Puff Balls

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Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Call to Beauty

I continue to wonder how women in general, and Black women in particular, became so beholden to the beauty industry. Black women were attracted to the Black beauty industry of the early twentieth century for at least two key reasons. First, the Black beauty industry promoted the message that Black women were beautiful. This message refuted larger societal notions that Blacks were bestial, unclean “people” little better than animals. Participating in and using the products promoted by the black beauty industry wasn’t just about developing pretty creatures to look at, such actions helped to convey the humanity of Black people. Second, Black women could gain wealth by participating in the beauty industry. Madam C.J. Walker is an exemplar of the self-made woman entrepreneur (http://www.madamcjwalker.com/bios/madam-c-j-walker/).

One of Madam Walker’s advertisements illustrates the call to participate and encourages participants to view her beauty company as a “haven of hope for millions”. I wonder what Ms. Walker would think about the messages directed at Black women today.

The Call to Beauty

I continue to wonder how women in general, and Black women in particular, became so beholden to the beauty industry. Black women were attracted to the Black beauty industry of the early twentieth century for at least two key reasons. First, the Black beauty industry promoted the message that Black women were beautiful. This message refuted larger societal notions that Blacks were bestial, unclean “people” little better than animals. Participating in and using the products promoted by the black beauty industry wasn’t just about developing pretty creatures to look at, such actions helped to convey the humanity of Black people. Second, Black women could gain wealth by participating in the beauty industry. Madam C.J. Walker is an exemplar of the self-made woman entrepreneur (http://www.madamcjwalker.com/bios/madam-c-j-walker/).

One of Madam Walker’s advertisements illustrates the call to participate and encourages participants to view her beauty company as a “haven of hope for millions”. I wonder what Ms. Walker would think about the messages directed at Black women today.

Friday, April 29, 2011

My Royal Wedding: Say No to the Fro

Today Prince William and Kate Middleton were married. Why in the world am I bringing this up in a blog about hair? A wedding is a perfect opportunity to examine notions of beauty and femininity. I was married on July 22, 2000. I remember all of the planning. Yes, the venue was important and we had to have a wonderful union and fantastic reception. However, if I’m honest, a top priority for me was to look phenomenal. I wanted to look slammin’! I wanted Fred to take one look at me and melt. Leading up to the wedding, I was wearing an afro. I am ashamed to say that I decided that there was no way in the world I was going to walk down the aisle with an afro. What was I going to do Velcro the veil into my fro? One of my girlfriends, the same girlfriend who took me to the Baltimore barbershop for the Big Chop (see my earlier blog), told me about a wonderful stylist, Janellia, who could give me a natural looking weave. Exactly what do I mean? Well, she used hair that looked naturally curly so I would end up with a curly afro. The night before my wedding, Janellia met me at my apartment and, after I washed and conditioned my hair, she began the process of weaving the curly extensions into my hair. When she was done, I was ecstatic. In my mind, I looked like an African goddess.

Looking back, I have to ask myself why I thought an afro was the antithesis of femininity. I admit that while I loved the freedom of my afro, I still felt like I HAD to wear nice makeup, and cute jewelry whenever I went out in public. In other words, my hair was not cute on its own merit; I now had to be accessorized in order to look feminine and pulled together. Ouch. This is painful to admit and see in writing. Point blank, I wanted long, curly hair when I walked down the aisle. I didn’t “feel” like a bride unless I had it.

Do you have any similar stories about special events and hair? Maybe not your wedding, but a concert or a business meeting? A first date? I’d love to hear your stories!

My Royal Wedding: Say No to the Fro

Today Prince William and Kate Middleton were married. Why in the world am I bringing this up in a blog about hair? A wedding is a perfect opportunity to examine notions of beauty and femininity. I was married on July 22, 2000. I remember all of the planning. Yes, the venue was important and we had to have a wonderful union and fantastic reception. However, if I’m honest, a top priority for me was to look phenomenal. I wanted to look slammin’! I wanted Fred to take one look at me and melt. Leading up to the wedding, I was wearing an afro. I am ashamed to say that I decided that there was no way in the world I was going to walk down the aisle with an afro. What was I going to do Velcro the veil into my fro? One of my girlfriends, the same girlfriend who took me to the Baltimore barbershop for the Big Chop (see my earlier blog), told me about a wonderful stylist, Janellia, who could give me a natural looking weave. Exactly what do I mean? Well, she used hair that looked naturally curly so I would end up with a curly afro. The night before my wedding, Janellia met me at my apartment and, after I washed and conditioned my hair, she began the process of weaving the curly extensions into my hair. When she was done, I was ecstatic. In my mind, I looked like an African goddess.

Looking back, I have to ask myself why I thought an afro was the antithesis of femininity. I admit that while I loved the freedom of my afro, I still felt like I HAD to wear nice makeup, and cute jewelry whenever I went out in public. In other words, my hair was not cute on its own merit; I now had to be accessorized in order to look feminine and pulled together. Ouch. This is painful to admit and see in writing. Point blank, I wanted long, curly hair when I walked down the aisle. I didn’t “feel” like a bride unless I had it.

