Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hair Brained

A term typically used to describe the seemingly stupid and senseless behavior of hares during the mating season that I would like to appropriate to describe my own strange behavior as of late.

Basically, I have a staring problem. I know. It's kind of an issue.

As I learn more about natural hair, continue to talk with people, and write this blog, I find myself stealing more than a glance at what people have perched on top of their heads. It's been dangerous, its been embarrassing, but most importantly, its been oh so fun. Yesterday I had to ask a sales woman to repeat herself after my eyes and mind wandered to her head and off to play the always-fun game of "Weave-or-Real?". Followed by nearly biking myself into a parked car when I saw a truly beautiful free-flowing bounty of natural curls.

I saw a gawky, but hip teenage couple walking down the street and wanted to run after them to tell her girl that I really liked her Side Hawk! (In this case, natural black hair pulled into probably 3 vertical pony tails on the right side of her head). I checked myself before appearing too creepy. This happens about 1-5 times a day. Eventually something's going to give. And I will have *quite* the story to tell on this blog.

I've even begun to apply things I've learned on this Natural Selection adventure. For example, thanks to the interweb, my eyes have been opened to hair typing: the controversial art categorizing curl patterns. I've learned that a #2 isn't a pencil, but resembles more the loose waves of J.Lo; that 3's come in different spiraled flavors: A, B, and C; and that some folks have z-shaped hair patterns which fall into the category of 4. (check out this LINK for a break down of all these types)

I don't like to judge or stereotype based on appearances and I won't either. I think hair typing should be used as a general guide to understanding the fact that there so many types of hair and curls exist out there, not for pigeonholing, besides, its not rare that one person will have 3 different "types" of hair.

That said, I WILL do a thorough check-out and analysis of your strands if you are anywhere within a 10-foot radius of me. And the rest of your posse too. I just can't help myself.

I guess that's what happens when I have braids: I have so little to worry about in terms of my own coif that my eyes and brain are completely free to be occupied with the hair of everyone else. (And How!). These braids of mine have about one month to go. Consider yourselves warned....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Nana!

Nana is one of the cooler people I know. Way cooler than me. Way cooler than you. I mean we're talking about top tier awesome here. For my entire life Nana has always epitomized the idea of unique style and individual expression. Whether it is one of her dozens of multi-colored, multi-patterned, multi-styled reading glasses or a pair of hot pink trousers paired with fabulously coordinated accoutrements, Nana is always rocking that which is hip, fresh, and impeccably groovin. And probably listening to music that falls into those same categories too.

Her hair is also one of her main mediums for externalizing her awesomeness for public viewing. Never afraid of being too out there, she has gone through every hairstyle in the book from relaxers + highlights to an asymmetrical ‘fro to her current set of locks which themselves have been spotted in s'ponies (side ponytails), intricate updo's, sometimes even bedazzled with garnish fresh from the garden.

The Nan', as she is sometimes referred to in the fam, has also been responsible for wrangling my hair as a little girl and spent hours upon hours doing so. She has not only been responsible for making me look presentable, but also her 4 children, 12 grandchildren and I'm sure some assorted characters along the way. So I thought I'd sit her down and pick her brain about her on for the transcript!

Me: So, nana, as you know we are here because I’ve started a blog about going natural and I would like to return to the source of, well return to my roots so to speak, and talk to the people who have had a lot of experience in doing my hair throughout my life. What do you think about my decision to go natural, Nana?

Nana: I think its probably a very good decision. Because, technically you have a very beautiful face (I’m a little biased), and I think you can support that look and also it’s a good experience.

Me: Are you saying that people who aren’t so good looking shouldn’t go natural?

Nana: No, I’m not saying that…I’m saying you’ve got a bonus going there.

Me: Now, what was it like for you to do my hair as a kid, when we went from situations likes this to a situation like this.

Nana: Well, quite honestly, Cass, it was a chore. It was a monumental chore because not only did I have to go through the whole time consuming physical part of it, you were very strong willed and did not want me to even touch your hair. So, you can see that would be a….challenge. Putting it mildly.

Me: And so what sort of techniques did you use on my hair and to get me to sit through getting my hair done?

Nana: Well the technique I went through on your hair, number one, was to get the tangle out of it, and to get you to sit: you loved drawing and writing stories and watching movies, it was a combination….bribery…anything that you would go for that I could think of.

Me: And what would you do to get the tangle out?

Nana: My method, you had to start at the end of the hair and I would slowly slowly….TOOLS! Yes, tools are importantly, lets go there. You had to have the right comb with the right tines, or teeth, in the comb, they had to be very far apart. So you would take a section of the hair, hold it around the bottom, around midway through you would hold it and start from the bottom, as you would tolerate it, and you never knew if your [reaction]was going to be extreme or ultimate extreme (there was nothing below that) then you move up the shaft of the billions of trillions of hair strands that you have upon your head.

Me: And after you combed it through, would you hot comb it?

Nana: Yea, the hot comb, I think was the best situation after a certain age, I mean when you’re young (a couple years old) you don’t want to do that for fear of you making a sudden move and me burning you, which I’m sure you think I did anyway….and I probably did…. It was the no-chemical way to deal with your hair when you’re 4 years old.

Me: And when do you think you started hot combing?

Nana: I would say, maybe 4? What do you remember?

Me: That it hurt a lot.

Nana: The hot comb shouldn’t have been painful, because by then I should have gotten all the snarls out because you cant use the hot comb to do that—it would leave the heat in the hair too long.

Me: I remember not wanting to sit for any of this happening.

Nana: I can understand that.

Me: I was disinterested in having my hair done.

Nana: It was probably a week process in which I would start just talking to you about the fact that ‘ok now on Friday [you’re going to have your hair done]’. So a week before I would start getting you ready, so that even if you didn’t want to, you knew it was going to happen.

Me: Now, Nana, in my lifetime, I have seen many different styles on your head and for the past 11 years, you’ve had locks. Now did you decide to go natural? And I cant remember, did you have natural hair before that?

