I invited my friend/beautician over to my house to cut my hair - the same 'chop it off' routine that I go through ever year - and she refused to do it. Refused.
Now, she may not sound like a great friend because of the refusal, but she actually loves me. And my hair. We got prepared for me to get to work and she touched my hair and threatened to strangle me. Apparently, I'd neglected to fully relax my hair. Let me explain...
A relaxer is a type of lotion or cream generally used by people with curly-textured hair, which makes hair less tangled and also easier to straighten by chemically "relaxing" the natural curls. The active agent is usually a strong alkali, although some formulations are based on ammonium thioglycolate instead. Hair relaxing, or lanthionization, can be performed by a professional cosmetologist in a salon, or at home with relaxer kits. As with hair dye, the treated portion of the hair moves away from the scalp as the new growth of untreated hair sprouts up from the roots, requiring periodic retreatment (about every 6–8 weeks) to maintain a consistent appearance.
The relaxer is applied to the roots of the hair and remains in place for a "cooking" interval, during which it alters the hair's texture by a process of controlled damage to the protein structure. The hair can be significantly weakened by the physical overlap of excessive applications or by a single excessive one, leading to brittleness, breakage, or even widespread alopecia.
When the relaxer has worked to the desired degree, the hair is rinsed clean. Regardless of formula, relaxers are always alkaline to some degree, so it is prudent to neutralize or even slightly acidify the hair with a suitable shampoo immediately afterward. The prompt use of hair conditioner is also important in order to replace some of the natural oils that were stripped away by the process.
I am admitting that I know the words "ammonium thioglycolate" from Legally Blonde.
Own it, 5 stars!
This is the mechanics of the process of straightening my hair. I used to go to a professional every 6 to 8 weeks and I really appreciated going to her shop because I was supporting small business and she would only have one, maybe two other clients waiting at a time; I'm not a fan of the loud boisterous shops - mainly because of gum popping (a future post).
When I was single, I made time to get my hair done and my nails and shopped regularly and had the money to spend to do it. I don't regret having taken the opportunity and used the means to do my hair, but I do regret not having had the motivation to learn about my hair and how to best care for it. While considering myself well educated in many areas, hair-care was something that I have never felt 'smart' in. And if you can't do it, then the next best thing was to find someone who could.
Now, to be clear, other than a horrible haircut when I was in the 5th grade - I mean HORRIBLE - I've not really taken the time to learn what works best for my hair because I don't want to take all of the time on doing it. It's been explained to me (and I still don't really get it) that all hair is not created equal. I am fairly easy going about my hair, I think, and actually like when I have a few strays standing at attention. I am not and have not ever been a proponent of what I consider to be "hair as art". Styles where it looks like someone spent hours having designed the runway hair, with lots of colors and no ability to sleep with all of that on their head; guess I'm too practical. I've bleached my hair once and never since - that really wrecked my hair - my beautician even told me it would, but I wanted it anyway. I've learned my lesson and I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm pretty traditional about the styles that I like. Traditional, bobs, something with a little flow, easy to maintain.
Here's an example of what I like and am shooting for; I have it on my Pinterest page. http://pinterest.com/tosagigi/
Can't you see it? On me? Slick, professional. I really like the bangs across the forehead because this is area that I need not draw attention to. I like this cut. This is what I envision for me and had described to my "Hair Angel" who came to cut it for me last night.
She wouldn't even entertain cutting my hair, not even trimming because of my below average relaxing job. Well, alright it was subpar. Okay, I shouldn't have permed my hair at all. I had already scratched my scalp so badly that the idea of leaving the alkaline on my head for longer than the 6 minutes it had been on there (almost worthless in the time of relaxers) was a waste of time, energy and resources. My hair is in such bad shape that the next week of hairstyles will be me wearing it pinned up in the back with barrettes and bobby pins in order to keep from breaking the hair any further. It's so bad that I was sternly told not to even comb through my hair, I was raking it and you could hear it - it's not supposed to sound like that apparently...