Do you have any similar stories about special events and hair? Maybe not your wedding, but a concert or a business meeting? A first date? I’d love to hear your stories!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Hair Broke a Professional Down

Given all of the hair self-reflection I’ve done over the past few weeks since I started this blog, it’s no surprise that I had a dream about my hair last night. I dreamt that I cut off my dreadlocks and went back to wearing a TWA. This time around, I used products that allowed me to enjoy the natural curl of my hair as my afro grew. I was loving life. Then, I went to some misty outdoor event and, POOF, my style shrunk. I woke up thinking, “Is this a sign?” I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should cut off my hair and start over. Honestly, part of the reason I locked my hair was that the maintenance of my two strand twists just got to be too much. In fact, my hair made someone cry. No joke.

My husband and I used to live in Atlanta and I got my locs maintenanced by a fabulous stylist at Nseya Salon and Spa (when I looked for it, just found out that it closed! Oh no!). Nseya was an upscale salon that used fabulous products and provided great customer service. One time, my stylist was on vacation and I made an appointment with another person. BIG MISTAKE! The new stylist took one look at my hair and excused herself. I could see her talking to the owner through the glass exterior window. She was visibly shaken and…wait a minute, is she crying? “What in the world is going on?” I wondered. In a few minutes, the owner came over to me and said something to the effect of the stylist didn’t specialize in my type of hair and that they’d be contacting my regular stylist to come in. WHAT!? I couldn’t believe it. My naps had broken the stylist down. That was too funny to me. And a little embarrassing. You mean my hair could make a professional cry? Wow! Anyway, my regular stylist came in (bless you wherever you are) and hooked my hair up.

I’d always loved locs and thought that they were gorgeous. I felt that locs would be a way to keep my hair natural and minimize the salon stay. That is what happened, but sometimes I still wonder what my hair would look like in all of its puffed out, afro glory.

I’d love to hear your stories. Why do you pick the hair styles that you wear? Creative exploration? Convenience? Habit?

My Hair Broke a Professional Down

Given all of the hair self-reflection I’ve done over the past few weeks since I started this blog, it’s no surprise that I had a dream about my hair last night. I dreamt that I cut off my dreadlocks and went back to wearing a TWA. This time around, I used products that allowed me to enjoy the natural curl of my hair as my afro grew. I was loving life. Then, I went to some misty outdoor event and, POOF, my style shrunk. I woke up thinking, “Is this a sign?” I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should cut off my hair and start over. Honestly, part of the reason I locked my hair was that the maintenance of my two strand twists just got to be too much. In fact, my hair made someone cry. No joke.

My husband and I used to live in Atlanta and I got my locs maintenanced by a fabulous stylist at Nseya Salon and Spa (when I looked for it, just found out that it closed! Oh no!). Nseya was an upscale salon that used fabulous products and provided great customer service. One time, my stylist was on vacation and I made an appointment with another person. BIG MISTAKE! The new stylist took one look at my hair and excused herself. I could see her talking to the owner through the glass exterior window. She was visibly shaken and…wait a minute, is she crying? “What in the world is going on?” I wondered. In a few minutes, the owner came over to me and said something to the effect of the stylist didn’t specialize in my type of hair and that they’d be contacting my regular stylist to come in. WHAT!? I couldn’t believe it. My naps had broken the stylist down. That was too funny to me. And a little embarrassing. You mean my hair could make a professional cry? Wow! Anyway, my regular stylist came in (bless you wherever you are) and hooked my hair up.

I’d always loved locs and thought that they were gorgeous. I felt that locs would be a way to keep my hair natural and minimize the salon stay. That is what happened, but sometimes I still wonder what my hair would look like in all of its puffed out, afro glory.

I’d love to hear your stories. Why do you pick the hair styles that you wear? Creative exploration? Convenience? Habit?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Natural Hair and Professionalism Part 2

Once I got the big chop, I was LOVING my hair. I loved the way that the wind felt on my ears and neck; loved that I could wash my hair every day if I wanted and still take only 5 minutes to style it and look FLY; loved that I was learning about my hair, how much to pick it, brush it, oil it, I was discovering myself; loved that my face had taken center stage; loved that I was a visual testimony that natural hair is an option. I was proud of myself for doing what felt authentic to me despite societal pressures to conform to another notion of beauty.

However, I must admit that I still had my hang-ups. I was about to graduate and I was very concerned that my natural hair would hinder me at my new consulting job. Consulting was (is) a white, male-dominated industry. While everyone, including white men, must conform to workplace expectations about appearance, I was concerned that my hair might make me stand out as a black woman and suggest that I was unwilling to be a “team player”. After all, wasn’t it best to just do good work, keep my head down and blend in as much as possible? Wouldn’t my hair peg me as different from the get go? Rosette & Dumas (2007)[1] wrote an insightful paper about this issue; an excerpt from page 421 of the paper sums up a key insight:

“…for minority women in general and Black women in particular, “looking the part” at work carries the additional dimension of managing attributions, expectations, and stereotypes based solely on core aspects of their identities—the immutable characteristics of race and gender.

