a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

A little Gripe about Hair

Posted on: February 5, 2011

little rascals

I know, I know!  More hair posts but I can’t help it!  I love talking about hair, black hair in particular because I think that it’s an important issue, for me at least.  A little video to get you started.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J76Y9WNckts&feature=player_embedded]

Chris Rock made a bit of a stink in the black community with his in-your-face tell it like it is documentary Good Hair.  He was on Oprah twice; once to promote the movie and a second time defending the movie.  As a natural-haired gal, I loved it and thought he did a great job of showing women how beautiful it is to appreciate, if not love, hair we were born with.  I also thought his message to his daughters was more important.  Love who you are.  Period.

So the other day I was browsing around on other Jewish blogs and websites and came across a post about a Jewish woman’s endless quest to straighten her “messy and unmanageable Jewfro” and was immediately enraged (before reading).  Dozens of thoughts flew in my mind; What did this white chick know about a ‘fro?  How dare she call curls “messy and unmanageable” and on and on.  Turns out, the article was about her love affair, addiction, to straightening her hair.  She admits to not knowing what her natural hair looks like.  Which was the sentiment of the white audience members on the Good Hair show of Oprah.  They talked about dying, straightening, adding extensions to make their hair appear fuller, lighter, longer, or straighter than it actually is.

The question begs to be asked, what the hell is wrong with the hair that grows out of our heads?  No offense to 50 First J Dates, because I actually read religiously.  No offense to black women who relax their hair.  No offense to my friend who shall remain anonymous who recently colored her hair to cover her (sexy) greys.  No offense to those of you reading who may alter their hair in any way but, why do you?  Really, I’d love to understand.

If you read my other blog you’d know that my natural hair is a pretty new thing for me.  My license picture is me with straight hair.  There are pictures on my Facebook account with my straight hair.

 I grew up addicted to the creamy crack-aka relaxer.  I got my first relaxer pretty young.  I don’t remember how old I was but I do remember feeling very grown up sitting in the beauty salon with my mother looking on.  According to Troy, her flamboyant stylist who popped my relaxer cherry, I hoped out of the chair and flung my hair over my shoulder in a way that can only be compared to one of Charlie’s Angels (original). 

As a tween I remember the first Pantene ProV commercials of the beautiful long flowing hair and wishing I could have hair like that.  I remember the Garnier commercials where the “bad hair” had been teased into a giant mess and the “good hair” had been straightened and was long and flowing.  News Flash-Black girls hair will NEVER look like a Pantene or Garnier commercial.  Ever.  I didn’t get the memo.

Growing up, my mother would do them for me at home and I’d love the way that my hair looked.  I couldn’t have imagined my hair any other way.  The first time I saw a black woman with natural hair that wasn’t dreaded or braided I was completely shocked.  And this was only about 5 years ago.  She was one of my associates at J.Crew and she came to work with this hair that was long and curly.  My Ohio brain immediately thought, oh she must be mixed to have hair like that.  Nope, she was a regular black chick like me with great, natural hair.  I asked her questions, which I’m sure she was annoyed by because when black women ask me questions about my hair (our hair) I’m annoyed.  I thought it was neat but I wasn’t ready to go natural yet.  It was the $500 relaxer I got on Park Avenue that made me stop.  Hand to God, it was the expense more than anything.

me, with straight hair

Growing out my hair was an experience that made me feel closer to my identity as a black woman and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Honestly, I find that my hair is easier to do, easier to manage (minus the long detangling process and long drying process).  When I see other women of any race with curly hair I engage them in conversation and compare notes.  I’ve had conversations with white women who’ve married black men and have daughters with hair not quite the texture they were hoping for.  I’ve worked my way through Carol’s Daughter, Miss Jessies, and Deva Curl before finally finding Hair Rules, hands down the BEST product for curly hair, of all textures.

I’m totally on Team Natural in every sense of the word.  I love when women, especially the handful of friends I have in their late twenties to mid thirties who have started to grey and let it be, my special lady in particular.  My favorite set of sisters is split down the middle with one always rockin’ the curly hair and the other a die-hard straightener, though they both dye.  Obviously, it’s a choice that everyone has to make and I support the choices that my friends make.  I just wonder what we’d look like if media and television told us that this was beautiful…

Instead of this…

The thing is, and this is hair-straightening specific.  When you straighten your hair, you lose some of what makes you you.  The other day, our owner’s daughter lamented that her mom (my boss) wouldn’t let her straighten her hair.  The daughter likes to think we’re all on “her team” but I always tell her like it is.  I told her that her mother was right, when she could afford to straighten her hair on her own, she should but until then, deal with her “Jewish” hair.  Curly hair makes you look “ethnic”, whatever that means.  It seems that when you straighten your hair you are, in a sense, trying to remove some of your ethnicity. 

