Monday, October 13, 2008

Growing Pains (Hair, Part I)

Kekla's hair

My hair has long been the bane of my existence. There’s a love-hate thing going on between us that originated around the time when my mother decided I was old enough to manage it myself.

At home, I liked my hair. I thought it was pretty. In a few moments of wild self-confidence, I even thought I was pretty because of it. At school, though, I was mercilessly teased over my hairstyles. This was suburban Indiana – no one had a ‘fro. Except me. I didn’t know how to deal with my hair, so I wore it in awkward braids or in a big puffy ponytail. I let it grow because I believed that the longer it got, the heavier it would be and the flatter it would lie…but denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

As a teen, I spent laborious hours “managing” my hair. I slathered on gel. I sprayed and spritzed, tousled and tucked. I didn’t want my look to be so different. But the meager understanding of hair care and products I’d gained up until that point was based on what white women do. My mom is white, with hair that does what it’s told. At the time, the majority of my friends were white. All the black girls I knew had their hair chemically straightened—that was what you were supposed to do—so they weren’t much help to me, either. My mom consistently refused to let me try straightening. (If I’d known the word “sadist” back then, I’d have screamed it at her.)

The funny thing is, I’ve never actually wished for other hair. I don’t want it to be straight, or blond or conducive to highlights, layers or bangs. I like my hair as it is, I just often wish that I could train it to always look its best. But it doesn’t want to be tamed, simplified or made ordinary. It wants to stand out. I’ve always known that if I can draw that quality out of my hair and into myself, I will be a better woman for it.

What are your hair stories?


Pauline Karakat said...

My hair has always been straight and pretty much lifeless, except for when I go get my cut at the beauty salon. My tatooed male hairdresser puts nameless products in my hair, blow dries it from roots to my ends, and after all that I have a bouncy, shiny mane. Still, I don't have the time or inclination to spend hours on my hair, because it looks passable after washing and combing it on a daily basis.

I do put amla (Indian gooseberry) oil once a week in my hair, which has lots of nutrients in it. That and my monthly haircut is enough for me, at this point.

sally said...

I hate my hair, that's my issue. It never cooperates b/c it gets easily frizzed up. I'm also not a big fan of the salon, so I don't get it cut very often and I never get it styled. It's too much effort to keep up with all of that.

Who actually likes their hair, though? People with straight hair complain that they can't do anything with it and those of us with curly hair complain that it's hard to control.

habladora said...

Kekla - I love your line about wishing you, like your hair, always wanted to stand out.

Thanks for sharing this - it touches on so many things. Whether it's about our hair or bodies or noses (I was teased about my nose growing up), as women we're all supposed to be trying as hard as we can to fit one (white, upper-class, straight) beauty ideal and it takes real courage to decide 'no, I'm going to do what comes naturally to me and still know I'm beautiful.' That's especially hard when you're young, but there will always be people selling 'shoulds.' Solidarity helps though, so thanks for sharing.

Kekla Magoon said...

Thanks, Habladora. I definitely need solidarity on this! I will be posting more about hair in the future. I used to think it was a superficial topic to focus on. It's taken me a while to recognize that it is not just about beauty, but identity as well. At least in my case.

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