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,