It’s sort of like when Jewish celebrities like SJP, Babs, Bette,  and Jen Aniston alter their noses.  I’ll give it to the ladies that I’ve mentioned, their very Jewish, very Ashkenazi noses are still there, with minor tweaking.  I heard a line in a movie about Jewish American Princesses getting nose jobs for their 16th birthdays rather than cars-sometimes both.  One of my associates at work who is Korean said that eye surgery is what a lot of her friends, and younger sister, got at 16.  I mean, what the hell?  It’s widely known in Indian culture that women with lighter complexions are more beautiful and therefore, more desirable as wives.  On the other hand you have millions of women going in to get their lips injected with plumpers and getting Brazilian butt lifts, two very African American traits.

Much of my growing out my hair process, going from straight, relaxed hair to natural, was about letting go of the things I built up around me to try to hide who I was-a black, gay woman.  The going natural process was a lot like stripping back layers of who and how I identified.  It is perhaps, why I’m so pro-natural.  As a black woman we’re told what we’re supposed to look like, what is acceptable by the world and within the black community.  I cannot tell you how many people, mainly outside of NYC, who have told me how unruly my hair looks.  How I’d never find a job looking like I do, how uncivilized my hair is.  To my face, mind you.  I cannot count how many times I’ve responded, “How did you get your hair to be straight” to the question, “How did you get your hair like that?”  I honestly think that some people do not know what their real hair looks like and moreover, wouldn’t know how to handle it. 

This is what I’ve learned.

Suds Free Shampoo is amazing, trying to rinse lather out of natural black hair takes FOREVER but is a necessary evil about twice a month.

Really amazing conditioner is an absolute necessity and be prepared to throw down money for the good stuff.

Finger comb.  Finger comb. Finger Comb.  If you MUST comb your hair make sure you’ve got at least .5 inches between the teeth.

NEVER COMB or BRUSH DRY CURLY HAIR.  EVER.

Learn to love the diffuser and your hair.

6 Responses to "A little Gripe about Hair"

I don’t straighten my hair. Heck, I don’t do anything but wash my hair. I’m hoping to have the nerve to leave it gray as well but I don’t know. I HATE chemicals so that will help me hold out.

I don’t know why, but I think that grey hair is so attractive. Like Richard Gere and Anderson Cooper…Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.

LOL Black hair is such a ‘thing’. Almost six years ago, I got the nerve to shave it off after relaxing it and doing all sorts of things to it since I was 8 or 9 years old.

And since June 2009, I have left it alone. I wash it with organic shampoo and leave it alone. I’ve also discovered that I can make my own shampoo and conditioner! Being kind to my hair, my health and the earth. It’s not just green living, I think it’s also Jewish living :)

I wrote about my hair and appearance in the following post:

http://thepsalmist-charlee.blogspot.com/2010/12/journey-down-memory-lane-while-looking.html

I’m so impressed that you make your own conditioner and shampoo!! I still have a lot of product love…I keep cutting it shorter and shorter so perhaps over time the need for product to define the curls will be less and less.

I agree, it’s all Jewish living, treating the world we live in with respect has a lot to do with not only hair but what we eat and how we treat the world. For instance, I keep having this internal struggle with kashrut and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me to eat sustainably and locally rather than just following kashrut laws…Excited to read your post!

I’m still very new on my conversion journey – barely started – so I know very little about kashrut laws. But I’m pretty sure that growing and eating organic, fair trade products and being kosher are not mutually exclusive… :)

OOooooh! You just gave me an idea about what my WordPress blog will be about! Thank you!!

You’d be surprised. To me, it seems that if food is raised sustainably, organically that it would qualify as kosher but it’s not. For example, produce must be thoroughly checked for bugs because bugs (most, some are) aren’t kosher. To prevent bugs you usually add pesticides but when you add pesticides it’s not organic. You can have a kosher animal, like a cow, that’s raised well, allowed to roam freely, eats only grass, etc. but if the person who butchers it isn’t the kosher guy (forgot the name) then it’s not kosher…
That’s not to say you can’t get organic kosher food, you can…But the likelihood that that food is local (a priority for me) is pretty slim…

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