My Hair Angel is really phenomenal for a lot of reasons, but I'm calling her that because her hair is pretty darn remarkable. It has the right amount of bounce and life while still being one of her greatest accessories - if that makes any sense. She has explained to me that she has been doing her own hair for a long time and has learned what has worked and what hasn't. Of course, just like so many other things, its difficult to imagine her with anything less than the gorgeous mane that she sports now because it's the only way I've known her. It certainly gives her hair clout. I appreciate that she is a black woman with black hair with simplicity. It really is my kind of hair.
Enough of the hair envy.
Why do I fixate so much on my hair? My own stories, but stories like this one from my dear friend visiting from Minneapolis.
I was telling her about this blog post and she had her own story to share. When she was attempting to grow her hair out and it was short and natural, she had a co-worker - that she hardly had a relationship with - share with her that her hair was "disappointing". Think about that. A person you barely know, not of the same culture as you, rating your hair without your permission, desire or approval. And to say something so negative. [Insert head tilt here.] Really, what does that actually mean? And why would the other woman say it? Out LOUD?!?
I have had relaxers for most of my life and have taken it for granted that I've been able to afford to do so. When a girl is not able to do her hair, there are issues. This is not a black thing, this is a woman thing...insert your own"Bad Hair Day" stories here... No one should judge whether one's hair is "disappointing" and we really need to be cautious regarding comments about one another's hair. The woman in the mirror needs to be pleased and really, just her.
But, I need to confess something. Remember, no judgment...
I used to wish I had white girls' hair. Even watching black tv stations and shows, I feel the message that was shared was that my hair either needed to be in a afro, braids or straight and I mean weave straight, like the white girls that I went to school with.
Their hair flowed, it bounced, it was multi-purposeful. My hair stayed like it was constantly playing freeze tag. I vaguely recall a conversation with my mom about wanting my hair to be more white (don't think I actually said that word) and the response from that sticks in my head to this day is, "they can shake their hair out there and it comes back, yours will stay out there." And I think looking back on it now, I was kind of mad at my hair for that.
Not too much time wasted on all of it, I mean I don't recall being obsessed with my hair in those younger years, but I did dream a little about one hairstyle that I could not and still for the most part can never own. For those of you who know me, you know that the one style that I still think should be a fashion icon of its own is the high or low side ponytail. I can't even explain why I like it so much but to say it reeks of personality and freedom. I appreciate the things a woman must be able to say to herself when she is beyond her college years and able to rustle her hair up to the side of her head and bop out of the house with that look. Who's with me?
I recognize the need to find an age appropriate equivalent to the side ponytail because I can not think of a woman in her thirties that I've seen wearing this style on other days than Halloween, but I still dream of it from time to time and have tried to encourage it (is that the right phrase) on my stepdaughters, but to no avail. Sigh...
It is clear that I need to stop trying to live vicariously through others and others living vicariously through me. Doing this had lead me to keeping a haircut or hairstyle that I don't fully enjoy because of the voices of others about my hair. I know they are talking just about my hair, but I always hear more. Things like: You are not at all attractive because of that ridiculous short hair. It's difficult to be around you with that hair. What is wrong with you?!?. Okay maybe the last one is a bit extreme or maybe, those are the types of things I think of when I see haircuts I don't like. However, I do have the sense not to share it; unless asked - and then, well, you will get the truth.
Watch this video. I got this CD from a white woman. We were bridesmaids in her sister's/my friend's wedding over 10 years ago now and I had never heard of India Arie. I share that to explicitly own the irony of a white woman giving a black woman music by a black woman about black culture. The memory is one of my favorites in regards to being honest about what has shaped my blackness, another stereotype crusher.
"I Am Not My Hair", India Arie - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_5jIt0f5Z4
The next time you look and want to size someone up based upon their hair, or even yourself, stop and shake it out with India and remember, we are not our hair. All that said, can't wait until my Hair Angel works this stuff out on Saturday.