Although I haven't seen Chris Rock's new documentary Good Hair I couldn't help but engage in conversations about it -- everywhere from the hair salon to the office. I doubt any black woman can say she's gone through life not hearing this idea at least once. As a child of the '80s , it definitely played a significant role in my life.
In his film, Rock explores our obsession with relaxers, or "creamy crack," and weaves. Since I believe in full disclosure, I'll admit to relaxing my hair since I was a teenager (although I now use an all-natural straightening system, which I love), and I don't wear a weave. I tried it once in my life, and couldn't believe how, well, heavy it was! My tiny head couldn't take it.
But I do visit my stylist once each week, and I've had the same stylist since I was 12 years old. I've actually learned many life lessons at the beauty salon. Whether it was watching other women transform themselves in the stylist chair, debating politics, or debating that question of good hair, at some point you realize the role the beauty salon and the stylist plays in the life of a black woman. Our hair is how we identify ourselves.
Now as many of you know, I have no children, but I have two younger cousins who mean the world to me. I'm something of a second mother to them. I even dedicated my first book to them. They're 11 and six, and I've long wondered how they'd tackle the good hair debate. Azairea, the 11-year-old, has a very milky, light complexion with naturally straight hair. At most, she could relax her hair once each year. Zoey, the six-year-old, has very soft tightly, tightly curled hair with a beautiful brown complexion. Absolutely beautiful hair -- but the kind that could only be tamed with a cream or hair dress.
One day the girls had the discussion with their mother about good hair. But more interesting was Zoey's doctor's observation about the ponytails she was wearing. It was causing light breakage, so her mom made the decision to let Zoey rock a full-on afro. Now to know Zoey is to know this child lacks nothing in personality. On our frequent shopping excursions, she's been known to actually style my outfits, going as far as to show me where alterations need to happen! She has natural style.
So Zoey rocked her 'fro all summer, and turned heads everywhere she went. The compliments from strangers boosted her self-confidence with every step. But I knew the true test was yet to come: The First Day of School. I could barely wait until 4pm to call her mother to see how it went. Because we all know that nothing destroys a child's self-esteem like insults from another child. What did the other kids in Zoey's class think of her hair? They thought it was fabulous, just like Zoey.
I was so relieved. Not just for Zoey, but for what her generation truly represents: individuality. I don't want my cousins or any other girls making the decision to change who they are to fit into a group. What we do to our hair should be for ourselves only, not to fit a stereotype of what's acceptable for us as black women, or women in general. I know what it's like to go to school and feel less valued because I have dark skin and kinky hair. And it takes years to realize that you're as pretty as your father tells you you are.
It's taken some of us a very long time to not be defined by our hair. Prior to my natural treatment, I was strongly considering never relaxing my hair again. I have very thick hair (which, surprisingly to me, is what my stylist defines as "good hair"), and relaxers and hair color were destroying it. Since I've worn my hair very short at times, I thought about simply cutting it off and just starting over (my stylist thought I was INSANE), so this new treatment came at just the right time.
Rock's documentary seemed to focus on the things we as black women were doing to damage our hair, but there are just as many of us seeking products to make our hair stronger while still giving us the looks we want. Science and technology have really changed the black hair market, making elements of this documentary seem outdated. Just like another columnist pointed out, not every black woman is relaxing her hair, and not every black woman is wearing a weave. While those treatments might make for the best documentary footage, there are more interesting things happening in the world of black haircare.
What I wish most for black women and our girls is that we realize that we all have good hair. If it's ours (and well, on our heads), then it's good. The moment we all make peace with ourselves and the hair God gave us the moment we truly realize how good we look.