Nana: Yes. You remember my “Bush”. My Angela Davis Bush.

Me: Was that the asymmetrical?

Nana: No that was the one in the picture…Heather has it…

Me: Right, but in between that time you had straightened hair to work at Dayton’s didn’t you?

Nana: It wasn’t necessarily where I worked, I wore it more according to what was the trend.

Me: Exactly why I was asking- what influences your decisions in how to wear your hair?

Nana: For me, when I was going through the transition from going from a natural – or an afro is what we called it- and I started from a very small natural and went to The Bush and after that came various and sundry hair styles. But ultimately, it was the very reason that you’re going natural now. The chemicals would leave my head full of sores and my hair wasn’t necessarily healthy. My hair is the healthiest it has ever been in my life.

Me: So 11 years of natural puts you at the healthiest it has ever been.

Nana. Ever been in my life.

Me: In all of the heads that you’ve done, do you feel as though your personal experiences have influenced how you’ve decided to do their hair? Namely, mine, your kids, your other grandkids?

Nana: Well, I guess it must have in one sense. But it was really a necessity as far as time is concerned. If you hot comb your hair or use any chemicals that will make it less tangled and then you keep with it and maintain it everyday so that when you only have a small window of time in the morning before school to spend on doing your hair, it was just a convenience then yes and it was so much better to be able to get a comb through your hair and make it neat to get you going and out of the house in the morning.

Me: So, doing nothing was never an option?

Nana: Oh no…oh no…it would have become one mass of matte, it wouldn’t have been practical.

Me: Is it practical to go natural now do you think?

Nana: Very much so, you will see that. And as far as having healthy hair, you want that. You want healthy every part of your body. It’s a mindset.

Me: Anything else you’d like to add about your hair experiences or experiences with my hair?

Nana: Well I think they were on par with my experiences in getting you to doing anything. There was a period you went through when you did not want to smile when you took a picture. Whatever it was, if you didn’t want to do it, it was always a task to get you to do it. There was certain clothing: “No no no” There were certain undergarments “no no no”. You were very strong willed: “I do not want to! I do not want to!”.

Me: So the hair was a large factor in that.

Nana: Yes and as far as I was concerned, it had to be done. That is how I was raised. I mean, I’m the youngest of 11 girls, from the oldest to the youngest, the oldest ones were in charge of doing the younger one’s hair. For us, it was a matter of neatness.

You know, a lot of people think that, and im certain aspect of this that is true for some women, that black women will straighten or process their hair because they want to look like white women. I don’t believe that. I think initially it always started out for the practical purpose of keeping the hair in a state where you can get a comb through it. I believe that being neat in presentation is important; its not true that people don’t judge you by the way you look.

Me: I agree.

Nana: Its true! If you’re walking around with some very unruly things going on about your face, people would never get to know how intelligent and beautiful and fun you really are. They’ll be afraid to get near you!

Me: So how did you wear your hair when you were younger?

Nana: I wore my hair in braids.

Me: What type of braids?

Nana: It depends on how your hair grows. If your hair grows evenly, then you can wear it in two braids. Part it along the middle and braid it down the sides. And then if you had breakage, then you braided it according to how many braids the hair needed. My sisters had their hair hot combed and rolled it by taking a brown paper bag and ripping the bag into strips and rolling their hair around it and tying the bag around the hair. You’ve seen me…did I ever do it to you? I probably did and you didn’t know it. That was the way so then the could have curly hair and they would do it after it was hot combed. But. For us, in our family, we were not allowed to wear our hair in curls until you were 12 years old, it was too sophisticated a look. If you were a young girl, you were supposed to have pig tails or braids. So that’s how we wore our hair. It was the same with a skirt, you weren’t allowed to wear a straight skirt or a pencil skirt until you went to high school. You know…its family, its tradition, its all about what your family would permit you to do.

Me: When did you let your kids do their own hair? And how does that evolve?

Nana: I think when you get to be about 10-years old, you start to feel like your mom’s making you look like a clown because when you look in the mirror you start to see yourself in a different way. And the child begins to dictate how their hair is done and why.

Me: Were there ever any moments when you ever had to tell your 10-year old or whatever age they were that ‘oh no, you cant leave the house like that’?

Nana: I still do that. With your mom and her sister. And now that Heather, my youngest, she’s wearing locks, she will come to me and ask me to style her hair or pin it up.

Me: I remember that, when we were at the Beautillion!

Nana: Yea, well she does that every time I go out [to California] to her house. Whereas your mom, no. Your mom had her own…… distinct look, I don’t think she ever, after doing her own hair, that she would allow me to do it. I think that there may have been a time when I would do it and she would say ‘Nope!’ and redo it. That’s just they way it is.

Me: Are you doing any of your grandkid’s hair these days at all?

Nana: Yes, I do Alex, who is 4 years old when I’m in Berkeley. I do that initial two little pom-pom thing. There’s a lot to be said about that style. Any of my children or grandchildren’s hair I’ve gotten ahold of, they’re going that direction.

Me: And the pom-poms turn into the antennas eventually.

Nana: You know, it’s a good way to keep you hair because from the roots to where you put the bad on, that stays straight and then the pom-pom usually get ratty and natty and whatever. But you’ve already got the hair contained, so you can kind of brush those. Do you remember the brush?

Me: Oh the blue brush?? Yea! I think we still have it!

Nana: I know! I’ve tried to confiscate it for your sisters hair! You cant find those anymore, and that was always a big part for me of doing the hair, was finding the right brush or comb.

Me: Can you describe [for our readers] The Brush?

Nana: It was a hard plastic, and each row of the The Brush separated when you were pulling the brush through your hair so that it was never fighting the hair and it made it easier to get through.

Me: Briliant design, really.

Nana: Oh, I love that brush. I love that brush to this day. Never let go of that brush. Actually there might be a market for that brush.

Me: To the rescue of millions of little girls everywhere!

Nana: I said a little prayer when I found that brush. I didn’t know if it would work when I found it, but it made things a little easier, for you and for me.

