I am not my hair...or am I?
Yesterday was wash day. Yes indeed, Ladies you know what wash day means, and gentlemen who have daughters, live with black women, or have sisters...you know what wash day means as well. It's that ceremonial day where a black woman takes hours to wash, condition, prep, and sometimes set or style her hair. It's a WHOLE PROCESS! Yesterday I cut mine in half because after washing and deep conditioning it, I let it air dry without ANY product in it! I know, I know...I should have at least put some oil in it, but I was tired. So I went to sleep on my satin pillowcase and let my hair "do what it do". And boy did it! I'll circle back to this but first...
Let me give you some background. My hair and I have had a love-hate relationship since I was old enough to hear and feel the snap crackle and pop of my tender-headed self getting my hair done. I have memories of sitting between my mother's legs while she sprayed stay-so-soft on my long thick hair. Parting, spraying, combing, and snap went the tangles. Tears ran down my face. Luckily my mother was not the adventurous type who did more than four plaits on my head. So the pain didn't last as long. I also have major bonding moment memories with my dad braiding my hair. He had a softer touch. I know the development of our relationship and his status as a father of a daughter is embedded into the act of braiding my hair. I remember discussing the nuances of it on our podcast with our guest Amin Joseph. Both men talked about the bonding moments with their daughter when they had the comb and brush in their hands.
For me, my hair has gone through so many stages. Adolescence-I didn't comb it all the way through but faithfully wore a bun to cover the matted mess in the middle. In middle school I got my hair cut for the first time into a bob and my sister, unbeknownst to my mother, had her stylist give me a relaxer. My bob was BOMB though...for the first few weeks, but new growth was not something I knew anything about. My second relaxer came with damaged ends and a serious fussing match between my sister and mother. That was the last time my mom let my sister take me to get my hair done. I mean in hindsight my mom should have known better, my sister had that amazing Salt-n-Pepa asymmetrical cut, and previously had blond, and I swear her hair was green at one point. lol
My first big chop came accidentally in 1996. Monica was in the black sophisticates hair magazine, I was running track and wanted something I knew I could handle, but would still be cute, so I knew a short haircut would be the best. I wanted something less ponytail, and more teenage grown. My mother agreed to let me get my hair cut and took me to a salon she was referred to by a friend. Let me not forget to mention, ladies and gentlemen, my hair was blown out and silk pressed, guys that means it was straight. It was not curly. I always knew when I washed my hair my curl pattern (which is now identified as a mix between 3b and 3c) but back then it was just curly and wild and needed to be tamed. The woman at the salon took one look at the Sophisticates Hair photo of Monica and swore up and down she was going to 'hook me up'. She immediately got to chopping! No wash first, nothing. Just scissors to my straight shoulder-length hair, and for some reason she left a piece at the nape of my neck. Yep...a shag. I got my hair shampooed and conditioned and when I sat back in her chair you know what she saw, my curls. My wet flimsy curls, and she paused. Touching my curls and with a face of confusion, looked at me in the mirror and said, "oooh girl I can't do anything with this. You need a relaxer. I can do one for you but it'll cost more and take more time. We will have to wait for your mom to come back. I thought you already had a relaxer? Your hair was so straight." I'm 16. No voice. No feelings of empowerment. Defeated, I'm sitting in this chair, hair chopped off looking like a chia pet with a shag. She didn't touch my hair again, she just left me in the chair and went on to one of the other clients she booked.
When my mother showed up, you KNOW she didn't pay for anything, nor did she allow the woman to convince her to give me a relaxer. We walked to the car with me in tears. Not only had I lost all the shoulder-length hair I had, but I was also now walking around with a curly, poof shag. Not to mention I had school to go to...Thank goodness for barbers and walk-ins. I got the shag tail cut off, my hair shaped up and blended, and once I washed it all out, and put some M.O.M. (Miracle Oil Moisturizer) in it, my curls came to life and I became known as little Jada throughout the rest of high school.
For the next 20 years, I have grown and cut my hair numerous times, and 2020 forced me back into the grow-out phase where I am now combing, styling, and embracing my hair length and natural color. Cause yes, ya girl LOVES some blond and chestnut brown coloring. But today, I did something I have only done once before. I combed and picked my hair out and walked out of the house. The first time I picked my hair out I was in LA going to brunch and well it was all the rage in LA. Natural hair was on the rise and wearing my hair combed out, with only oil and a little bit of scalp treatment was freeing. I got so many compliments, but I was also surrounded by women whose hair styles ranged from bald, to Bantu knots. It was a liberating moment, but I was also at brunch in a social setting. Today I chose to comb and pick out my natural hair and go to WORK!!!
I work at the front desk of a museum, on the small island of Martha's Vineyard and I am the ONLY BIOPIC person on staff. I have already heard all the oohs and ahhs when I wear my hair in a curly bun with a headband, or even when I actually put product in my hair and the natural curls are defined. So TODAY I knew I was going to push beyond the comfort zones of my co-workers and myself. I was prepared for the "ooh wow!" "Is that your hair?" "Can I touch it?" I knew visitors to the museum might have some looks or comments. But I was prepared with rebuttals, quick responses, and some, depending on how offended I was, retorts that would really place the mirror back on their microaggressions and start the internal dialogue they didn't even know they needed. "The gonna learn today!"
I put on my big earrings with the continent of Africa in the middle and called my mom on the way to work to get hyped up and even she said, "tell me if anyone asks you to touch it." As a collective, we were prepared.
Not one person said anything. No one said wow, or your hair looks great, can I touch it, or anything at all. The irony is I was more prepared for SOMETHING that this NOTHING is causing even more anxiety. Now my question is, is everyone playing the PC card to make sure to not offend? Or do they literally not care, because truthfully it's my hair and they shouldn't. Is the real issue an internalized issue I have because this is literally the first time I have worn my hair combed out, big and loud? Would my grandmother approve? Would other black women of a certain age tell me "girl comb your hair" or ask "Why did you walk out the house like that?" Is the real issue that as Black people we have had to fight for so long to just wear our hair as it grows out of our scalp so much that we have petitions and campaigns about it?
As I sit here towards the end of my day, without anything unusual happening, I realize I did a thing. For myself. I stepped out of my own comfort zone of what I HAVE PROGRAMMED in my head about what my hair is supposed to look like. I literally let my hair go FREE. I let it breathe, let it curl into itself, blow in the wind, tangle up in my mask and earrings. I let my hair BE. I worked through my own anxiety and released my rebuttals, and urge to fight against the microaggressions in the white non-profit workplace. I inhaled, I looked in the mirror whenever I went to the bathroom and posed. I ran my fingers through my hair and smiled internally. The lesson I learned today is as long as I'M content/comfortable and confident in whatever I'm wearing/doing/letting my hair do/be it doesn't matter what other people think. I don't need to prepare for the war, I just need to BE the peace inside.
I can now say I am NOT my hair....or am I? Because my hair is wild, lovable and free, and that's how I see myself.
Go be free today, tomorrow and everyday!