In isolation, Black women’s preferences to straighten their hair may seem simply to be a choice of adornment; however, when coupled with all the other available “self-improvement” choices in which they sometimes engage—such as wearing colored contacts, lightening their skin, reducing the size of their lips, and decreasing the size of their noses—it is clear that the standard of beauty in the U.S. is in direct opposition to the natural features and characteristics of most Black women.”

I’ve noted that some people think this discussion about my hair journey is highly irrelevant because “hair is just hair”. However, when considered in combination with the other “beauty” choices we make, it becomes more evident that our hair is inextricably linked to how we see ourselves and how we think others value our natural beauty. If we really, really thought that our natural beauty was highly valued would we go through such extremes to change it? If people were spending millions of dollars to ADD kink to their hair, would we feel differently about our naturally kinky hair? My point is not that women shouldn’t alter the state of their hair, just that they ask WHY they are doing so rather than assuming that that is their only, or even best, “beauty” option.




[1] Rosette, A.R. & Dumas, T. (2007). The hair dilemma: Conform to mainstream expectations or emphasize racial identity. Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 14, 407-421.

Natural Hair and Professionalism Part 2

Once I got the big chop, I was LOVING my hair. I loved the way that the wind felt on my ears and neck; loved that I could wash my hair every day if I wanted and still take only 5 minutes to style it and look FLY; loved that I was learning about my hair, how much to pick it, brush it, oil it, I was discovering myself; loved that my face had taken center stage; loved that I was a visual testimony that natural hair is an option. I was proud of myself for doing what felt authentic to me despite societal pressures to conform to another notion of beauty.

However, I must admit that I still had my hang-ups. I was about to graduate and I was very concerned that my natural hair would hinder me at my new consulting job. Consulting was (is) a white, male-dominated industry. While everyone, including white men, must conform to workplace expectations about appearance, I was concerned that my hair might make me stand out as a black woman and suggest that I was unwilling to be a “team player”. After all, wasn’t it best to just do good work, keep my head down and blend in as much as possible? Wouldn’t my hair peg me as different from the get go? Rosette & Dumas (2007)[1] wrote an insightful paper about this issue; an excerpt from page 421 of the paper sums up a key insight:

“…for minority women in general and Black women in particular, “looking the part” at work carries the additional dimension of managing attributions, expectations, and stereotypes based solely on core aspects of their identities—the immutable characteristics of race and gender.

In isolation, Black women’s preferences to straighten their hair may seem simply to be a choice of adornment; however, when coupled with all the other available “self-improvement” choices in which they sometimes engage—such as wearing colored contacts, lightening their skin, reducing the size of their lips, and decreasing the size of their noses—it is clear that the standard of beauty in the U.S. is in direct opposition to the natural features and characteristics of most Black women.”

I’ve noted that some people think this discussion about my hair journey is highly irrelevant because “hair is just hair”. However, when considered in combination with the other “beauty” choices we make, it becomes more evident that our hair is inextricably linked to how we see ourselves and how we think others value our natural beauty. If we really, really thought that our natural beauty was highly valued would we go through such extremes to change it? If people were spending millions of dollars to ADD kink to their hair, would we feel differently about our naturally kinky hair? My point is not that women shouldn’t alter the state of their hair, just that they ask WHY they are doing so rather than assuming that that is their only, or even best, “beauty” option.




[1] Rosette, A.R. & Dumas, T. (2007). The hair dilemma: Conform to mainstream expectations or emphasize racial identity. Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 14, 407-421.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Natural Hair and the Professional Environment


In addition to being concerned about my family’s reactions to my hair, I was also concerned about the professional implications of wearing a TWA. I cut my hair during winter break between my first and second year in the MBA program at the Darden School of Business. My classmates and I either wanted to become investment bankers on Wall Street or consultants at top management consulting firms. Umm, my TWA didn’t seem to fit either environment. How in the world was I going to get a job at a prestigious firm when folks might take one look at me and think I was a big, militant black woman? The other concern I had was that my new hair cut had practically made me a museum piece at school. Wait, people tend not to touch museum pieces, maybe I felt more like an animal at the petting zoo. I mean, I’ve seen people oh and ah over someone’s new hairstyle but the kind of attention I was receiving was unprecedented. One situation exemplifies my experience.

I was standing in what is now called the Pepsico Forum at Darden. It is a beautiful entryway with vaulted ceilings, marble pillars and beautiful interior design. We use the Forum to have First Coffee, a tradition where the Darden community (faculty, staff, students) convenes to socialize in the morning. One day, I was waiting in the Forum (I cannot remember for what), when one of my classmates approached me, shrieking with delight about my new hair. “I looooveeeeee it”, she gushed. Then, without invitation, she put her hands into my hair and begin to somewhat massage my head. If you read my 4/20/11 post, “Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing”, you’ll note the parallel between this situation with my classmate and that club situation with the cute guy I met at Club Zei. Why do people think that they have the right to touch my hair? I hear some of you, “Aw Tina, chill out, you are overreacting!” What would you say if you were on public transportation and someone just came up to you and put their hands in your head? You would probably go off and ask them what their problem was. I know it’s different because I knew my classmate, but I didn’t know her like THAT! Your hair is intimate, personal. It felt like the combination of my uniqueness and her white privilege made her think that it was okay to cross this personal boundary without my permission. I couldn’t hold it. I said, “Girl, get your hands OUT of my hair!” She looked hurt by my response. I then took the time to explain to her why it is offensive to do what she just did, how I felt objectified. I told her that I was not an inanimate object to be fawned over and ogled. By the end of our conversation, I think she got it and we continued our friendship. However, the experience left me wondering if I was going to spend precious time having to educate folks about my natural hair.

