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!