Everyone has a hair story…a journey. Doesn’t matter what the ethnicity or culture, the era or the region, those straight, curly, thick, thin, black, red, brown strands that grow out of that skin we call scalp is such an interesting part of our personal evolution. As a child my father, who was an oil painter, taught me how to draw, sketch, paint. I have fond memories of him taking me and my sisters to ethnic festivals and art galleries that were filled with vibrant colors and combinations of art media with positive cultural messaging. I’m not sure he intentionally planted that seed for the value of art and cultural appreciation I have today. My mother is a retired nurse and she had three girls with thick hair…need I explain what that meant on school days? Or the bimonthly ritual to make those school mornings easier to manage? Let me share what I remember as a young child.
Every other Saturday I had a standing appointment at the beauty salon for a wash and press; you know what a press is, right? Horrible experience. And if Momma’s money wasn’t right, she or my grandmother would do the honors. Mostly my grandmother; my mother held down two nursing jobs and although my father took us places occasionally and those were enlightening times, my mother was really a single parent. I remember spending the night at my grandmother’s house and on Saturday mornings the ritual began. I had to lay on her kitchen counter for her to wash then vinegar rinse my hair. She parted and plaited my hair and I played around with cousins until my hair was dry. And then the tortuous part of the ritual began. Some of you know where I’m going with this. For my grandmother to wash my hair felt loving, caring and comforting; I say the same for the parting, combing and plaiting my hair. However, the hot comb was a wicked menace to my thick mass of hair, and flattening my mane and suffering singed ears held the proof in my young mind that something must have been inherently wrong with my coarse, tightly curled hair. When I became a teenager, my mother relinquished “hair rights” to me which meant I had to take care of and style my own hair. Because of my mental conditioning, yes I tried that “hot comb” on my beautiful hair with unsavory results to say the least. Wearing an afro was the way to go, especially during that time when African Americans were voicing and wearing the pronouncements of “Black is Beautiful” to uplift ourselves.
Continuing to wear my hair natural was a no brainer; that was a new world for me and I welcomed it. My eldest sister would braid my hair and add wooden beads and I loved it. Natural was the way to go! Painless, beautiful, connected to my heritage. Couldn’t ask for more. Meanwhile I saw other young adults pattern their behavior after their mothers and celebrities by getting presses, perms and weaves causing great hair damage; but I understood it. They wanted acceptance in the job market, and were still dealing with how to cut the prep time for work. I know…what a choice to have to make. Fortunately, I worked in the school system and didn’t have to make a “hair” decision to be hired. I have been wearing locs for the past 25 years and loving all that I can do with them. But I have great respect for the new generations that have boldly embraced every imaginable coiffure that expresses their personality and style. We’ve come a long way, baby! Within this 21st century in the African diaspora, I’ve seen the self-love and respect, and hair creative choices that are much more conscious and thoughtful, even while choosing the press and perm! “Go ‘head wit yo’ bad self!” Just remember, your story is ever changing, from one chapter of your life to the next. Keep it real, keep it love for your hair.