Pushed and Pulled

So lately I have been feeling some “hair anxiety”. I know that I should be comfortable and happy with my hair, who I am am and how I choose to wear my hair, but since beginning my project abroad I am beginning to have some self-doubts. I guess I should begin this post however talking about why I am doing a project on hair. I know in my first post introducing my blog why I am choosing to study this, however, I took a very academic approach to introduce a very personal topic to myself. I love learning, and would have been as happy as a clam to be able to study any topic on the face of this earth, save maybe something, well anything to do with numbers, what can I say, I’m just not a numbers gal… Hair for me however, is something that is not just a hobby, but for me is something special. I don’t know if I can even describe the relationship that I have with hair without sounding a little obsessed. So in order to save me from sounds like some deranged crazy hair lady, I will simply say that my hair has taught me about the good and the bad of being a Black woman in a predominantly white world. Through my hair, the close relationship between my mom and myself grew, I encountered unlikely friendships because of the texture of my kinks, and created different personas to go with my different hairstyles. However, hair has also made me acutely aware of my difference both within and outside of the African American community. So, I know I have said this now in multiple fashions, but, for me, hair is extremely important.

With this being said, since my sophomore year in high school I have worn my hair in the exact same style, twists, save for my high school graduation when I wore a weave, and a darn good one at that! I attended a majority white high school, so for me, on my graduation day I wanted to look like everyone else, long straight flowing hair. Even though I am clearly Brown skinned (see my blog photo if you have any confusion on my skin color), skin color for me didn’t really play that much of a role in my social insecurities, of which there are many, but what teenager doesn’t have this issues? I was happy being Black, however for me hair was a big thing, it was my racial insecurity. I didn’t want anyone knowing that the twists I had worn since my sophomore year weren’t mine. In fact, I remember once my white friend had come to my room when I was pinning up my hair with a flower clip when one of the twisties fell out from the kitchen of my head and landed on the floor between the two of us. Instead of admitting that one of my synthetic extensions had fallen out, I made up a complete lie. I was so embarrassed that  I told her, “the medication the doctor has me on s making my hair fall out in clumps”. The sad part though was that she believed me! So come graduation day I wanted to blend in with my white classmates. I ditched my trusted twisties and got a weave. The front, sides, and back were all permed and highlighted blond in order to blend in with the Indian hair I purchased in order to give me the “Beyoncé” look I had been craving.

I decided to wear the weave mainly because my natural hair was so short. It seemed as though I could never grown hair longer than chin-length, and that was if I was lucky. I wanted so badly to be accepted, and be considered hot and beautiful by the guys in my class. I knew, well I should say my teenage brain thought that if I had hair like those women on the herbal essence commercials that I would be beautiful, accepted, and seen as a dare I say, a sex icon by boys that in all actuality I didn’t even like. I simply wanted to be beautiful. So with this mentality, I told my mom want I wanted and we split the cost of the weave 50/50. She purchased the hair ($300) and I paid for it’s installation and subsequent hair appointments ($250 for initial installation, and $90 every other week for 3 months, you do the math…) I spent $550 right off the bat to feel beautiful. But, did it work? NO.

Yeah, sure the guys in my class were amazed with how “my hair” was so long and silky smooth looking, and I loved how it looked and felt, But I knew deep down inside that this hair was not mine, no matter how hard I tried to pass it off as such. Also, since spending so much money on this one style, no one was permitted to touch my hair and feel the tracks underneath besides my mom and stylist. When I wore a weave, I was so paranoid that someone would find out my secret that I was constantly looking for those floating hands intent to touch my hair. The weave was a secret I was going to take to my grave– no one was going to know. In my experience, no Black woman, well the majority of Black women that I have known, will let anyone touch their hair besides their mothers and hairstylists. They all uphold the “no touching rule” and not even people they are intimate with are allowed to touch, caresses, or God forbid pull on their sewn on, clamped on, or tied on tresses. Wearing fake hair is a like wearing a girdle; you look great to the outside, but what lies beneath is a whole ‘nother story.

During the summer after my graduation, I went to the Jack and Jill teen conference. All the “cool  girls” wore weaves. So, I felt right at home. I even passed off my weave as my own hair and shook it around so much it’s amazing I didn’t get whip-lash! I wore my weave to the HEOP summer program at Hamilton, and tried to pass my hair off as mine. No one was allowed to touch it, style it, or even look at it too long! I did my hair every Friday night when both my roommates were asleep so I wouldn’t risk the chance of them seeing the tracks in my head as I blow dried, flat ironed and roller set my hair for the coming week. I was dedicated to keeping up the façade as long as possible, even if it cost me precious hours of sleep; I was a woman on a mission.

