one natural style to the next, is called “a hair journey.” Evidently, African American women have been on these hair journeys for a long time and African American hair has always been big business. Let’s go on a little historical hair journey, shall we?
African American Hair: A History
The first hair relaxer was invented by accident in 1905 by Garret Augustus Morgan, Sr., who was born in 1877 in Paris, Kentucky. A son of former slaves, Morgan founded the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company, in 1913. He also created the curved-tooth pressing comb in 1910, which we will hear about later. Before creating hair relaxers, he invented many objects we use for public safety, such as three-position traffic signals. He also invented safety hoods and smoke protectors, which were used by firefighters of the day. The idea for hair relaxers came from working on sewing machines in his workshop. He found that chemicals used to repair sewing machines relaxed the curls of kinky hair. Woof! His first live test subject was an Airedale dog, a breed that had naturally curly hair. The dog’s hair successfully uncurled. The same results occurred when he tested the chemicals on his own head. This was probably not a good idea.
African American hair care was to go on to establish the first two African American female millionaires in history. Around the same time as Morgan, 1896-1900, another child of former slaves, Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone (1869 –1957), started playing around with chemicals. She went on to become an American businesswoman, inventor and philanthropist. In the first three decades of the 20th century, she founded and developed a large and prominent commercial and educational enterprise centered on cosmetics for black women. Her father fought for Kentucky on the side of the Union in the Civil War, her mother escaped from Kentucky to Illinois. While attending high school, Turnbo took particular interest in chemistry. She grew so fascinated with hair and hair care that she often practiced hairdressing with her sister. With expertise in both chemistry and hair care she developed her own hair care products. At the time, many women used goose fat, heavy oils, soap, or bacon grease to straighten their curls, which damaged both scalp and hair. Oh, the things we go through to be beautiful. While experimenting with hair and different hair care products, she developed and manufactured her own line of non-damaging hair straighteners, special oils, and hair-stimulant products for black women. She named her new product “Wonderful Hair Grower.” Her products and sales began to revolutionize hair care methods for all African Americans. In 1902, Turnbo moved to a thriving St. Louis, home of the nation’s fourth-largest African American population , where she and three hired assistants sold her hair care products from door-to-door. Her marketing strategy was to give away free treatments to attract more customers. Due to the high demand for her product in St. Louis, Turnbo opened her first shop in 1902. She also launched a wide advertising campaign in the black press, held news conferences, toured many southern states, and recruited many women whom she trained to sell her products. One of her selling agents, Sarah Breedlove Davis, became known as Madam C. J. Walker. Walker, eventually built her own business empire using a similar model.
In 1910, Malone, built a large building that she named Poro College, which took up an entire city block. Malone’s product line was called Poro, a combination of the married names of, herself, Annie Pope, and her sister Laura Roberts. The campus was located in St. Louis’s upper-middle-class black neighborhood and served as a gathering place for the city’s African Americans, who were denied access to other entertainment and hospitality venues. The complex, which was valued at more than one million dollars, included classrooms, beauty shops, laboratories, a five hundred seat auditorium, conference rooms, a gentlemen’s smoking parlor, cafeteria, dining halls, ice cream parlor, bakery, emergency hospital, a theater, gymnasium, chapel, roof garden, general office, shipping department, a manufacturing plant, laundry, seam-stress shop, dormitories, and guests rooms. The College’s curriculum addressed the whole student; students were coached on personal style for work: on walking, talking, and a style of dress designed to maintain a solid persona. Poro College employed nearly two hundred people in St. Louis. Through its school and franchise businesses, the college created jobs for almost seventy-five thousand women in North and South America, Africa and the Philippines. Malone also owned an entire city block in Chicago. When Turnbo married for the third time in 1914, she was worth well over a million dollars. By the 1920s, Annie Turnbo Malone had become a multi-millionaire. While extremely wealthy, Malone lived modestly, giving thousands of dollars to the local black YMCA and the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC. She also donated money to the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home, where she served as president on the board of directors from 1919 to 1943. With her help, in 1922 Malone bought a facility which was renamed Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center in her honor and is still in operation today. It is located on Annie Malone Drive which was also named in her honor.