Me: Any sort of products that you would recommend to go along with that brush.

Nana: Well, now they have natural products with natural ingredients…

Me: Weren’t you a fan of cholesterol?

Nana: Yea, I was. Its too oily. But anything that doesn’t have a smell to it. Because we used to have to use a product called Sulfur-8. Do you remember that? Well Sulfur-8 smells like the first part of its name: Sulfur. It was great for your hair, but it smells so bad. And nobody wanted to use that, even though I did on my girls a couple times, but it was never a good situation. But I think it was Queen Helena who made that Cholesterol.

Me: But it wasn’t actually cholesterol?

Nana: I hope not! It probably looks like what cholesterol looks like clogging up your arteries.

Me: Any closing remarks as I embark on this journey?

Nana: Well I would just say that if in one of these years to come, if you ever happen to have a daughter,…just wait til you have to deal with their hair. I’m sure the experience will be unique.

Me: [laughing] well thanks, Nana, for chatting.

Nana: oh, anytime, Cass.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Something For Everyone

The Beauty Supply store is a veritable Willy Wonka Factory of all things black hair. Like any niche supplier, a Beauty Supply store has a very specific consumer group, in this case, black folks, and anyone outside that group probably has no idea that these places exist.

When my several mentions to my non-black friends that I would be “going to the beauty supply to pick up a few bags of hair” elicited the good ol’ nod’n’smile, I realized that they most likely have no idea what a Beauty Supply is! How were they [somehow] living their lives without fully knowing the wonders of the hair-filled, product-playland of the Beauty Supply?! Well, THIS!, I decided has just got to change and because we here at the Natural Selection blog are all about cross-cultural experiences and building understandings, I decided a field trip was absolutely in order.

So before my last set of braids, I invited my roommate, Paloma, along with me to the beauty supply. Pal, I figured at the very least, might be mildly interested in where I scamper off to every time I’ve been in need of something for my hair. It was to be a quick trip, we agreed, after all we had a dinner party to attend and all I was doing was grabbing a couple items and we’d be out the door.

Well, an hour an a half later, we emerged from Discount Beauty Supply, located in the Fillmore district of San Francisco: I with my bags of hair and Paloma, proud as a peacock, with a newly established sense of reverence for her own hair. What happened in there? Why did we spend 18 times the amount we intended in there? Why was Pal all smiles and super jazzed? Well, it appears that the Beauty Supply offers something for everyone: bags of hair for some and epiphanies for others.

Here’s a little roadmap to our educational and enlightening trip
to the Beauty Suppy:

1st Stop: “Those Things”
Growing up, I called them “pretties” and have heard others call them “knockers” or “thingamabobbers”. Whatever their name is, they adorn the hairstyles of all black girls from 2 - 9. When you're young, they were great! You get to choose the colors (but moms can ALWAYS veto questionable choices) and then walk around with something resembling skittles called “pretties” in your hair?! As a 5-year old: Awesome.

Left turn at the Heated Straightening Appliances
Here, Paloma is able to check out her first hot comb. She is fascinated by the concept, by how small the teeth are, by how it is such a wide spread means of smoothing curls out. I am having flashbacks. Time to go.

Continue straight to the Weave
I’ve never had a weave before, but I can explain the general concept: if you can’t achieve it, weave it! Either by sewing or gluing in tracks of human (way expensive) or fake (usually looks like it is) hair. We parked ourselves in front of the first weave aisle (home to the super expensive, imported, human hair in every color imaginable) to discuss the different styles, techniques, pros and cons of a weave. Soon, the store owner told us to take the chit chat (ahem! You mean LESSON!) elsewhere.

Left at the next aisle of bags of expensive human hair

Pass through the c
urly/textured human hair

Slow down at the extensive array of wigs

Red light at the synthetic straight hair

It was here, beneath the dangling bags of synthetic, silky, smooth, weave on the weft, that Pal really opened up about her personal hair experiences. Paloma has inherited a super thick head of curly hair. She revealed that because of its unique texture, she often had difficulty in managing it, thus relegating it to ponytails and subjecting it to quick trims for most of her life. Growing up, there were no celebrities with curly hair and as a result, she felt like it was something that she had to manage, an unruly feature that made her feel disheveled if left alone.

And then! An epiphany!

On the sojourn from the heat appliances, through the unbeWEAVEable amounts of bagged hair, to the synthetic department, Paloma had seen how hair, no matter what its texture, is a unique attribute of a person and that taking the time to style your hair is a way of celebrating it. To have a good looking head of hair on your shoulders(whether it is your or not), is something to be proud of! Then and there, Paloma decided that her own hair was TOO an asset and that she should maintain it as such!

It was truly a beautiful moment to see Pal go from processing all of these feelings and memories to deciding to take pride in her crowing glory! How was she going to do this exactly? Well, we were in a Beauty Supply, they surely had to have something to get her started!

Detour: Acquire hair for my braids

The Home Stretch

We cruise the aisles of shampoos, conditioners, relaxers, moisturizers, and greases, looking for something for Pal. Along the way, we run into some old, and not-so-missed, friends:

For Paloma, we settle on a shea butter deep conditioner and a wide tooth comb, two essential ingredients in maintaining a beautiful set of curls.

Whatever you call it, this experience truly attests to my ever-increasing belief that our hair, and specifically our relationship to our hair has the ability to both hinder, heal, and exalt the expression of our personal identities. My advice? Next time you're in the throes of an existential crisis or struggling to figure out who you are, maybe check out the Beauty never know what you'll might just be yourself.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Deoxyribonucleic Acid


Bored one day, I decided to wet a few strands of hair that were sticking out of my coif to see what happened (a new and exciting experiment for me as I had spent so much of my life avoiding getting my hair wet). After saturating the strands, the most amazing thing happened: the hair transformed from a frizzy blob to almost perfect spirals resembling the double helix structure of DNA.

This got me thinking.

