I’ve always had thick, long hair but as a child it was wild and hard to manage. I can recall the ‘great hair decision’ of ’86, when I was given a perm without my father’s permission. It sparked outrage, changed the texture of my hair and began a cycle of chemical dependency that would last until 2004 when – as an adult – I decided I didn’t want the chemical treatments anymore. It took me two years to grow it out but what was left was a healthy head of hair. On my best days, I can do anything I want – flat iron straight, loose curls, tight ponytail – but humidity is my kryptonite. Muggy summer days narrow my options to the natural fro or a high bun pinned to the top of my head. Recently I’ve been on two-a-day workouts, averaging 4 hours of intense sweating has meant I don’t get to wear my hair down as much as I’d like.
The irony is, I’ve been having conversations with my own style team about weave, being heavily encouraged to get a sew-in. Now, I’ve worn weave years ago, so there’s no judgment against it. But as I listen to the people on my team – who truly have my best interest at heart – I can’t help but think of Gabby.
Do we really believe that the only way to be beautiful, as Black women, is to have a perm or a weave? And in 2012, when we’re doctors, lawyers, Olympians, aren’t other things to take pride in besides our hair?
The relationship between Black women and our hair stretches all the way back to Africa, but the current sub-cultural standard of straightening took root in post-slavery days when we began to adapt European standards of beauty as our own.
I applaud Madame CJ Walker, but aren’t we advanced enough as a people to finally ask: my hair is not long enough for what? Gabby’s hair isn’t straight enough for what? I am Black and I’m proud of that. But my pride in that fact can’t begin or end with my hair. And if it does, then what does that say about our prioritizing?