The next step on our hair journey takes us to Sarah Breedlove (1867 – 1919), most commonly known as Madam C. J. Walker. Breedlove was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. She was born to former slaves in Delta, Louisiana, not far from where I was born. Her third marriage was to Charles J. Walker. The “Madam” was adopted from women pioneers of the French beauty industry. As was common among black women of her era, Walker experienced severe dandruff and other scalp ailments, including baldness, due to skin disorders and the application of harsh products such as lye that were included in soaps to cleanse hair and wash clothes. She learned about hair care from her brothers, who were barbers in Saint Louis. Around the time of the World’s Fair at St. Louis in 1904, she became a commission agent selling products for Annie Turnbo Malone. Unlike Malone, she was a flamboyant marketing genius with a different focus. For many years has been touted as the first female self-made millionaire in America. She has also been credited as being the pioneer of the African American hair care business. In fact it was Annie Malone, who has been all but forgotten, attests the Walker’s marketing prowess. Walker founded the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing company and by 1915 she was one of the wealthiest women in the country and one of the most successful African-American business owners ever. In other words, she was the first Oprah. And like Oprah she knew who, when and where to connect. She moved to New York and became involved in political affairs. She delivered lectures on political, economic, and social issues at conventions sponsored by powerful black institutions. Her friends and associates included Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, and W. E. B. Du Bois. During World War I Walker advocated for the establishment of a training camp for black army officers. In 1917 she helped to organized the Silent Protest Parade on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. The public demonstration drew more than eight thousand African Americans to protest a riot in East Saint Louis that killed thirty-nine African Americans. Walker made her fortune by developing and marketing a line of beauty and hair products for black women. Walker was also known for her philanthropy and activism. She made financial donations to numerous organizations and became a patron of the arts. Villa Lewaro, Walker’s lavish estate in Irvington on the Hudson River in New York, served as a social gathering place for the African American community.
I found it interesting that both these women where orphans. Both women were married and divorced several times. This seemed to be a theme among highly successful business women in the 1920’s. This was the time for great growth for all women. They were independent thinkers and innovators. Coco Channel was also an orphan and was the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time, she never married.
Even though Annie Malone, Madam Walker and others did a lot for the black hair care community, black women still lived with the stereotype associated with long straight hair. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that black people began to embrace their natural hair. It started with the Afro. The Afro or ‘fro was also known as the “natural.” When you have 4c hair, the hairstyle is created by braiding the wet and freshly washed hair, and allowing it to dry. Oil and creams are rubbed into the hair while braiding, this keeps the hair soft and pliable. Sometimes the oils are scented with natural flowers and herbs. After it dries, the hair is picked out away from the scalp, allowing it to extend out from the head in a large, rounded shape, much like a cloud or ball. Particularly popular in the African-American community of the late 1960s, the hairstyle was often shaped and maintained with the assistance of a wide-toothed comb known as an Afro pick. Thus you saw people with Afro picks sticking out of back pockets, or if they wanted to be really cool, sticking out of the afro towards the back of the head.
“We were wearing our natural because we thought when you pressed or permed your hair you weren’t respecting who you were,” said my cousin, Bari Scott, who now wears her hair in a short afro. Bari was my mother’s cousin and was very involved with the black power movement of the 1970’s. She was one of the people to introduce reggae and world African music to the bay area as a program manager at KPFA in Berkeley.
“We were putting out images of Angela Davis and making films featuring black people with ‘fros. James Brown was singing Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud on the radio. It was a good time for black people,” she said. Now with rise of the natural hair movement, the afro is making a comeback.
“I had a Jerry curl once,” Evelyn continued.
“Ha! Yes, I remember the Jerry Curl,” I laughed.
The Jheri curl was a permed hairstyle that was common and popular among African American, Black Canadian, and Black British, especially during the 1980s and 90s. It was invented bay hairdresser by the name of Jheri Redding. A hair stylist is sometimes known as a hair dresser in African American hair speak. The Jheri curl, gave the wearer a glossy, loosely curled wet look. It was often misspelled as Jerry Curl as I just did earlier.
“We got it because it would loosen up our hair, you know, make it more manageable,” she said.
“Yes, I remember. It was all about how much activator you used,” I said.
“I would wear hats and everything. My friends would ask me about my hats all the time,” Evelyn said.
Hats. That’s a whole other subject. Again, another interview, another time.
“After that I cut it all off, it was shorter than it is now,” she said.
“It’s pretty short now. Did you shave it?” I asked.
Her hair was a tightly curled afro of about a quarter inch. It was all white and made a stunning contrast against her dark chocolate skin.
“I went to the barbershop with my husband one day and told them to cut it all off. I have been wearing this short style ever since. I love it. It was so convenient,” she said.
I thought that was awesome.
“Matter of fact half my friends went and cut theirs after I cut mine,” she chuckled.
“You’re a trend setter,” I said.
My cousin Bari was a trend setter too. One of my earliest memories of her was her long flowing locks. This style makes a statement. Bob Marley’s first album with the Wailers was called Natty Dreads. Natty Dreadlocks combines the term natty (as in “natural”) and a style of dreadlocks which have formed naturally without cutting, combing or brushing. Contrary to popular belief dreadlocks they are carefully maintained and require an almost ritualistic commitment. In fact many people of all cultures, regard the growth and maintenance dreadlocks as a spiritual journey. The locks are washed, conditioned and scented. Those of us who have worn understand the commitment. People of all nationalities are beginning to wear dreadlocks. They are a statement of their independence, empowerment, and freedom. People who wear dread locks are called Dread-heads.
Brit is a dread-head and sports a thick head full of locks that fall just around her ears. She has smooth brown skin and talks with a super sophisticated accent.