Not only is DNA the shape my hair resembles, but it is also the reason that it does (those narcissistic amino acids). So I thought I'd find out why curly, kinky, coiled, afro hair exists. After all, no other mammals have fur that resembles anything close to this (ok, fine maybe Alpacas and I think this is a whole other story, even though they can rock dreadlocks).

Michael Jackson (RIP) was wrong: you gotta blame this one on the sunshine! As pre-humans (Australopithecines and the like) were working their business out on the evolutionary treadmill so to speak, they were in Africa, right on the equator. Pretty much the hottest place in the world. Couple this blazing environment with being fully furred and beginning to take part in the athletic exertions of hunting, these little guys were really feeling the heat to adapt their bodies to this extreme climate.

While this head-to-toe fur blocked out UV rays (nature's SPF 80!), it also made physical activity in the direct, midday, sunlight less than pleasant. For us humans today, it would be like running a marathon, wearing an Ewok costume , in Cancun. But beneath that fur, these pre-humans had pale skin. So over time, they evolved darker skin, to protect them from damaging sun rays while being able to more efficiently sweat and cool their bodies, and on their heads curled, kinky hair.

Why this type of hair and not straight hair? Well, hair on our heads is kind of like a fiber optic cable: straight hair is the most efficient way to transmit UV rays to the scalp, whereas hair with a tightly wound S-shaped pattern will not. At all. So S-shaped hair it was for these pre-humans! This texture highly effective in keeping sun away from the scalp; they were not trying to fry their brains, they were trying to protect it so that they could evolve into a highly successful species that would eventually invent the internet so that I could share all of this with you!

If this equatorial oven really is the origin of ALL peoples' ancestry, shouldn't everyone technically have coarse, kinky, swirly, curly hair? Well, once upon a time their peoples probably did, but the reason not every one today has: once again, blame it on the sunshine! Vitamin D , created by our bodies in the absorption of UV rays is crucial for human health, so when groups of humans migrated north, out of Africa, where the sun is much weaker and less bountiful, to say, Scandinavia, humans needed to once again adapt their bodies, but this time to absorb as much UV as possible. How? With pale skin (no SPF 80 needed) and straight hair (highly effective fiber optic cable).

Today for persons of African descent living in not the sunniest or hottest places, in places like Minnesota or Northern California, kinky hair is more of a vestigial trait, or a remnant of what once was an survival necessity.

We are now lucky enough to be able to live in societies in which we can see the evolutionary grab bag that our species has become. The stuff that sits, hangs, and catapults from our heads is a real-time reminder of the science of evolution and, as I see it, a cause for celebration of our own ancestries. No longer isolated by geographic barriers, we are in the midst of the re-convergence of a multitude of diverse populations, where a person of Scandinavian descent may have set up shop in Ecuador or a Ghanian found home in Moscow. We are hopping right back on that evolutionary treadmill and it is and will continue to be fascinating to see how future generations adapt.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Bake a Batch of Braids

A feast for your scalp! This fool-proof recipe will provide you with a bountiful, braided head of hair!

Yield: about 150 braids
Approximate braiding time: 10 hours


1 confused/transitioning head of hair
1 Ifeoma, the master braidista, natural supporter, and friend
5 bags of RastAfri hair (color selection will to be determined by mood of shopper, availability, and what she had last set of braids)
8 combs of various sizes
2 pillows to sit on
8 movements of a hip hop symphony
4 different styles of animation woven into one amazing film
8 pages transcribed for "Interview with Nana" blog posting (coming soon!)
2 Men in Black (plus accompanying music video)
40 powers of ten
19 minutes of hearing how schools kill creativity
6 bathroom breaks
8 gallons of patience
Witty Conversation throughout to taste

Cooking Directions

Before getting started, make sure hair is clean, dry, and well-conditioned. With Ifeoma sitting in chair, have Cassidy sit on the floor in front of her. Begin at the back of the head and make small parts through the hair in about 1" squares. Braid each square by adding in a piece of synthetic hair to achieve desired length. Continue in this fashion until all hair is neatly woven into tight little braids.

Braid the braids into 6 larger braids and dip into boiling water. This will give finished style a wavy/curly effect.

***I also want to give a massive shout out to Ifeoma. Without her none of this would be happening. As an all-natural woman herself, she has been one of the most supportive in my quest to go natural: from fielding my anxiety-ridden phone calls/text messages at all hours of the day, to spending precious hours taming my head of hair while listening to everything from my dorky musings to my mediocre Pandora stations. Thaaaank you!***

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Northern Aggression

Since taking my braids out many people have asked me what my hair looks like now. Well, my dear blog readers, there are only two words to describe it: CIVIL WAR!

Since November of 2008, the Northern forces of natural hair have been gathering strength and growing their troops en masse while the Southern forces of relaxed hair have been rallying for secession from the Great Union of My Head. However, the Yankees on the North side of the very very vividly drawn line of demarcation are quite cognizant of the fact that they are not quite long enough on their own to truly fill out a set of braids and thus would like to retain their chemically altered country persons to the South.

Significant casualties resulted from the braid removal process (typical), the aftermath of which makes my bedroom floor look like Antietam. However, after a Miss Jessie's Rapid Recovery Treatment deep conditioning, both sides were appeased and able to resume a mainly peaceful existence in the form of two french braids (the likes of which, this head has not seen since age 4). During this interim period, I took the time to have a stylist get some intel for me about whats going on in the North. So far we have about 3-inches and counting of new, super healthy natural growth.

A 10-hour Peace Talk/Braiding Summit is scheduled for this Sunday and will be mediated by Ifeoma, who has been very successful in the past in calming the tensions between the two sides by using her top-notch braiding skills.

We all know how this story plays out in American history, but here I'm projecting a different out come: eventually the South will be forced to secede by way of The Big Chop, never to rise again and the North will live happily, naturally ever after.

Monday, August 17, 2009

She's Come Undone

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, even with a good set of cornrows. Here's a little peek at what goes on behind the braids.....

