At age four, I ran away screaming anytime my mother approached me with a comb.
Thirty years later, I feel the same way.
I. hate. hair.
I hate combing it. I hate styling it. I hate hot combs, relaxers, weave, grease, brushes, blow-outs, hood dryers, sponge rollers, hard rollers. I hate getting it braided, twisted, loc’d, cut, shampooed, conditioned, wrapped, rinsed, dyed, fried and laid to the side.
Why can’t we all just rock smooth clean baldies?
Why can’t we place an emphasis on who has the shiniest dome? That’s a style I could compete with.
But alas, beauty and hair have been intrinsically linked since the beginning of time. Much to my chagrin.
As soon as my mom left the responsibility of doing my hair to me, I was free. And I hardly ever touched my hair. I would throw it back in a ponytail. Maybe throw two cornrows in it. And keep it moving. When my mom got tired of seeing me looking a mess, she’d send me to Revelations on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair and Sarah would hook me up.
After a week, my hair was being pulled back into a ponytail again.
I just couldn’t be bothered.
Hair was dead matter that managed to grow out of my head at alarming rates. And it was something to keep out of the way. Not something to obsess over.
And then boys came along. And suddenly, if my hair was done, I got a second glance. Sometimes.
From that moment to this, I’ve grappled with my hair. Do I wear a style society accepts? Or do I chop it down to a brush cut–the only style I can manage. And keep it moving.
I wore dreadlocks for years. I cut them off and rocked a TWA, (teeny weeny Afro).
And then it started to grow into a wild, kinky halo of curls and naps. I loved it. But it was very hard to maintain. And I didn’t have the money to get it styled regularly.
I wore an elaborate braided style to my wedding, (with the most beautiful sterling silver beads threaded inside. Hot!). But by the time I came back from the honeymoon, my beads were at the bottom of the Pacific ocean and my hair was a fuzzy mess.
I parted my hair down the middle, gave myself two braids. And that was that.
I cringe when I look back at pictures of myself. Two cornbraids? With rubber bands on the end? Really? For someone who is 30-plus? Shameful.
Then I got knocked up. Gained a whopping sixty pounds. Thanks to the hormones, my hair started growing like crabgrass.
I finally decided to find a hair stylist and make some sense of my hair.
I found Lynn, at Shades Hair Studio in Livingston, New Jersey.
She blew out my hair wile I was big and fat and very pregnant. And she made me look like I had some sense.
I finished out my pregnancy feeling a little more put together. Which is important when you feel like a foreign prisoner in your own body.
I gave birth a few days later:
Since I don’t have a perm, the least amount of moisture converts Lynn’s blow out to what you see above.
But who cares? I had a brand new baby girl to dote on! Looks be damned!
For the next several months, I focused on nursing, diapers and working—sometimes all at once.
Sidebar: It’s true. I often nursed Tog while interviewing Faith for the book if my sitter couldn’t make up. Tog would give off a loud burp when she was done and Faith would laugh.
I would go see Lynn whenever I could. But it wasn’t a priority. When I did go, I get a blowout that eventually became a ponytail within a day or so.
After Tog was off my boob and in daycare, I started putting myself back together. First, I had to lose sixty-five pounds. (UGH!) Then, I had to get some new clothes and start getting my hair done at least semi-regularly.
TH is cool. He never ever criticizes my looks. Even when I was rocking the two cornbraids. He always lavished me with complements when I did get my hair done. But he never tripped if I was looking a hot mess.
Now, I know this will sound very politically incorrect. But I decided to get my look together mostly for TH.
If it were up to me, I’d get the smooth shiny baldie and wear a potato sack every day.
But TH is a man. They are visual creatures. If I want him to look at me every day until I’m 80, shouldn’t I try to make sure I’m put together a bit?
Sidebar: When I was 14, I worshipped my cousin. We’ll call her Marie. Marie is several years older than me. And she’s always been right in the middle of whatever phase I’ve been dying to reach. When she had her first real boyfriend, she told me about the first time they spent the night together. And she gave me some tips on how to pull this off succesfully.
“Make sure you set an alarm clock or watch or something to wake you up before he gets up,” she said.
Marie rolled her eyes.
“So you can get in the bathroom, brush your teeth, fluff out your hair and put on some lip gloss.”
“And then what?” I asked.
“Then you get back in bed! You don’t want him to wake up and see you while you have sleep in your eyes and funky breath!”
That lesson always stayed with me. I never actually did that. Way too lazy. But I thought about it often. It helped form my thoughts on how I wanted to be perceived by my mate.
