Tag Archives: hair

Nappily Ever After? Not Quite…

by Latoya Peterson

*Warning: Strong Language*

Regular readers might remember a piece I wrote a year or so ago, called Hair, Apparently. In the piece I wrote about an incident where I felt like someone had insinuated I was a “house nigga” because my hair was straightened with a chemical relaxer.

The piece sparked an interesting conversation in the comments and I was comforted by the reactions by most of the readers – do you and let it be done. The overwhelming consensus was your hair is your hair and you should be able to do with it what you please. (Should is the operative word, but more on that later.)

However, a lot of time has passed since then. In the interim, I read Tami’s piece (the original version of the piece posted here), started reading Afrobella’s blog regularly, and watched as my friend Spiffany transitioned from chemical relaxers to a beautiful and natural do. I admired what people could do with their naturals, but never felt motivated to do it myself.

Yet, Tami posed a little question in her original piece that always stuck in my mind.

Earlier this year, a fellow blogger very smartly observed that black women may be the only race of women who live their whole lives never knowing what their real hair looks and feels like. Think about that.

I was one of those women. Aside from a happy little puffball photo from the fifth grade* and a couple of shots of me with pressed hair, I had a relaxer for as long as I could remember. And that question stayed with me, for the next six or so months until I had my third Catastrophic Relaxer DisasterTM and found myself bald at my temples and missing a big chunk of hair from the back of my head.

From that day on, I was like “Fuck it – I’m letting it grow.”

And so it has. Today, I’ve been relaxer free for more than a year. My hair is fully natural – I cut out the last of the chemically straightened hair six months ago and haven’t really looked back. I love my hair now, love everything it does, how it looks, all that.

But it occurs to me that this was strange journey for me. Navigating transitioning my hair out was never really about my hair – it was about notions of societal influence, beauty, intra-group standards, cultural conditioning, and asserting my own personality. It was about my hair as a political battleground – where people read the pattern of my stands like tea leaves, trying to divine my personality and political views. It was about everything except what I actually wanted to do – which was stop relaxing my hair and wear a new style.

While I scoured all the pro-natural sites on the net for advice, all I learned were new styles. No one told me how to cope with the transition itself. Everyone cuts to the happy – “You’ll love yourself! You’re free from chemicals!” speech, but no one really talks about how tough that road is to walk. So, let’s look at a few of the things we tend to gloss over when we talk about natural hair.


The Influence of Men and the Perception of Attractiveness

Let’s start with the outside influence aspect of things. About two weeks out from the Catastrophic Relaxer Disaster,TM I was hanging out with my friend KJ, the natural haired friend I referred to in the first piece. Artfully rocking a cap and a long bang to cover my bald spot, I excitedly told her my decision – I was switching to natural hair.

She stopped fumbling through earrings and looked up at me, face locked in a hesitant expression.

“What did your boyfriend say?” she asked carefully. Continue reading

Nappy love: Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the kinks

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published on What Tami Said*

My hair is nappy. It is coarse and thick. It grows in pencil-sized spirals and tiny crinkles. My hair grows out, not down. It springs from my head like a corona. My hair is like wool. You can’t run your fingers through it, nor a comb. It is impenetrable. My hair is rebellious. It resists being smoothed into a neat bun or pony tail. It puffs. Strands escape; they won’t be tamed. My hair is nappy. And I love it.

Growing up, I learned to covet silky, straight hair; “bouncing and behaving” hair; Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley hair. But as a young black girl, my appearance was far from the American ideal. Making my hair behave meant hours wriggling between my grandmother’s knees as she manipulated a hot comb through my thick, kinky mane. The process stretched my tight curls into hair I could toss and run my fingers through, something closer to the “white girl hair” that so many black girls admired and longed to possess.

My beautiful, straightened hair came at a price. It meant ears burned by slipped hot combs and scars from harsh chemicals. It meant avoiding active play and swimming pools, lest dreaded moisture make my hair “go back.” It meant having a relaxer eat away at the back of my long hair until barely an inch was left. It meant subtly learning that my natural physical attributes were unacceptable.

I was not alone in my pathology. Pressing combs, relaxers, weaves and the quest to hide the naps are part of the fabric of black beauty culture. It is estimated that more than 75 percent of black women straighten their hair. In the book “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps write: “Before a black child is even born, relatives speculate over the texture of hair that will cover the baby’s head, and the loaded adjectives “good” and “bad” are already in the air.” In the same book, a New York City dancer named Joicelyn explains: “Good hair is that silky black shit that them Indian girls be havin’…Good hair is anything that’s not crazy-ass woolly, lookin’ like some pickaninny out the bush.” Too often, black women find their hair hatred supported by media, men and the rest of the mainstream. Continue reading

Chanel Surfing: Quick Takes on TV

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Cashmere Mafia (ABC)

Some quick thoughts:

*Caitlin’s African-American assistant is sporting a clean new shape up in episode three. What happened to the dreds?

*Alicia has been described as the “hot cocoa love interest,” oy! Still waiting to see if Alicia makes it through the season.

*Still no Jack Yang. What are they waiting for? Oh, whew – just checked the “fan” site – looks like he’ll make an appearance on Wednesday.

*Can I just say boo to Mia’s “let’s talk about this” editor’s letter? Your ex went for blood by scheduling the evil man-eating woman cover – why the hell didn’t you bring it in the note from the publisher?

*Lipstick Jungle advertisements! Competition is coming!

*Oh no, spoiler “fan” site also says that Caitlin finds herself attracted to a man she meets at the lesbian baby shower. Is this the end for Alicia?