Ps---if youre having trouble loading this video from the main page, hit the permalink (or copy and paste this url

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Good Hair" Goes Even MORE Hollywood

Well, I had to get this trailer right up on the ol’ blog! With the help of the one and only Chris Rock, looks like the 'Good Hair' discussion is making it to the big screen. From what I can glean from this trailer, 'Good Hair' is defined for the purposes of this movie as the stick-straight, high-gloss, blowing-in-the-wind, black hair that is achieved in one of two ways: relaxers and/or weave. Thus, one can infer that 'Bad Hair' is that which is left to its own, natural devices. The movie looks like it is going to focus on the lengths Black women go to for, well, length!

Watching the trailer, my first thought is 'man, I have been there!'…sitting in the salon, with that 'creamy crack' working it’s magic on my scalp, only to emerge 2 to 6 hours later with a ‘do that is better fit for a Pantene Pro V commercial than biking through the streets of San Francisco.

But, now a new feeling emerges and that is: 'man, I am outta there!'. Do not get me wrong, I really enjoyed having relaxed hair. It looked good, I felt good, and it was all good. As I go through this process of letting the relaxer-habit go, I’ve also had to let other things go along with it, mainly this notion of 'good hair', which, I guess deep down, was what impelled me to go get my hair straightened every 6-7 weeks for 15 years. I liked that with relaxed hair I could get funky bangs cut or wear it with a little flip, have fun with straightening irons, or the way my pony tail swished along my back when I ran (ok, FINE! When I walked). It was easy, it was manageable, and I always got a lot of compliments from friends, stylists and strangers.

However, in retrospect there are a lot of things I did NOT like, namely the $120 I had to pony up for the process here in the Bay Area. Just doing a quick calculation, we’re talking that over the course of 15 years, with an average price of $80 (way to go STL, bringing that price point down), I have spent $9600 getting my hair did. Factor in 20% gratuity and we’re talking $11,520. And by 'I have spent' I mean 'My mom funded a majority of the…'. Oh the places I could have gone! Bottom line: that is A LOT of money just to get some 'good hair'.

Another thing I did not like are these infamous 'chemical burns' that adorn your dome piece (and ears) (and forehead) after the process is done. Didn’t think much of it at the time, but that really can’t be good for you. In warfare, soldiers and civilians are disfigured for life from these burns, while I have been accepting them willingly as part of a beautification process. Color me Californian, but the chemical hair process has become incongruous with the more health-conscious natural, organic lifestyle I lead.

Perhaps my going natural is a sign of the times; times in which the economy has tanked and people of all colors are turning green. All of these factors (and many more) have led me here to redefine my personal conception, and hopefully other people’s conceptions of what this 'Good Hair' is. I look forward to seeing the movie! I hope that it not only reveals some truths about black hair, but also takes this mainstream spotlight to celebrate it for what it naturally is!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Interview with Skya

When I think about "natural hair", specifically MY natural hair, I think about me as 6 year old, getting my hair hot combed, braided, and whatever other technique put my hair into "that-one-look". You know you've seen it. All little black girls wear at some point: 4 sections, each pulled into these cute, chubby braids with cute little barrettes that lay flat at first, but eventually look like antennae trying to tune your head into the local FM pop music station.

My memories of these processes are less than pleasant, but with age I have let them go. That said, I was really jazzed to be able to talk to my six-year old sister, Skya Grace, about her hair, so that she could give us a realtime glimpse of what its like to get your hair done at that age and see if it was, to put it lightly, as challenging as I remember.

Going into the interview, I had heard from my mom and my Nana that Skya is particularly tenderheaded, and exhibited all the behaviors I expected to hear about: crying, shouting, scowling, doing everything one can to avoid the process.

"Great," I thought. "This will make for some juicy blog content."

Welp. I was wrong. The kid couldn't have described her hair experiences more pleasantly. She described how she "liked" getting her hair and that it "feels good to have her hair done". I decided to stop muckraking and try to figure out how and why Skya likes having her hair done. I the process I discovered that Skya's friend who was joining us for the interview would provide the key to unlocking these secrets.

Her friend is Christy. Christy is Skya's new American Girl Doll, part of their "Look Alike" series, meaning that Christy was purchased with brown skin and curly hair to resemble my sister Skya. When we talked about how Skya liked to do Christy's curly hair, she became frustrated and told me that she just wanted to take Christy to the American Girl Salon (!) and get her hair straightened, because then Skya "would be able to do more things with her hair".

Charging unsuspecting parents these days to hot comb a dolly's hair. These people really have thought of everything!

I came to the conclusion that Skya preferred to not only Christy's hair straight, but also her own, because of the perceived increase styling options. This is a sentiment that I can definitely sympathize with because when I was younger, I was obsessed with playing with hair, specifically straight hair, of my dolls and friends. Their was easier to brush, did not require hours of prep work, products, and tools. Not that my curly headed dolls and friends were exempt from my fingers---eventually required straightening tools and their hair was made straight and I believe once a friend and I blew up a Barbie head with a blow dryer trying to get her kinks out. Not to mention, there was no such thing as just "playing with my hair" at that age. To play with a head of hair that had just been worked on for a total of 8 hours for over 2 days was to play with fire and I certainly was not going to even go there.

For the six-year old, I guess the bottom line is that is all about play; whatever hair is easiest to play with and what ever allows you to play more. As it should be.