Natural Hair and the Professional Environment


In addition to being concerned about my family’s reactions to my hair, I was also concerned about the professional implications of wearing a TWA. I cut my hair during winter break between my first and second year in the MBA program at the Darden School of Business. My classmates and I either wanted to become investment bankers on Wall Street or consultants at top management consulting firms. Umm, my TWA didn’t seem to fit either environment. How in the world was I going to get a job at a prestigious firm when folks might take one look at me and think I was a big, militant black woman? The other concern I had was that my new hair cut had practically made me a museum piece at school. Wait, people tend not to touch museum pieces, maybe I felt more like an animal at the petting zoo. I mean, I’ve seen people oh and ah over someone’s new hairstyle but the kind of attention I was receiving was unprecedented. One situation exemplifies my experience.

I was standing in what is now called the Pepsico Forum at Darden. It is a beautiful entryway with vaulted ceilings, marble pillars and beautiful interior design. We use the Forum to have First Coffee, a tradition where the Darden community (faculty, staff, students) convenes to socialize in the morning. One day, I was waiting in the Forum (I cannot remember for what), when one of my classmates approached me, shrieking with delight about my new hair. “I looooveeeeee it”, she gushed. Then, without invitation, she put her hands into my hair and begin to somewhat massage my head. If you read my 4/20/11 post, “Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing”, you’ll note the parallel between this situation with my classmate and that club situation with the cute guy I met at Club Zei. Why do people think that they have the right to touch my hair? I hear some of you, “Aw Tina, chill out, you are overreacting!” What would you say if you were on public transportation and someone just came up to you and put their hands in your head? You would probably go off and ask them what their problem was. I know it’s different because I knew my classmate, but I didn’t know her like THAT! Your hair is intimate, personal. It felt like the combination of my uniqueness and her white privilege made her think that it was okay to cross this personal boundary without my permission. I couldn’t hold it. I said, “Girl, get your hands OUT of my hair!” She looked hurt by my response. I then took the time to explain to her why it is offensive to do what she just did, how I felt objectified. I told her that I was not an inanimate object to be fawned over and ogled. By the end of our conversation, I think she got it and we continued our friendship. However, the experience left me wondering if I was going to spend precious time having to educate folks about my natural hair.

Monday, April 25, 2011

True Love- of Self and from a Good Man


In an earlier post, I mentioned how nervous I was about my family seeing my new short afro for the first time. My stomach felt sick. The thing is, I loved my new look. I was still adjusting to it, but I felt liberated. I was also proud that I could look myself in the mirror and know that I was strong enough to buck conventional notions of beauty.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events when I first pulled up to my parent’s home and unveiled my do. I do remember my Mother staring at me like I had just announced I was addicted to crack or something. She blankly stared at my head and, finally, FINALLY said something like, “Do you like it T? If you like it, that’s good”. Wow! My Dad just told me that I was still pretty. Well, there you have it. My folks didn’t like my new TWA (teeny weeny afro). Guess what? I didn’t crumble, I didn’t cry. I was just relieved to know what they thought and I moved on.

I do think that it was incredibly helpful for me to have a relationship with a phenomenal man, Fred, now my husband. Fred and I started dating when I was still getting my hair relaxed. He has always been clear that he thinks I’m beautiful. I remember that he would run his fingers through my hair and I would say, “Stop!” because it was time for a touch-up. Whew, the roots were THICK! He’d look at me and ask why I was so touchy and then tell me that he loved the way my hair felt. It had texture, was springy, curly, kinky…he loved the way it felt. Say what?! That was so liberating!! To have someone you love validate your beauty, confirm that you are okay just as you are. Once I cut my hair, he continued to reaffirm his love for me and his appreciation of my beauty. I'm not saying that I cut my hair FOR Fred or that he loved me because I cut my hair. Our love is much deeper than that. The truth is that for so long I was afraid to reveal my true self to men so it was wonderful to take off the mask in front of him and let him see my natural essence.

True Love- of Self and from a Good Man


In an earlier post, I mentioned how nervous I was about my family seeing my new short afro for the first time. My stomach felt sick. The thing is, I loved my new look. I was still adjusting to it, but I felt liberated. I was also proud that I could look myself in the mirror and know that I was strong enough to buck conventional notions of beauty.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events when I first pulled up to my parent’s home and unveiled my do. I do remember my Mother staring at me like I had just announced I was addicted to crack or something. She blankly stared at my head and, finally, FINALLY said something like, “Do you like it T? If you like it, that’s good”. Wow! My Dad just told me that I was still pretty. Well, there you have it. My folks didn’t like my new TWA (teeny weeny afro). Guess what? I didn’t crumble, I didn’t cry. I was just relieved to know what they thought and I moved on.