How to Look Good Naked (Lifetime)

I. Don’t. Do. Lifetime.

I can’t stand that channel.

But somehow, someway, I managed to watch one episode of Carson Kressley’s How to Look Good Naked and became instantly hooked. The show is just excellent. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Queer Eye, Carson manages to sculpt and shape a show that encourages women to see their bodies for what they are – not what society says they should be.

Continue reading

Scapegoating or Community Empowerment? The Flipside of the “Korean Takeover of the Black Haircare Industry” Debate

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

After Latoya wrote the excellent article “Know Your Place, Woman: BET’s Meet the Faith on Black Marriage,” I decided to do a little additional research by checking out the BET site for the show with the all the questionable content. I ended up reading very little on Meet the Faith. In fact, the one thing that stood out to me about the site was actually a random distraction . . .

Toward the bottom of the page regarding a segment on black beauty, I noticed a survey entitled “Korean or Black Owned?” The caption read:

For the most part, Black haircare products didn’t exist until Madame C.J. Walker introduced her Wonderful Hair Grower in the early 1900s. Today, there are still very few products and equipment made for or sold by Blacks.

For such a loaded topic, there were only two simple questions:

1. There are two beauty supply stores next to each other. One is Korean-owned and sells your shampoo for $10. The other is Black-owned and sells your shampoo for $12. Where would you buy your shampoo? The Black-Owned Store or The Korean-Owned Store?

2. If the Korean-owned shop sold items $2 to $3 higher, where do you think the average Korean customer would shop? The Black-Owned Store or The Korean-Owned Store?

I immediately felt the urge to look into what had compelled this very basic set of questions and find some answers. Carmen raised a question of her own back in December, “Do Korean-Americans Control the Black Hair Market?” prompting readers to check out Aron Ranen’s documentary Black Hair and leaving them to render their own judgment on the issue. Half a year later, however, I find myself asking less about the prospect of Korean market dominance in the black haircare industry, and more about the process of seeking an answer to the inquiry itself. What methods have we used to publicly examine this market dominance and what effect have they had on the respective communities involved?

First and foremost, there is the film by Ranen. Black Hair is a documentary created to bring attention to the plight of people of African descent who attempt to manufacture and/or distribute black hair care products within the black community as they face considerable adversity in a market now controlled by Korean immigrants and their families. While some, including members of the Black Owned Beauty Supply Association (BOBSA), see the film, as absolute truth, I find that it could be quite easily interpreted as an open attack on Koreans. I understand quite clearly that the film is a powerful form of advocacy for keeping money spent and earned by African-Americans in the black community, but I question the need for Ranen’s clear manipulation of an already troubled case of ethnic disunity between American blacks and Korean immigrants as a means to push the “buy black” agenda.

During an interview with NPR, Ranen is asked whether or not his film creates “an environment that shows Korean proprietors as the enemy.” In defense of his work, he answers simply that he does not want to be a “hater,” but instead he wants to be a “motivator.” Yet I can’t help but consider his attempt to “motivate” the black community suspect. By publicly picking at old wounds between Koreans and African-Americans, Ranen has tapped into an increasingly lucrative market for the press: inter-ethnic conflict. The American media can’t get enough of it. Stories about people of color fighting other people of color, even if their initial disagreement has little to do with race or ethnic background, always make headline news, often yielding skewed and/or distorted results. Asian-American activist Helen Zia discusses this phenomenon in her book Asian American Dreams with regard to the L.A. Riots: Continue reading

Hair, Apparently.

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Oh irony of ironies.

Friday night, I’m checking the comments for my last post. I had already responded to some of the posters, which involved a small segue about hair and hair politics. After finally leaving work, I headed home, changed clothes, and went to catch up with my friend KJ.

Now, KJ is the type of friend everyone hopes to have in their crew – she is loyal, caring, sweet, socially conscious and wickedly intelligent. We also happen to share the same crazy sense of humor, so hanging out with her makes it impossible to focus on anything else. We decided to walk around my neighborhood and run some errands.

We end up looking for the Marshall’s inside of City Place Mall. As we enter the mall, lost in conversation, an older black woman with gorgeous, red-tinted twists approaches KJ and asks about her hair.

Now, this is not an unusual occurrence. KJ has some of the most enviable hair I have ever seen. Fraggle Rock like in nature, her mix of kinks and curls circle the crown of her head like a chestnut halo. Whenever I am out with KJ, I am accustomed to listening to the finer points of natural hair, how to care for it, and what hairdressers service the hair. So when this woman approached us, I figured it was one of those kind of conversations.

I quickly found out that I was wrong.

The woman asked Kim about her hair first, and then asked her why she went natural. Kim discussed her reasons for going natural, making the comment that she felt like she was wearing a wig by relaxing her hair.

The woman then asked if she had any problems with men finding her attractive because of her hair. As the woman continued, pressing the subject about men and their issues with her hair in general. She seemed very self-conscious about her hair, as she kept asking if it looked okay.

Just as I opened my mouth to tell her I thought her hair was beautiful, and suited her face well, she said, “These people in DC are so hair conscious. It’s like they don’t understand why you would want to wear your hair natural and express your blackness- it’s such a house nigga mentality.”

I was stunned.

Now, the non-verbal cues I had been getting from her made sense. The whole conversation, she had blocked her body away from me – even though she approached us from my side of the hallway, meaning she was naturally closer to me. She did not cast a glance my way during the entire conversation, even when KJ tried to include me by asking me direct questions and listening to my answers. Continue reading