Read on for the full interview transcript:

Me: What’s your name?
SG: Skya
Me: And how old are you?
SG: 6 and one half
Me: Now the purpose of this interview is for me to learn a little bit more about you and hour hair. How are you wearing your hair right now?
SG: My hair is French braided.
Me: Oh, and who did your braids?
SG: My sister Cassidy
Me: What?? Dude, you cant lie in your interview. OH, you’re right, I did do the braid on the side. Now who did your longer braids?
SG: Um. [pause] My friend Cassandra did it.
Me: And who is your friend who is sitting with you right now?
SG: My friend Christy.
Me: Got it, you and your friend Christy look a lot alike. Now, do you like having your hair done?
SG: Yes.
Me: It feels good to have your hair done?
SG: Yea.
Me: Now when you don’t have your hair in braids like that, what do you do with your hair?
SG: My mom puts my hair up like hers.
Me: Yea? Now does that feel good?
SG: Yea.
Me: Hmm. Ok you like it? Do you have your hair straightened ever?
SG: Yes.
Me: How?
SG: Like its straightened like my mom’s. She like makes my hair like hers.
Me: And tell me how she does it?
SG: She like takes out these braids, she washes it, and then she like flat irons it. And like hers it gets curled at the bottom.
Me: Yea? And does it take a long time?
SG: Yea.
Me: How long?
SG: All the way to ten o’clock.
Me: Ten o’clock at night?
SG; Yea.
Me: Wow. And how long does it usually stay like that?
SG: Like, a few days. Like, 20 or 30 days.
Me: And you can wear it to school like that?
SG: Yes. BUT you cant get it wet. Or it gets all soggy and it crumples up.
Me: Crumbles up? What do you mean?
SG: Like it gets really really dry. And then it gets really really fuzzy. And it just gets crumbled up.
Me: Ohhh. So do you avoid getting it wet then?
SG: Yea.
Me: So what do you do? What do you have to miss out on?
SG: Swimming.
Me: Do you have a lot of friends that go swimming?
SG: Not really. No.
Me: But can you go swimming with your hair like that? (points to her cornrows)
SG: Yea.
Me: Do you like that ‘cause its easier?.
SG: Yea.
Me: Got it. Now earlier you were telling me about your dolly, Christy, and you said you wished her hair was straight.

SG: Oh yes.
Me: Why do you wish that?
SG: ‘Cause you can do more things. You can put it up in ponyies and you can French braid it, but with curls you can’t do any of that.
Me: Really? And what can you do with curls?
SG: You can just put it like this [gestures to how doll is wearing it down], you can put it in a pony for a little while. And then it just ends up like this. [points to dolls hair is again, just down]
Me: Like what? That looks cute!
SG: Yea, but…it is cute, but….I just want to go her her hair done at the American Girl doll shop.
Me: And what do they do there?
SG: They can put it up in all different ways.
Me: How? What are you going to have done with her hair?
SG: I wanna try to get her hair like unbraided.
Me: Unbraided? You mean get it straightened?
SG: Yes.
Me: How do they straighten her hair?
SG: Like they take a brush and like straighten it.
Me: Really??
SG: Yes.
Me: Did her hair come curly?
SG: Yes.
Me: And they’re able to straighten it? Do you know how long it takes?
SG: An hour.
Me: An hour? And it costs money?
SG: Yes. Everything there costs money!
Me: [Laughing] that’s probably very true. Well this doll looks a lot like you in how shes dressed right now, right?
SG: Yea! But theres dolls that REALLY look like you and theyre called “Look Alikes”!
Me: Oh, is she a look alike?
SG: Yea.
Me: Yea! She does look like you! But if you have curly hair, and she has curly hair, don’t you think she will look more like you?
SG: Yea.
Me: Then why do you want her to have straight hair?
SG: Because. I just want her to have straight hair. You can do anything with straight hair.
Me: Anything? What do you mean?
SG: Like you can brush it. You can put it in ponies. You can braid it, you can get it wet.
Me: You can do all that with your hair now.
SG: I know. But I want my hair straight too.
Me: How straight? I mean, didn’t you say that Mommy straightens it?
SG: Yes. I want my as straight as Mommy’s.
Me: Any why do you want your hair so straight?
SG: Because. I like straight. I don’t like braids.
Me: Why don’t you like braids? They look beautiful on you.
SG: I know, but I don’t like having braids so long. Sometimes, but not like this long.
Me: Why?
SG: I just feel like I have braids for a long time. And they look all messy here; they’re like sticking out.
Me: Hmm. How long have you had braids in?
SG: At least a year 100 days.
Me: But what if you had them done more often so that it didn’t get messy, would that be better for you or would you rather just have straight hair.
SG: Yea. But I don’t like when you first get them, cause when you put your head down it like pulls and it hurts!
Me: Oh no. Does it hurt to have it done when you get braids?
SG: [Nods yes.]
Me: Yea? And what do you do?
SG: I just wait and watch tv.
Me: But when mommy straightens your hair does that hurt?
SG: No, not really.
Me: Ok, well do you have anything else to add about your hair?
SG: No, not really.
Me: Ok, Sky. Thank you for talking with me about your hair!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Waiting for Santa

That's what I feel like I'm doing right now. I've been all over the blogosphere reading zillions of articles, looking at oodles of pictures, and learning heaps about natural hair.

And I couldn't be more excited.

I woke up this morning with the desire to just take out my braids, cut off all the relaxed ends and just do the damn thing. And the funny thing is, this growing impulse is starting to show! Last week, my week-old cornrows started to get really fuzzy. And its just gotten fuzzier by the day. I'm not sure if its the weather (this San Francisco fog is no joke and it typically parks right on top of my house). My mom speculates that I just used a bad bag of hair, but it would appear that my natural hair just wants OUT!

But the one thing I am well aware of is that having the right tools, supplies, and products to do natural black hair is essential. I have none of those things and these braids are not coming out without a game plan.

So for now, I will continue to wait. Practicing the art of patience. Sitting here, with Christmas Morning tempting me on the top of my head.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vocabulary Lesson

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing my mom, my Nana, and my six-year old sister, Skya, about their her, my hair, and our hair as African American women.

These fascinating and informative conversations, traced our hair histories from when all of us were young through to the present (which the exception of Skya, who is young, so we just talked about her and her doll's current hair realities).

I've been trying to figure out how to comb through these conversations and bring their lessons, humor, and poignant wisdom to life on this blog and I've decided to start with something that all of these stories have in common: Black Hair Buzz Words. You really begin to realize how unique and intricate a subject matter black hair is when you start to organize and define its lexicon. You won't find these words and their definitions on an SAT, ACT, or GRE, but they are just as commonly used (if not more commonly) as anything you'll find there. So without further ado:
Black Hair Buzz Words

Hot Comb: An iron comb with a wooden handle (although I think that some are electric these days, they probably even have blue tooth so you can make calls while combing...but we're talking old school here) that is heated on a stove and used to straighten natural hair. A necessary evil. Both terrifying and beautifying. I wager that it's impossible to find a black female who does *not* have less than savory memories of getting their hair hot combed.

