Monday, March 14, 2011

Hair wars

I would love to see a show of hands of all the women in the world who have always loved their hair, thought it always looked great and wouldn't change a thing about it, even if they could. I venture to say there are only about three such people in the world, and by three I of course mean none!

So why was I so surprised (aghast really) when Earbaby came to me wanting to change her hair? How was I caught so unawares, and why does it still trouble me a little?

EB has beautiful hair. But for her, and me, the whole hair issue is more than skin deep. EB is the product of the interracial union of my husband and me. And as a proud African-American woman, I've done all I could to instill pride in her backgrounds (her dad is second generation Irish-American) and her uniqueness as a budding woman of color. That pride extended to her beautiful, thick, dark brown, long, and abundant head of hair, more black than caucasian in its texture and style.

I love EB's hair. By the time she had enough to put into french braids, cornrows, twists and ponytails, I was equal to and eager for the challenge. She has an array of hair accessories that would rival many beauty shops.

Unfortunately she inherited my malady of being "tenderheaded." Having my hair done was always an excruciating task, one finally alleviated almost 16 years ago when I went to dreadlocks, a decision I have never regretted. But EB's hair is another kettle of fish. Combing and caring for it is a battle of epic proportions, with lots of screaming and tears.

Part of the problem came because EB didn't go to school for a long time with anyone who looked like her. Most of her classmates were white, with a few Latino and Asian kids. All with straight hair. I should have seen it coming. But when she came to me to ask to have her hair straightened so it could look normal, I practically had to be talked off a window ledge. Where had I gone wrong? Fortunately one of my sisters, who had raised a daughter in a more Afrocentric school, who had still wanted to straighten her hair, managed to talk me down. It's just hair, it's just a hairstyle, and we all have gone through it.

No matter that most of her friends wanted hair like hers, had gathered around every time she showed up with a new style (most popular was when I spelled out all her friends' names in beads on her braids and they all looked for their names). She wanted "normal." I acquiesced.

It's funny how a little perspective comes with a little acquiescence. She was in second grade the first time she had it done, but was old enough to be properly insulted when one of her friends told her that her hair now "looked better." She likes the convenience of it, but understands it's not better long and straight, just different. And it's a painful process to boot.

She still likes it straightened. And natural, with french braids, cornrows, and twists. She never looks the same way for very long. Her friends envy the versatility. I've put cornrows in enough straight-haired friends to prove it.

The hair wars will always continue with women and their daughters. If you're curly, you want straight, long, you want short, dark you want blond or red. Most of these can be achieved through the magic of the hair salon wizards.

It's going to take me a little longer to understand that hair is not a symbol of racial pride or rejection, beauty or beastliness, normal or abnormal. I'm almost there. It's just hair. And this is a battle we can't really win. We can only surrender.

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