I do think that it was incredibly helpful for me to have a relationship with a phenomenal man, Fred, now my husband. Fred and I started dating when I was still getting my hair relaxed. He has always been clear that he thinks I’m beautiful. I remember that he would run his fingers through my hair and I would say, “Stop!” because it was time for a touch-up. Whew, the roots were THICK! He’d look at me and ask why I was so touchy and then tell me that he loved the way my hair felt. It had texture, was springy, curly, kinky…he loved the way it felt. Say what?! That was so liberating!! To have someone you love validate your beauty, confirm that you are okay just as you are. Once I cut my hair, he continued to reaffirm his love for me and his appreciation of my beauty. I'm not saying that I cut my hair FOR Fred or that he loved me because I cut my hair. Our love is much deeper than that. The truth is that for so long I was afraid to reveal my true self to men so it was wonderful to take off the mask in front of him and let him see my natural essence.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter: Crowns of Glory


Happy Easter! Believe it or not, in my mind, Easter and hair are connected. Why you ask? Every Easter was a time for my family and I to get decked out from head to toe in our Easter finery. That meant a gorgeous hairstyle and, for the older women, a gorgeous hat. My husband and I gifted my Mother-in-Law with the book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Here is the cover shot of the book. I love the look on her face because she is calm and serene and elegant enough to wear her ornate hat in such a dignified way. My Mother can rock a hat and so can my Aunties. I have yet to find a slamming hat that will fit all of my dreadlocks but I’m still on the hunt. Hey, let me know if you are aware of entrepreneurs who cater to the dreadlock set; I’d love to find a beautiful crown. Happy Easter!

Happy Easter: Crowns of Glory


Happy Easter! Believe it or not, in my mind, Easter and hair are connected. Why you ask? Every Easter was a time for my family and I to get decked out from head to toe in our Easter finery. That meant a gorgeous hairstyle and, for the older women, a gorgeous hat. My husband and I gifted my Mother-in-Law with the book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Here is the cover shot of the book. I love the look on her face because she is calm and serene and elegant enough to wear her ornate hat in such a dignified way. My Mother can rock a hat and so can my Aunties. I have yet to find a slamming hat that will fit all of my dreadlocks but I’m still on the hunt. Hey, let me know if you are aware of entrepreneurs who cater to the dreadlock set; I’d love to find a beautiful crown. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Family Not Feeling My Natural Do

I had agita in my stomach as I drove back home to my parent’s house in Alexandria, Virginia. I was home for Winter Break between my first and second year getting my MBA at the Darden School of Business. Oh my goodness, how was my family going to respond to my new hair?

Most of my formative years were spent in Alexandria, Virginia and I grew up on a FABULOUSLY SUPPORTIVE street. There were Black doctors, lawyers, teachers, principals, military personnel and they all took an interest in us young folks. We could rip and run up and down the street and bust into and out of each other’s houses. Whew, those were some FUN days. As I drove down the street with my newly shorn hair, I realized that I now felt a bit like an outsider. I could not recall one person who wore a short, teeny weeny afro (TWA) I like I had. I did not want to be perceived as the good girl who went off to school and came back a militant, crazy Black woman. After all, those were the people who wore this hairstyle right? Seriously, some people looked at me and wondered aloud why I’d do something so drastic, cut off my pretty hair. Didn’t I know that I had nappy, coarse hair? Why would I do that? Perhaps I should consider getting a texturizer? These questions all came from people I knew and loved, people who were close to me.

It hit me. This cultural norm of wearing long, relaxed hair is deeply imbedded in Black society and has been for DECADES, almost a century in the United States! That helped to explain why the women around me were resisting my change to natural hair. It was almost like I was doing something wrong. Betraying some secret sister commitment. Where did these attitudes come from? The following 1928 ad for Hi-Ja (a “hair fix” product) is from the Chicago Defender (click to enlarge). The ad illustrates some of the complexities associated with beauty.

My grandmother, and her mother and my mother, may have grown up with images like this, images that depict “long, wavy” and “straight” hair as “charming” and the alternative as “short and ugly”. Oh my goodness!!!! Oh my goodness!!! Furthermore, you BETTER change your nappy hair or you might lose your man. WOW! I’m going to need a minute to reflect on this.

My Family Not Feeling My Natural Do

I had agita in my stomach as I drove back home to my parent’s house in Alexandria, Virginia. I was home for Winter Break between my first and second year getting my MBA at the Darden School of Business. Oh my goodness, how was my family going to respond to my new hair?