THE Comb: The comb you see laying out and realize that its time to get your hair done. Typically a tear-inducing sight. I've blocked the description of mine from memory, but remember the terror of seeing it on the counter vividly. Skya's is red and is named Rojo.

THE Brush: A family heirloom. Originally made by Avon and no longer in production. Has rows of plastic teeth that separate from one and other, which reduces the snagging, pulling, pain, crying etc.,when brushing through a thick head of hair.

"The Kitchen": 1. Usually where hot combing and other hair activities take place.
2. The hair at the nape of the neck that gets particularly tangled. Usually the most difficult place to comb through, resulting in a lot of wincing, kicking, and head jerking, thus generally remains untamed.

Detanglers: Did not work on my hair.

TCB: The "less juicy" version of a Jheri Curl. Chemical texturizer, activated by water. Had my mom looking cute through the 80's.

Perm Repair/Sulfur 8/Cholesterol: Products used on heads in my family despite their inherent nastiness simply because "they worked". Perm Repair was made with placenta (we are still not sure from what sort of organism. Guesses are humans or pigs). Sulfur 8 smells like rotten eggs (strongly, from a distance). Cholesterol's namesake and main ingredient are one in the same. Eesh.

Good Hair & Bad Hair: A controversial topic that will receive further discussion later. Good Hair is used to describe a baby's hair when it is born, which is typically soft, easy to comb through, fine and sometimes even straight. Bad Hair is what appears on the same baby's head 2 months to 2 years later when the kinks and curls come out to play and the parents (and other assorted relatives) realize that they are going to have to deal with a thick head of hair on what is most likely going to be a tenderheaded child.

Tenderheaded: Describes one who has a low tolerance for scalp related pain cause by combing, brushing, braiding and whatever else is going on up there. Usually one grows out of this "affliction" as they come to realize that its easier just to sit still and/or they start doing their own hair and have no one else to be mad at for yanking their head around but themselves.

Marketing: Convinced my mom that "Just For Me", a relaxer just for kids, would work on my hair. It didn't at all. My mom is now convinced that there is no way the girls on the box used the product in the box. Cassidy's Hair: 1 JFM: 0

Bribery: Useful tactic in getting me (and currently getting Skya) to set and get my hair done when I was younger. Candy. Toys. Presents.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reconnecting with my Roots

Literally and figuratively.

Since starting this blog, my mind has been churning with memories about my experiences with hair. And as I process all of these thoughts, a saying comes to mind: "humor is pain plus distance". That is to say, a lot of these memories about my hair are painful, but a span of 20, 15, and 10 years between them and my present self has immortalized them as laughable anecdotes.

Many of these memories involve more than just me. They involve my mother and my grandmother, two women who spent cumulative days' worth of time simply doing my hair, which I recall as never, ever being anything close to simple.

I have been back home in Minnesota for the weekend, the place that holds all these memories, talking with my mom and my Nana about their experiences with doing my hair. As expected, per the above quotation, there has been a lot of laughter. Which probably means that there was an equal amount of pain to begin with. In the next couple of days, I'll be sitting down and interviewing both of them for this blog; as I continue down the path of going natural, I recognize the value of being able to go back and learn about where, how and why the chemical process all began.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

To Rock a Mullet-Hawk is to be Human

I am fascinated by anthropology, in both the natural and social science sense. Human hair is a unique topic that falls into both categories: it is an evolutionary physical trait that links individuals to ancestral roots as well as a physical feature that individuals have manipulated as a social tool. It is our relationship to our hair that makes us humans unique as a species: we are not the only species that has hair, but we ARE the only species that has to cut our hair. This tendency most likely evolved because of our need to see clearly, for with hair in our ancestors' faces (and scunci's did not exist 500,000 years ago) they would not have been as able to fend off predators or feast on prey and we most certainly would have not been here today.

Basically, it became necessary for our survival to have bangs.

And MY we have taken that one and run with it! We no longer just bang, we mall-bang, we side-bang, we hawk, we loc, we twist, crimp, line, perm, braid, shave, blow, fade, curl, roll, flip, color, multi-color, highlight, low-lite, relax, tease, pik, diffuse, we tail to the tune of ponies, pigs and rats, we, dare I say it, wave nouveau...and I haven't even gotten to the products yet.

I don't think its a solid argument that a spiked mohawk-mullet with sweet designs on the sides is necessary for an individual to survive in this day and age, but it certainly does look cool. (How? HOW did this so trendy? Another topic, I guess...)

The way we manipulate our hair has become more of a form of a social expression than an evolutionary advantage. It is perhaps the most accessible part of our physical being that we can change, or not change, to express our individuality, to identify with certain groups, to conform to standards, to represent certain values, or to symbolize ritual.

The point is, we all make decisions about how we wear our hair for a specific reason. It might be that you feel as though you are most self expressed when walking around purple-headed. Or it might be that you choose to do nothing at all; in fact this type non-action says just as much about an individual's personality and value system as one of those mohawks!

I am currently wearing (and have been wearing) braids. I will admit that it is because I don't know what else to do with my natural new growth and am not ready to take that next step towards being completely au natural. They also represent another particular set of values: time and patience. They take a lot of time and patience to do and have done. They also represent the time and patience it takes to grow out your hair for a year (especially when you are used to having it cut about once a month) as well as the time and patience I know it will take to care for natural hair.

Did I mention that I'm highly impatient? Color me a work in progress...

Where I Am, Where I'm Going, and Where I've Been

Currently, I'm sitting pretty in a set of fresh cornrows with extensions. I had them done last week, shortly following my decision to renew my commitment to going natural.


