Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Prelude Letter To My Body - Part Four

Picture this, my mom trying to do my hair before I go to school. No such thing as an Afro at the time. There were however Plats. Not Micro-Braids, Braids or Cornrows. And a jar of Dixie Peach petroleum jelly. The best she could do was two up at the top and two in the back. And one of those would come lose if she didn't remember to rubber band them.

Man I hated those Plats! I am what you call tender headed. This does not mean I am easily moved. It means that you really can't tug and pull my hair into obedience. It physically hurts my scalp if you pull on my hair.

The ancestors have spoken and not only am I tender headed I got a double dose of the kinks. It took a while but I learned to appreciate the kinky, curly and authentic hair. Kids these days don't know how good they got it.

In in this society we are told from a young age via television that our hair is supposed to flow like silken threads of shimmering light. That when we turn our heads our hair tumbles into a cascade of curls like Jacklyn Smith taking off that helmet in Charlie's Angels.

There is one problem. As a rule, and their are non-chemical and non-textile exceptions, black hair doesn't do that without a great deal of alteration.

Even when you think you have it mental worked out sometimes you slip up. It happened to me. This is my testimony.

I was watching TV. I saw that infomercial for "Rio Girls." It promised to change my hair into a sexy mass of Brazilian curly delight. They had black people in those commercials. Women spoke of the new freedom they had found being a "Rio Girl." They even brought out the little kid with a beautiful head of hair.

I watched that infomercial sixteen times because I was going to get that stuff. At the bottom of the screen was the physical address. I go all the way across town. Other black women are pouring into what use to be known as the Helsinki Hair Club for Men.

Some of the Helsinki Men were standing around wondering what the heck was going on. The place was mobbed. I make my way to the counter. They didn't have brown anymore did I want to take black? I thought about it for a half second and said yeah! $45 later I'm walking out with my box of Rio Girl.

I put that stuff on just like they said. There was a change. It turned parts of my hair green. Apparently the manufactures added large amounts of copper to the mixture which is not a normal ingredient of any hair care product. For other "Rio Girls" they had scalp burns and major loss of hair.

The guys from the Helsinki Hair Club for Men were pissed, they had been displaced. A whole bunch of Black women were furious that we were chumped by our desire to have easy to manage hair. The Feds weren't too happy because you can't sell a product that causes physical harm to consumers. The Rio Girl Hair Care line disappeared without a trace.

I had to cut my hair, the stuff wrecked it. And I started thinking about what I was trying to buy in a box. Was it whiteness? Nope, I feel real sure about that. Was it acceptance? Possibly. Was it ease of hair care so I would keep people off my back and be able to get a job? Kinda.

I think it really was I didn't want to invest so much time and energy into doing my hair to be acceptable to people. But the truth was I bought into the hype. I had issues with my natural hair.

Now days I swing into what I feel like. Sometimes I cut it all off, I love how that feels in the shower. Sometimes I use a very mild relaxer so I can have an imitation curly Afro. Sometimes I wrap and go. The thing I learned it that I can do anything I want with my hair.

If the mainstream American society thinks that is a rebel or an extremist position to take so be it. It is my hair.


  1. Gena, I love reading your posts.

    I am white woman with "white" hair so it's completely possible that I don't really get it.

    But I think that on some level I do. I have issues with my hair too b/c it is heavy and thick and I have tons of it and it needs flat ironing to be smooth and shiny. I choose to conform to the notion that female hair needs to be smooth and shiny. Unlike you, I *can* make it smooth and shiny, but is it a good thing? I never learned to accept my natural hair and I doubt I ever will. It's great that you have learned to accept yours.

  2. I think each of us has "hair issues no matter the background.

    It really comes down to accepting your authentic self. If that means you die your hair to match your authentic self that is ok.

    We do the best we can.