Most of my formative years were spent in Alexandria, Virginia and I grew up on a FABULOUSLY SUPPORTIVE street. There were Black doctors, lawyers, teachers, principals, military personnel and they all took an interest in us young folks. We could rip and run up and down the street and bust into and out of each other’s houses. Whew, those were some FUN days. As I drove down the street with my newly shorn hair, I realized that I now felt a bit like an outsider. I could not recall one person who wore a short, teeny weeny afro (TWA) I like I had. I did not want to be perceived as the good girl who went off to school and came back a militant, crazy Black woman. After all, those were the people who wore this hairstyle right? Seriously, some people looked at me and wondered aloud why I’d do something so drastic, cut off my pretty hair. Didn’t I know that I had nappy, coarse hair? Why would I do that? Perhaps I should consider getting a texturizer? These questions all came from people I knew and loved, people who were close to me.

It hit me. This cultural norm of wearing long, relaxed hair is deeply imbedded in Black society and has been for DECADES, almost a century in the United States! That helped to explain why the women around me were resisting my change to natural hair. It was almost like I was doing something wrong. Betraying some secret sister commitment. Where did these attitudes come from? The following 1928 ad for Hi-Ja (a “hair fix” product) is from the Chicago Defender (click to enlarge). The ad illustrates some of the complexities associated with beauty.

My grandmother, and her mother and my mother, may have grown up with images like this, images that depict “long, wavy” and “straight” hair as “charming” and the alternative as “short and ugly”. Oh my goodness!!!! Oh my goodness!!! Furthermore, you BETTER change your nappy hair or you might lose your man. WOW! I’m going to need a minute to reflect on this.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Big Chop!

Equipped with a new desire to go natural, I now had to figure out what exactly I was going to do with my hair. Was I going to transition with braids, a weave? Or, was I going to just do the big chop? I am the kind of person who loves to do research, gather input and then conduct more and more research. BUT, once I make a decision, I go for it. I’d spent years thinking about my hair and now I was ready to do the big chop. One of my girlfriends in Baltimore had just done the same thing and she recommended that I go to a barber shop on Charles Street to get the deed done.

I was nervous when I sat in the chair. It’s funny, I remembered tons of women draping salon capes around me when getting my relaxers and now a young, black man was draping one around me, only this time to chop off my hair into a short natural. I was nervous that a man was cutting my hair. I did not want to look masculine. That was a big fear. I am just under six feet tall and I can range anywhere from a size 12 to a size 16. I am bigger than some dudes so the last thing I wanted was to walk out of the barber shop and be mistaken for a guy. Maybe that’s the main reason that I always wore flawless makeup and chunky jewelry during my short natural days (hmm, had I just exchanged one beauty standard for another?). So much (i.e., my self-image and my feminine pride) was tied to my hair. But, I know I’m not the only one. That is why this is such a big deal.

If I recall correctly, the barber first combed out my hair and then took scissors and cut off the bulk of it (does Locks of Love take relaxed hair? I should have thought about that then). I had my girlfriend snap a shot and I looked like Don King. Straight up. Thank God we used regular film back then because if she’d shown me the digital image I might have lost my nerve. The process didn’t take too long and before I knew it, the barber turned the chair around and I gazed at my new image. My stomach sank. Oh my GOD! What in the world had I done? I looked like a dude, a cute dude, but a dude nonetheless. Ok, maybe I didn’t look like a dude but I had NEVER seen my hair that short in my entire life. It was going to take time to adjust. I noticed that my facial features looked different, my cheekbones stood out, so did my eyes. It was pretty amazing to see how much a hair cut can transform you (I guess that’s why Tyra Banks has those makeovers on America’s Next Top Model).

I got up, paid the barber and walked out of the shop. I had no idea how my family was going to respond.

The Big Chop!

Equipped with a new desire to go natural, I now had to figure out what exactly I was going to do with my hair. Was I going to transition with braids, a weave? Or, was I going to just do the big chop? I am the kind of person who loves to do research, gather input and then conduct more and more research. BUT, once I make a decision, I go for it. I’d spent years thinking about my hair and now I was ready to do the big chop. One of my girlfriends in Baltimore had just done the same thing and she recommended that I go to a barber shop on Charles Street to get the deed done.

I was nervous when I sat in the chair. It’s funny, I remembered tons of women draping salon capes around me when getting my relaxers and now a young, black man was draping one around me, only this time to chop off my hair into a short natural. I was nervous that a man was cutting my hair. I did not want to look masculine. That was a big fear. I am just under six feet tall and I can range anywhere from a size 12 to a size 16. I am bigger than some dudes so the last thing I wanted was to walk out of the barber shop and be mistaken for a guy. Maybe that’s the main reason that I always wore flawless makeup and chunky jewelry during my short natural days (hmm, had I just exchanged one beauty standard for another?). So much (i.e., my self-image and my feminine pride) was tied to my hair. But, I know I’m not the only one. That is why this is such a big deal.

If I recall correctly, the barber first combed out my hair and then took scissors and cut off the bulk of it (does Locks of Love take relaxed hair? I should have thought about that then). I had my girlfriend snap a shot and I looked like Don King. Straight up. Thank God we used regular film back then because if she’d shown me the digital image I might have lost my nerve. The process didn’t take too long and before I knew it, the barber turned the chair around and I gazed at my new image. My stomach sank. Oh my GOD! What in the world had I done? I looked like a dude, a cute dude, but a dude nonetheless. Ok, maybe I didn’t look like a dude but I had NEVER seen my hair that short in my entire life. It was going to take time to adjust. I noticed that my facial features looked different, my cheekbones stood out, so did my eyes. It was pretty amazing to see how much a hair cut can transform you (I guess that’s why Tyra Banks has those makeovers on America’s Next Top Model).