Well, they're nice for a month all right, but I have to say, putting those things in when you haven't had them in awhile is just downright painful. By the time my braider gets to the last few braids, I usually am in the midst of doing three things:

1. Deep breathing and meditation.
2. Experiencing the heightened sensation of every single nerve ending on my scalp.
3. Wondering why I decided to do this again (easy answer in retrospect: its relatively fast and there was no way I myself could have tamed the 1/6th natural - 5/6th relaxed/knotted beast on my head--see picture--this is right after I took my singles out, decided not to get a relaxer and go for the cornrows again)

I've been in braids of some sort (cornrows or singles) since late January. I did some searching on my google calendar and found out that I haven't had a relaxer since November, so my hair has been growing for about seven months now. However, I feel as though my natural hair is too short at the moment to just chop it all off and rock it. I know that many women take that route, but I know myself and I'm not ready for that quite yet. I would like to have some length to work with; plus I want to learn more about natural hair care before I do The Big Chop.

I've decided that November 2009 will when I'll stop braiding and start letting my strands fly free! Until then, I'll be talking with other natural women and stylists about my options, how-to's, etc, (and sharing them here).

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Blame Game

This morning I called my Mom to share with her the great news about my new blog! She has been more than aware of my back-and-forth decision making about going natural as a result of countless phone calls and emails over the past 4 months yammering on about what to do with my hair. So this next step, sharing my experience with the world via the interweb, was probably not so much a surprise (and now that I think about it, perhaps a bit relieving that I can now stop bothering her as much with my hair-talk?)

Her response: "oh geez. are you going to blame me?"

Well, honestly, I probably would have done the same thing: relaxed the bejesus out of my kids' hair because after 10 years of kicking, screaming, and hot comb induced tears, something's gotta give. Every single person who has laid eyes on my head knows that I have been blessed with the gift of trillions of hair follicles. Its like a stimulus package for my head! But her response led me to the following thought: how do mom's make these decisions about what to do with their daughters and sons' hair when it comes to making choices about styling, chemicals, cutting etc? What were the good decisions they made? The bad ones?

To get to the bottom of this question, I'll be doing a series of interviews with several moms about the choices they made (and are making) about their children's hair.

So, in response, no, I dont blame you for starting me in on the relaxers, Mom. But giving me that Wave Nouveau is a different discussion...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New Beginnings: A [Moderately] Brief History of Why I'm Starting a Blog About My Hair

Since I can remember, my hair has been both my crowning glory and my greatest nemesis. Like many African American women, I have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in salons straightening my hair with chemicals and heat. Growing up, I skipped out on birthday parties at swimming pools and gym classes to protect my freshly straightened strands. As an adult, I performed olympic-worthy acrobatics in avoiding sudden rain storms, and sacrificed many a good nights' sleep by sleeping on my hands to preserve the styles I had just spent 5 hours and $$$ achieving. I used to have (and sometimes still do) anxiety nightmares about finding a trustworthy and skilled stylist who could give me that smooth, silky look I had grown accustomed to over the years.

During my senior year in college, I took a vacation in Jamaica and decided to get a set of cornrows (my first in 10 years) so that I wouldnt have to worry about what to do with my hair everytime I decided to go for a swim. After enduring the painful 4 hours of actual braiding, the next month was footloose and worry free! But shortly thereafter, I returned to relaxing my hair and continued to do so for the next couple years whenever I took a trip or wanted a brief break from relaxers.

Eventually, I started to notice a pattern emerging: every time I left the salon, I would have large, painful chemical burns all over my scalp and sometimes my ears. Still, I didnt question the necessity of a relaxer---it was normal to endure this sort of thing for your hair, right?

Then in March 2009, I was traveling in Salvador da Bahia in Brasil. The streets were filled with women getting their hair braided, and while I had traveled to the country with a set of cornrows in, I decided to take the "when in rome" route and get a set of Brasilian braids. I deviated from my usual cornrow routine and went for a set of medium thickness, burgundy colored singles that were decorated with raffia and cowrie shells. It was the most amazing braiding experience Ive ever had! All in all, I was sitting with my braider, Fabiola, for about 12 hours total in a beautiful Brasilian cultural center where people were dancing, making music, and hanging out all around us. Somewhere in our conversations about life, love, and food, she says to me "I am going to give you the best advice you'll ever have--stop relaxing your hair and go natural." A silly idea, I thought, especially from the person braiding my massive amounts of thick, coarse hair. But I thought about it, and thought about how during my last relaxer not only did I get burns again, but some of my hair had fallen out. So I agreed, natural hair it was!

Fast forward a couple months: the braids need to come out. I've been back from Brasil for a couple months at this point, I'm back to work annnnnnd I've been thinking that a cute little bob would be nice to rock for a little bit, so I call and make an appointment with my stylist for a relaxer. At this point, natural hair seemed daunting and enough people had talked me out of my resolution. So I take out the braids and in the process of washing, conditioning and combing my hair I was shocked to realize that I could comb through my new growth while my relaxed ends were turning into dreadlocks. The new growth was shiny and healthy and the relaxed hair was brittle and breaking. As I looked at the piles of hair around my feet, with tears in my eyes (from the pain of the 45 minutes of tugging and the trauma of massive hair loss) I decided to move forward and commit to going natural.

I was never old enough to do my own natural hair and I cant even remember what the texture is like without chemicals (beyond that 1" of new growth at the 6-week 'I need to make an appointment' point). I am going to use this blog to document my experience as I navigate the wide world of natural hair care as a relaxer devotee turned liberated, natural headed woman.

This blog is not going to just be about hairstyles and products (there are not only plenty of those out there, but eventually this blog would become as boring as, well, watching hair grow). I've come to realize that the story of black hair is a story about cultural and personal identity, health and diet, schools and learning, world history and politics, art and expression, laughter and struggle, and family and friends. I'm also a very visual person so look forward to a lot of pictures too! (not just of me, this isnt O Magazine). And some interviews. And whatever else I deem worthy of making this a dynamic, entertaining, educational reading experience.

Exicitedly yours,