At the age of 18, freshly graduated from high school and on the cusp of her college career, I was so fully invested and acculturated into western anglo beauty norms that the thought of being Black and Beautiful with nappy hair didn’t even cross my mind. When I though about natural hair all I could envision was the movie Roots accompanied by the Lion King opening song! Nappy hair to me only evoked the memories of the pain and suffering I endured during countless bathroom battles ending up with two crooked french braids that reminded me of the Mammy figure in antebellum south books and movies. When I began my freshman year, I wore my hair in twists, like I had done all throughout high school. I knew that my main focus was going to be my school work and not my hair, so I wore this style because of it’s convenience, ease of styling, and morning prep time. Besides it was a big bonus that I could pass the twists off as my natural hair! I didn’t want anyone knowing that my twists weren’t my real hair. I had even convinced my best friend of the time that those twists were mine!  I was obsessed with people believing that my extension hair was my real hair. I don’t know why, but for me it was imperative that people believe I had hair that was long, full and thick. It didn’t have to be straight anymore, but I wanted people t believe the the curls of my twists were my natural curls, since it made people think I had that “mixed girl” kind of hair, aka good hair in my mind. Needless to say, I was embarrassed by my hair, and wanted to distance myself as far away from it as possible, even though it was that stuff the grew out of my head.

However, by the end of my freshmen year my whole mentality changed.

The turning point for accepting the hair the grew out of my head happened when I read the book Angel Davis: An Autobiography, in my philosophy class, the Black Self. reading Angela’s words made me realize that the way I wear my hair, represents something much larger than me. My self-loathing was a direct cause of having bought into the white, westernized beauty ideals I was and still am saturated with on a daily basis. I don’t know why, but after reading that book, it’s like a light bulb went off, and I had possibly one the the most profound beauty  “ah-ha” moments I’ve had so far in my life. In borrowing the words from India Aire, I realized that, I am not my hair, and that beauty comes from the insides and radiates out. The kind of guy I should want would love me and my nappy kinky 4a 4b 4c hair, and the kinks that I have are some of the most beautiful out there. I realized I didn’t have to look like the women I saw in the magazines and television in order to be beautiful, sexy, or just plain fabulous; I was born that way.

However, ever since that revelation, I have still had issues fully loving my hair, and on a few different occasions have relapsed into lusting for long straight hair, (though I’ve only acted on it once, and it was because I felt as though I had no other styling options). When it comes down to it though, I still love my hair.

Since coming to India however, and learning about not just the hair trade, but what is beauty for women here in India, I see the same demons that haunted me back in the states, have crossed numerous oceans and countries, and are firmly plated in the hearts, minds, and media outlets of India. As I already mentioned in my post about beauty norms here in India, I was surprised by the moment of hair doubt I had about  a week ago. I research at a company that sells long straight hair to hundreds of thousands of women in order for them to achieve long straight hair. I would say I was minimally affected by the product the company sells since I firmly believed that I was “above all that hair anxiety, right???” Wrong! It wasn’t until the product line/ customer service team of women who I have become friends with in the office put a long flowing wig on my head did I fall victim to the notion that I looked better with straight hair, and maybe I should consider wearing a weave or wig in order to look “prettier”. I was even encouraged by the ladies to bargain with Mr. George to get a good price for the wig (which would cost me about $400 USD) since I looked so much better than I normally did. Even though I love wearing my hair as it is now, I can’t help but feel those pangs to give up my natural hair, and succumb to the beauty of straight hair. Maybe I am just feeling this way since I am surrounded by women each and every day that have hair that flows down their backs. However, I am sure my hair conflict will settle down once I am around more people with African hair. Whatever it may be, I hope that I can finally get past my hair issues soon. This being said, when I put the wig on my head, and saw myself in the mirror, I just couldn’t help but notice how much I was affected by wearing a gorgeous long straight wig for only 5 minutes, 10 minutes tops! I wonder why long hair is so tempting to those who don’t have it.

Wearing the lovely wig the product line ladies convinced me to put on! 

I definitely think I look like a Dhanalakshmi here! I’ve got the bindi to prove it! 

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One thought on “Pushed and Pulled

  1. Hey Alex,
    The struggle continues…
    I think maybe this revelation/ lax in perspective is important because it really makes you deal with what you think is important. And isn’t that the root (excuse the pun) of this journey? I think you will gain such clarity on a whole bunch of subjects.
    Keep up the good work!
    Wande and family

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