Puff Balls

Puff Balls

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I have never been to Brazil, but yesterday’s blog underscored the kinship that I feel with Brazilian women. Wait, let’s enlarge that: with women of African descent around the world. Actually, I feel a bond with all women who’ve felt that they somehow didn’t measure up. I think most of us at some point have looked in the mirror and been dissatisfied. When you have those experiences, do you share them with the women in your inner circle? Or, do you close the door, sigh at yourself in the mirror and privately make yourself “presentable”? Why aren’t we more open with each other about our beauty struggles? Are we embarrassed? Ashamed? Or, is it because we don’t want even our close friends to see or hear about our naps, dark roots, tangled ends? Would this be too big of a challenge to our public identity?

I came across a poem entitled “The Creamy Lye” by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg (http://www.endarkenment.com/hair/poetry/rosenberg/creamylye.htm). You can replace lye with whatever process you subject yourself to (but secretly want to stop enduring). I love this poem because I can relate to it at multiple levels. First, it speaks to the fact that lye is a harmful chemical (hmm, there are harmful chemicals in the Brazilian Blowout too) and that using it hurts you. When I got pregnant with my firsts son, I stopped relaxing my hair because my OB/GYN told me that the chemicals could get into my blood stream and, that while the amount would be negligible there is a dearth of empirical evidence to suggest that it is 100% safe to relax your hair while pregnant. I started thinking that if it would harm the baby in my womb after 40 weeks, what would it do to me after using a relaxer for two decades?

Second, the poem illustrates the resilience of natural hair because as potent as lye is, it is not as strong as natural hair which has to be “tamed” every six to eight weeks.

Finally, the poem connects using a relaxer to beauty standards that emanate from notions of White beauty (think blond hair, blue eyes and straight hair). I often wonder if women who are naturally blond and blue-eyed feel excluded from such discussions as this ones. Honestly, there are a whole host of challenges that arise from the pressure experienced when one is held up as a model of beauty. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The Creamy Lye

by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

Don't slap

My head

With that

White lye

I know the truth:

It's creamy crack

(my private addiction,

a six-week fix)

straightening my roots

with the cool press

of sodium hydroxide

It's a relaxer

leaving me

tense, my head

on fire

melting, melting

under chemical burns, plastering

my scalp with scabs

(my private track marks,

a six-week fix)

shedding and oozing.

Don't slap

My head

With that

White lye.

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