I do want my partner to look at me and thing, “wow!”. For that matter, I want perfect strangers to say the same thing. We all care about how people perceive us. Whether we want to admit it or not. We have a natural desire to feel attractive to others, whether we’re single, dating or married. When you get yourself together in the morning, you’re not doing it for you. You’re doing it for the world. Many of you will protest. You will say, no way! I dress for me!
Lies. It’s all lies. You didn’t come out of the womb with lip gloss on. You weren’t born with highlights, or dreadlocks or stilettos. You’ve learned over time from our society what look you want to adopt. We’re all sheep. We make ourselves look the way we want society to see us. Period.
My next two years as a sheep were a whirlwind of experimentation:
I got my hair pressed and Lynn added some tracks. I came home and TH said, “Wow! Your hair really grew a lot!” And TG said, “It’s a weave dad.”
I flew out to LA the next day for a story and whipped my horse hair all around Melrose Place. I carried myself differently with long, swingy hair. It felt like I was wearing a costume, pretending to be someone else. And I was.
The Rapunzel look was a bit much for me. When I came home, I asked Lynn to cut it down a bit. This is mostly my hair with a track or two in the back. I liked the bob look. But because I didn’t have a perm, my own hair would shrink up in moist weather and I’d be a mess. Quickly.
Why couldn’t I have long hair that was curly? Why you can, said Lynn!
Can you say, Sideshow Bob?
I was officially done with weave. I knew I wanted to wear my own hair. For better or for worse. Back to Lynn. Chop chop. I asked for a sensible haircut. With some bangs. Something easy.
Perfect. My hair wasn’t as thick as before, after all the blowouts, press’n'curls and weavation. But it worked for me. It wasn’t pow-pow glamorous. Kind of felt like a Mom Cut. Maybe I could tweak it just a bit? Cut off the back. Give me more umph in the front?
Yes! This was it! The cut I’d been looking for! I even used this picture for the contributor’s page in Essence. (Me? In Essence! Can you imagine?!)
I was very happy with this haircut. Except on Thursdays when I had to sit in Lynn’s chair and get it done. The wash is heavenly. They do a hell of a scrub at Shades.
But then comes the 30 minute blow out with a scalding hot dryer. And then the press. And then the curl.
It takes all day. And I’m a hot, sweaty mess at the end.
Oh. And it ain’t cheap.
I found a style I could live with. But I *still* wasn’t happy.
It looked nice. But it still didn’t feel like me.
I noticed that when Lynn washed my hair and it shriveled up, I actually liked that better. I asked her if we could come up with something that was more wash and go.
We were getting somewhere. For real. I woke up in the morning, ran my hands through my hair and I was done.
I think TH secretly prefers long hair. Though he’d never admit it. But he seemed to approve too.
I didn’t get as many double takes in the street. Not like I did when I was swinging my hair up and down Santa Monica Boulevard.
But the time I needed to spend in Lynn’s chair, (and the money), was going down. And I still felt like a presentable grown up.
It wasn’t exactly a wash and go style though.
After so many years of blowing out, my natural curls were obliterated. The back of my hair was happy to be nappy. But the front was bone straight. Lynn had to roll it up and put me under the dryer to get it to curl up.
I hung on to the bone straight pieces of hair. If I cut them off, I’d have an official Very Short Hair Cut.
I went to see Lynn faithfully and got my wash-and-set curly style. It lasted for two weeks. And then the top would start to unravel and you would see my two-tone nappy-straight hair.
Note the nappy roots. And the straight ends. Ugh.
And still I resisted.
I didn’t want to go the full route and cut out the straight pieces and rock a true TWA.
What if TH hated it? What if I hated it? What if it didn’t grow back?
I’ve had a TWA before, more than once. But it was usually an act of defiance. A way to broadcast my political statements.
My hair isn’t the way I do that anymore. It’s just an extension of my outfit.
I don’t think that a woman who has a perm or a weave or a jheri-curl is any less Black-identified than a woman who is happy to be nappy.
I know women who grew long dreadlocks just to have swingy hair and top knot ponytails. I know women with weaves who work in industries that make it impossible to get their hair cared for properly. (Underneath Beyonce’s weavorama is a healthy head of unprocessed hair.)
So what to do?
The TWA was calling me.
Am I happy with it? I’m not sure. I don’t have a forehead. I have an eighthead. And this cut just emphasizes my HUGE noggin. So hopefully, it’ll grow in and take a little attention away from the projector screen I’ve got going on up there.
But I do know I was out of Lynn’s chair in record time yesterday.
And when I woke up this morning, I felt like…me.