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Musings on black women’s hair

Updated: July 21, 2011 5:07PM


Nearly everywhere I look, I see it — hair weave flowing, flapping in the breeze — blonde, brown, black, glossy and streaked. It approaches from the distance, like a mirage, a silhouette of cosmetic homogeneity that has been stitched or glued to the heads of my African-American sisters, some replete with eyelashes that look like sun visors.

Whether on full-grown women or little school-age girls, I see it. Indeed it is hard to miss this conspicuous consumption and indulgence in this post-modern ritual of beautification that leaves me lately scratching my bald head.

The hair, synthetic or someone else’s — worn as full headdress, as a phony pony (tail), or clip-on bang — is, in the words of many a sister, simply a matter of choice. Still, I cannot help but wonder whether this apparent weave explosion does not have a much deeper, more insidious root with consequences and implications beyond what eyes can see.

My wife has assured me that by opening this can of worms, I will get lots of hate mail.

“You don’t mess with sisters about our hair,” she warned.

Yeah, I know. . . . Don’t drop the top on the convertible. Don’t even think about a sister getting in the swimming pool and risking getting her hair wet. And accept that for the rest of her life she’s going to spend hours each month in a beauty shop, getting her hair “fried, dyed and laid to the side” just so she can feel beautiful.

So what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it a woman’s choice to straighten her hair with chemicals or a hot comb, or to curl, crimp or lock? Isn’t weave just an accessory?

“I am not my hair,” I have heard many sisters say, echoing the words of singer India.Arie.

But if that is the case, I certainly can’t tell. In fact, in a sea of sisters wearing other people’s hair, what’s more clear is that that is not their hair — at least not the hair they were born with.

For the record, I am keenly aware that black women are not the only women wearing weaves of assorted varieties. And I am aware that for mankind a woman’s hair has long been considered her crowning glory — aware that weaves and wigs give women who have lost their hair to illness an alternative to baldness, aware that a little hair relaxer or a hot comb can make a sister’s hair a lot more manageable. I get all that.

And to this much I will also concede: We are not our hair. None of us are, whether male or female, black, white or brown. And the core of what and who we all are runs more than skin deep.

I also believe that my 15-year-old daughter’s hair, whether coarse and short, or thick and stubborn in its natural state, is beauty sufficient for a queen. That she need not be blonde or add extensions, clip-on bangs or a long flowing hair weave whose strand of DNA does not match her own. And she need not be slave to the life-long burning — whether chemical or otherwise — used to alter her hair’s natural state just to feel beautiful. She was born beautiful.

And yet, I am aware of the pressures, aware of a mainstream societal standard of beauty that favors long, flowing, straight hair, which does not occur naturally for so many of my sisters. I am aware that the so-called glamorous images staring back from the covers of magazines and television, and the way some brothers seem to salivate over them, can make a sister want to reach for a box of Revlon or for some Indian Remy Hair weave.

But here lately, I see more sisters wearing an assortment of natural hairstyles — dreadlocks and twists, short naturals and even Afro puffs — styles that accentuate their skin tone, their brown eyes and their natural-born beauty — a beauty, that in a word, is simply, un-be-weave-able.

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