“How long have you been locking your hair?” I asked.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve locked my hair. This time it’s been for about ten months.The first time I wore locks was for about four years,” she said.
What made you decide to lock your hair? I asked
“As soon as I turned 18, I decided to cut the perm out of my hair. I wore a short afro. It was very short. It was a fade,” she said.
“Wow. What type of natural styles did you wear? Did you ever do cornrows or braids?” I asked.
“I tried braids. A friend of mine wanted to practice doing them. It took too long and I didn’t like it. She pulled my hair so tight and it hurt,” Brit said.
“Why did you decide to cut your hair was soon as you 18?” I asked.
“I hated getting my hair done. I hated being in the shop all day. I hated the perms,” she said.
“I hated being in the shop too. It took way too long. That’s why they call it Hair Day,” I chuckled.
“My dad hated my hair when I stopped getting perm. He said it looked like slave hair,” Brit said.
“That’s interesting. What ethnic background is your dad?” I asked.
Brit’s dad was born in the 1950’s. This was the second time in so many days, that the dad, who was black, didn’t like it when their daughters cut their hair and wore it naturally.
“Oh, he’s like me, he has about the same coloring as I have,” Brit said.
Brit has beautiful skin, milk chocolate in color and flawless. I’ve learned to recognize hair types now that I have been looking. Brit probably has type 4A. Her eyebrows are fine, straight and jet black. The edges at her hair line have a slight “s” shaped bend and is very shiny. Loose spiral shaped little curls hang at the nap of her neck.
“How about your mother?” I asked
“My mother loved it. She loves everything I do with my hair,” Brit said.
Brit was born and raised in North Carolina. Her parents are now divorced. Each has a mixed race child by a new partner.
“My Dad always dated white women, I think. I remember him telling me that he would have gotten into a lot of trouble when he was young, if people knew he was doing that. He had to be secretive about it. That was in the 1970’s,” she said. When I look at Brit, I’m reminded of myself. I miss being a dread-head.
Dreadlocks are my favorite style for natural hair. It was one of my first natural hair styles. I discovered locks quite by accident on my hair journey. I had been washing and twisting my hair into little twists which took a long time to do. I, like many others, didn’t like to get my hair done. I too had sat between my mother’s legs to get my hair pressed. I too was tender headed. Twice a month, an entire Saturday was spent in the beauty salon and I was sick of it, so I started twisting up my hair after washing. I wanted to be able to go out in the the rain and not worry about a hundred dollar hairdo. Due to my busy schedule, I had failed to untwist after washing it for a several weeks and it started to lock. I didn’t know my hair would do that all by itself. After about a year, I had a head full of thick long flowing locks that curled on the ends. It was so easy and carefree. I felt liberated. Lavender scented flowing locks became my signature style. For over ten years my locks hung loosely down my back. They were a part of who I was at the time. I was very proud of my long flowing hair, which stretched about two and a half feet down my back. I took care of my hair in ritualistic fashion and became very attached to my locks. However, after so long, they started to get heavy, especially when they were washed. There was too much tension on my hair and I had to make the hard decision of transitioning. I wore several transitioning styles. Finally, I made the hard decision and did a big chop.
My hair journey at this point has placed me in a short curly wash and go. It’s been about a year and a half since my big chop and my hair has finally recovered from being locked up for over almost ten years. Now I think of my hair I like a plant that has been pruned and is growing a whole new fresh set of leaves. The follicles are like the root system, the shafts are the stems and leaves. My current routine, takes about 10 minutes. First I steam my hair in the shower getting it nice and moist. This leaves it soft and curly. Then I apply One’n Only Argan Oil to seal in the moisture. After that I apply a good dose of Canto Shea Butter for Natural Hair moisturizing curl activator cream as I lightly finger detangle it by gently separating the strands and rubbing it between my two hands like I’m rolling pasta. I don’t comb it, but sometimes I brush it back off my face so that it waves. I do a light dusting with barber scissors. Et viola! The result is a short curly ‘fro and I’m ready to go. The only other maintenance that I have to do on my hair is to co-wash it with As I Am Coconut Co-wash, after which I apply a healthy dose of Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Caster Oil Strengthen, Grow & Restore Leave-in Conditioner.
My boyfriend misses my long locks.
“That’s one of the things I found most attractive by you. I loved the fact that you had long dread locks down to your butt,” he had said.
“Oh well, you’ll get used to it,” I said.
And he is. He actually complemented me on my little curly afro the other day.
“I like your hair like that,” he said.
He, like many men, doesn’t like short hair. When I was contemplating cutting my locks, I considered this, as many women do. Even with all this independence, there is still the slightest thought that men will like us better if we had long flowing hair. It doesn’t matter whether it is naturally straight, or a weave, or a wig, as long as it’s long and flowing. I am determined to have freedom around my hair in whatever style I choose. My partner will have to like me for who I am, not how long my hair is. As Imani said, “I have a really cute face so it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m always gonna look good.”