I got up, paid the barber and walked out of the shop. I had no idea how my family was going to respond.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hallelujah I'm Free: Liberation from the Relaxer Cage

I continued to relax my hair until the winter of 1998. A lot went into my decision to embrace my natural hair. I’ve mentioned the health issues I had (i.e., bald sections on my head). I also began a lot of introspection trying to unearth why I was still relaxing my hair. I realized that since first getting my hair relaxed, I perceived two main hair options: 1) get a relaxer or 2) have nappy hair. I know, that sounds ignorant. It really does, but that’s what I felt. I felt that the relaxer was saving me from having nappy, difficult hair. WOW! I couldn’t believe that I felt so negatively about my hair, and by extension (no pun intended), I felt negatively about myself.

I’ve heard people say that hair doesn’t matter. I don’t see how it cannot matter. Hair is public. Hair is judged. We know that people look at our hair and develop impressions of us. Plus, if hair didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have spent $1.5 billion in 2009[1] to press, comb, relax, brush, pull, tighten, weave, gel…ANYTHING to hold down and control those immortal naps. Yes, I said immortal. Because they keep coming back, the natural texture of my hair never changed no matter what I did to it. At that point, I realized, WAIT! This is what God has blessed me with. He blessed me with a certain texture of hair, shouldn’t I at least take the time to learn about it, how to style it, how to nourish it, how to LOVE it? If altering my hair is not such a big deal, why didn’t I also choose to alter my eye color? Wear blue contacts, green contacts (it was a fad back in the 90s but has passed)? Heck, get the color permanently changed? Or, alter my skin color? Skin lightening is big business (see earlier post) why not alter my skin color?

I think the reason I chose not to tinker with my eye color or skin color was because it seemed too artificial…like I was changing a key part of my identity. Ahhh, but hair, it is malleable, it can take on different forms. I could dye it, cut it, relax it, wet it, etc and it would still be there (well, except for the bald patches). But, I realized that the fact that I chose to alter my hair was affected by societal norms. I mean, if we lived in a society where people walked around barefoot all of the time and painted the pads of their feet, there would likely be debate about the best color, texture, brand and style of foot painting!

Society determines the value affixed to different standards of beauty. I realized that I did not have to buy into those standards. Hallelujah, I realized, I’m in the process of being liberated from societal notions of what is and is not beautiful. I claim that I’m beautiful and I’m walking in it!



[1] Note that the vast majority of the market is comprised of chemically based hair care products targeted to African-American consumers (Packaged Facts, 2010). However, the same report estimates that while it has been historically reported that approximately 80% of Black women relax their hair, the number may be more like 31% according to data from Experian Simmons. Also promising is that a Packaged Facts survey done in February 2009 revealed that 18% of Black adults, 17% of Hispanic adults, and 12% of White adults are trying natural and or organic products. I hope that this means healthier option but the jury is still out.

Hallelujah I'm Free: Liberation from the Relaxer Cage

I continued to relax my hair until the winter of 1998. A lot went into my decision to embrace my natural hair. I’ve mentioned the health issues I had (i.e., bald sections on my head). I also began a lot of introspection trying to unearth why I was still relaxing my hair. I realized that since first getting my hair relaxed, I perceived two main hair options: 1) get a relaxer or 2) have nappy hair. I know, that sounds ignorant. It really does, but that’s what I felt. I felt that the relaxer was saving me from having nappy, difficult hair. WOW! I couldn’t believe that I felt so negatively about my hair, and by extension (no pun intended), I felt negatively about myself.

I’ve heard people say that hair doesn’t matter. I don’t see how it cannot matter. Hair is public. Hair is judged. We know that people look at our hair and develop impressions of us. Plus, if hair didn’t matter, we wouldn’t have spent $1.5 billion in 2009[1] to press, comb, relax, brush, pull, tighten, weave, gel…ANYTHING to hold down and control those immortal naps. Yes, I said immortal. Because they keep coming back, the natural texture of my hair never changed no matter what I did to it. At that point, I realized, WAIT! This is what God has blessed me with. He blessed me with a certain texture of hair, shouldn’t I at least take the time to learn about it, how to style it, how to nourish it, how to LOVE it? If altering my hair is not such a big deal, why didn’t I also choose to alter my eye color? Wear blue contacts, green contacts (it was a fad back in the 90s but has passed)? Heck, get the color permanently changed? Or, alter my skin color? Skin lightening is big business (see earlier post) why not alter my skin color?

I think the reason I chose not to tinker with my eye color or skin color was because it seemed too artificial…like I was changing a key part of my identity. Ahhh, but hair, it is malleable, it can take on different forms. I could dye it, cut it, relax it, wet it, etc and it would still be there (well, except for the bald patches). But, I realized that the fact that I chose to alter my hair was affected by societal norms. I mean, if we lived in a society where people walked around barefoot all of the time and painted the pads of their feet, there would likely be debate about the best color, texture, brand and style of foot painting!

