You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

English: Wild hair
English: Wild hair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My newest thoughts brought to you by Aretha Franklin. So for me the point of this blog is to talk about all three categories of my fabulously obvious title. So I try to mark by category what I think each post refers to although there is apparently massive overlap. Hard to tease them out in my life.

Today’s topic: Good Hair. I still havent seen Chris Rock’s documentary (on the list), but I have mostly whats considered good hair. Its curly and crazy, but it grows pretty long and stays straight with enough heat and no humidity. When I was really little, I used to cry everytime my mother tried to comb through my hair, and my sisters and I wore it in a ton of random braids sprouting out of our heads with the bubble bands that used to pop your finger and hurt terribly when you missed. But in 7th grade, surrounded by mostly white students with awesomely straight hair I desperately wanted to wear my hair out.

Thus began my Fridays of sitting 3 hours in a chair, while I was burned by extremely hot combs that sat in little metal ovens. You would sit in various chairs, while the sylist feathered other people in and out of your appointment time. It took HOURS to get it straight, and then no washing for as long as you could stand it and then back to the chair. Its a different life than most people – everything dries out black hair and scalps, so the less washing the better – and it does handle oils better than most white hair, but still it gets dirty. So every two weeks back in the chair. I tried relaxing it once in 8th grade. That resulted in me cutting most of my hair off, as it was damaged, not at all straighter, and it never grew past my boob again. It used to be all the way down my back. Im still occasionally sad about that experiment.

So I kept up that schedule – the chair and two weeks, through volleyball practice, track meets and summers, until college. Going east one would think it would be easier to find someone to deal with my hair, but even black hairdressers there had problems. So I started washing it on my own and trying curly every once in a while – in a big ponytail at the back of my head. It was crazy. And then when I moved to Utah – I let a white stylist handle it and it wasnt so bad. It didnt get as straight as it used to in California or for as long, but it was better than straightening it myself, which was never going to happen.

That story may feel fairly benign, but its amazing how much all women define themselves by their hair. Maybe because it takes so long – men can buzz their heads look like an idiot for two weeks and then its over. Hair grown back. Women are sort of committed to those bangs the second the first cut is made. I dont think even I realized how much having crazy frizzy hair was bothering me until I went to Hawaii, and I saw the Islanders walking around with their version of combed out fro. It was like heaven, and the first time I saw a white girl with her blond straight hair I was incensed. What were they doing here ruining the minorities’ good time? Ive never so quickly irrationally hated a person or group except for that first week in Hawaii. It was like paradise marred by the people I had finally escaped. The feeling of having found my people, my place was  lanced every time I saw straight short skinny mainlanders. I got over it eventually, but its probably why I like New York. It feels like freedom from an oppressive standard – and while it may not be their fault, its certainly stiffling to try to live amongst them as one who can never conform enough, even if I wanted to. Genetics is drawing that line in this instance.

So I finally gave up. I mean a bad short haircut saved by me figuring out that curly hair actually worked in it forced my hand, but still, in the past year and a half its never been straightened. Its a whole new world. I didnt do it to reclaim an identity or make a statement – it was too much money and time to maintain the straight look and I decided I no longer cared. Its amazing how much my hair means to people. To my mother, born two generations ago, its claiming “bad hair” and looks wild and crazy and unprofessional. To her, Im giving up the fight to assimilate in and gain the privileges her generation fought for but so clearly showcasing the things that are different between the two races. On the other hand, I get so many compliments I get on my hair from all people. Black, white, asian, etc who just looooove how much volume I can get and how it just seems to work. For me, I love waking up each morning to the ever growing mass, sticking in a few random bobby pins and going outside. Its my own liberation from myself and the norms I thought I had to live by. Now I spend my money trying new curly hair products – I still swear by Kerastase and now Devacurl – in case anyone was wondering.

So now there are people who know me who have never seen my hair straight. Its funny how we can change so much so fast – even though it seems so small. Maybe one day Ill go back to the occasional blow out, but until then, freedom is looking pretty – literally.

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