Society determines the value affixed to different standards of beauty. I realized that I did not have to buy into those standards. Hallelujah, I realized, I’m in the process of being liberated from societal notions of what is and is not beautiful. I claim that I’m beautiful and I’m walking in it!



[1] Note that the vast majority of the market is comprised of chemically based hair care products targeted to African-American consumers (Packaged Facts, 2010). However, the same report estimates that while it has been historically reported that approximately 80% of Black women relax their hair, the number may be more like 31% according to data from Experian Simmons. Also promising is that a Packaged Facts survey done in February 2009 revealed that 18% of Black adults, 17% of Hispanic adults, and 12% of White adults are trying natural and or organic products. I hope that this means healthier option but the jury is still out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing

At a certain point in my life, I was still getting relaxers but questioning myself about why I was subjecting myself to the process. As I’ve mentioned before, hair is linked to femininity and attractiveness. I remember I was at a local DC club (Zei Club in Zei Alley…yes, I’m showing my age as I’ve heard the club has long since been gone). I had just gotten my hair relaxed that morning but it had come out too straight so I put on a cute hat. I met a handsome guy and after talking, dancing, and exchanging numbers he reached up uninvited and pulled my hat off of my head. He then said something to express his relief that I didn’t have a knotty head of hair. I was stunned. I mean, “REALLY!? REALLY?!” The nerve! Anyone who knows me (especially my guy friends I grew up with), is probably waiting for me to say that I clocked him in the head right on the spot. I didn’t. Instead, I was relieved that I’d gotten my hair relaxed because if he’d seen my hair, oh, 14 hours earlier, he’d likely have ripped up my phone number and walked away.

Perhaps I continued to get relaxers because I thought that I’d be unattractive to Black men if they saw me in my natural state? I’m NOT saying that all Black men want women with straight hair. I am saying that in the mid-1990s when I was dating, it seemed like the “in look” was long straight hair. Hits like “Bump and Grind”, “That’s the Way Love Goes”, “Weak” and “Whoomp There it Is” filled the air waves and the women dancing in the videos had weaves down their backs. It was only a matter of time before I noticed more and more women wearing similar styles. My girlfriends and I lamented the fact that we were single despite being attractive, educated, kind people. It felt like there were eight Black women for every one Black man because almost every woman I knew was single while every guy I knew had two, three or even ten “girlfriends”. When I reflect back and think about the high demand for men and the sense that my natural hair might put me out of the “running” (not to mention perceived convenience, style, family input, etc.), it is understandable why I continued to get relaxers. Not making excuses, just trying to understand my thinking at the time.

Yet, my hair continued to fall out. This was a time when I was grateful for thick, thick hair because I just had to style my hair in a certain way and the alopecia bald spot was covered. After a while though, the insanity of the situation made me rethink my relationship with my hair. Heck, my relationship with ME.

Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing

At a certain point in my life, I was still getting relaxers but questioning myself about why I was subjecting myself to the process. As I’ve mentioned before, hair is linked to femininity and attractiveness. I remember I was at a local DC club (Zei Club in Zei Alley…yes, I’m showing my age as I’ve heard the club has long since been gone). I had just gotten my hair relaxed that morning but it had come out too straight so I put on a cute hat. I met a handsome guy and after talking, dancing, and exchanging numbers he reached up uninvited and pulled my hat off of my head. He then said something to express his relief that I didn’t have a knotty head of hair. I was stunned. I mean, “REALLY!? REALLY?!” The nerve! Anyone who knows me (especially my guy friends I grew up with), is probably waiting for me to say that I clocked him in the head right on the spot. I didn’t. Instead, I was relieved that I’d gotten my hair relaxed because if he’d seen my hair, oh, 14 hours earlier, he’d likely have ripped up my phone number and walked away.

Perhaps I continued to get relaxers because I thought that I’d be unattractive to Black men if they saw me in my natural state? I’m NOT saying that all Black men want women with straight hair. I am saying that in the mid-1990s when I was dating, it seemed like the “in look” was long straight hair. Hits like “Bump and Grind”, “That’s the Way Love Goes”, “Weak” and “Whoomp There it Is” filled the air waves and the women dancing in the videos had weaves down their backs. It was only a matter of time before I noticed more and more women wearing similar styles. My girlfriends and I lamented the fact that we were single despite being attractive, educated, kind people. It felt like there were eight Black women for every one Black man because almost every woman I knew was single while every guy I knew had two, three or even ten “girlfriends”. When I reflect back and think about the high demand for men and the sense that my natural hair might put me out of the “running” (not to mention perceived convenience, style, family input, etc.), it is understandable why I continued to get relaxers. Not making excuses, just trying to understand my thinking at the time.

Yet, my hair continued to fall out. This was a time when I was grateful for thick, thick hair because I just had to style my hair in a certain way and the alopecia bald spot was covered. After a while though, the insanity of the situation made me rethink my relationship with my hair. Heck, my relationship with ME.