I’ll never wear weave but relaxers don’t bother me
Why I keep walking the straight-hair tight rope
Anytime I left WERQ dance classes or yoga, I put my hair in the same presentable style to head back to my desk — a brushed-back ponytail and a small lock of hair toward the right, front area that I can flip behind my ear. It was the easiest way for my hair to look “done” without going through a lot of trouble after a hot shower. In my Corporate America days, it was my go-to style when I went to the gym during my lunch break three days a week.
On one particular day, I smiled and waved at two sistas that I knew from our work floor. They worked in the financial department, and I worked in marketing. I didn’t know much about them nor their names, but we always greeted each other with smiles and friendly hellos if we shared the same elevator or happened to be in the gym locker room at the same time.
“I’m trying this natural thing with you,” one said to the other.
I grabbed my bag and collected my wet towel, lazily overhearing their conversation.
“But sometimes I just miss having a relaxer,” she continued. “It was just way easier to do my hair.”
“No! Absolutely not! Do not go back to that,” the other one said.
I paused and let out a “hmm.” I knew this wasn’t the conversation for me nor was it meant to be a shot at me. This was something they were both trying together. One straightened her hair regularly. The other was a newbie to Team Natural and had just taken out her braids. Not relaxing her hair afterward was apparently unchartered territory. And the two felt if they tried it together, they’d stick it out.
But the way the second sista said “that” about permed hair made me think, “OK, let me get out of here before I hear a diatribe on ‘creamy crack,’ ‘white women’s hair’ and hair brainwashing.” I just wasn’t in the mood. I’ve had a relaxer since I was in kindergarten — courtesy of my two-week visits with my grandmother — and I had no personal interest in testing the Big Chop or locks. So you would think I’d be more open-minded to weave if I’m cool with straight hair, right? Not exactly.
I thought about this recently after the criticism that Adele took for wearing Bantu Knots. I knew someone was going to point the finger at black women who wear weave and claim it’s cultural appropriation. Now I could easily go into a historical pattern of Human Resources manuals encouraging black women to wear their hair any possible way but the texture of the way it’s growing from their heads. I’ve already written posts on colorism and why certain groups are automatically considered attractive over others. Mainstream society has a frustrating view of black women’s hair, and that includes black men. But what rattled my cage during this debate was the belief that all black women must wear weave. No. We. Don’t. All. Do. It.
Almost every female relative in my family, including those who have “Creole hair” that’s dominant on my mother’s side, has worn weave hairstyles. It’s usually braids of some sort, rarely long ponytails or long, flowing manes, but weave nonetheless. No matter how pretty I thought they looked wearing everything from locks to braids, I still just couldn’t ever see myself doing it. I can’t wrap my mind around sewing, braiding and/or gluing someone else’s hair in my head to decide it’s “done.” It’s a strange concept. I hear and read this logic often on social media from users who complain about black women who don’t have their hair “done” when they get on television. But their idea of “done” is literally subbing it out for someone else’s — flipping it around and finger-combing it 99,000 times a day. I prefer playing around with the hair growing from my head.
So why am I OK with relaxer touching the hair growing from my head? I 100 percent understand why it’s brainwashing to purposely change the texture of your hair to appear straighter and more “manageable” to appease Corporate America. That decision was made for me long before I could make it for myself. I stood on a soapbox and lectured a Puerto Rican woman recently who criticized a biracial child for not having “normal hair” and describing it as “looking like an undone Q-tip.” The level of disrespect about a child’s hair was mind-boggling to me. Even as an elementary school kid with relaxed hair, I was not taught to think my hair was any “more normal” or any “less normal” than anyone else’s, just straighter than some of my peers.
By my teenage years, when I tagged my grandmother out and tagged myself in for a go-to beautician, I was wearing so many Hype Hair and Black Hair magazine cuts to the point where I never let my hair grow past my shoulders from ages 15 to 30. Anytime it grew long enough to get in my way while brushing my teeth, I paid a beautician to wack it off again.
My justification at the time was twofold: 1. The kind of hairstyles I was wearing (think of any style Nia Long, Missy Elliott or Halle Berry wore and that pretty much tells you the styles I wore in the ’90s and early 2000s) would never be confused with “white women’s hair”; 2. My hair is so thick that when I wear it in a traditional wrap or get it done at a beauty salon, people always assume I just straightened it. Even when it was freshly permed (every three months now), no one with eyes would ever describe it as “thin” or “flat” — unless I went too far with Let’s Jam. Vitale is never going to outshine the thickness of my hair. It assists with certain styles, but my hair has always felt like my childhood doll, a Melody “Jingle Baby.”
Sometimes I’ll just wash it and let it do its thing, blowing around like a lion’s mane, brushed up into a ponytail and/or flat-ironing it. At one point, I had every single curling iron size you could find in a beauty salon. Depending on the month or year, my hair might be one inch long or resting on a half-shirt sleeve. Nowadays, especially during COVID-19 social isolation days, I wouldn’t even consider the idea of running for shelter if I get caught in the rain or get splashed in the face while gardening. Relaxer be damned. I’m living my life.
Some days I’m in the mood to style it. Most days it’s in a permanent ponytail or under a satin cap. I am one of very few women I know who likes my hair shorter because the growing-back process is fun to watch. But I ponder on why I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to hair. I have no interest in not wearing relaxers; I like the flexibility of making the hair growing from my head do different things. But I also get why women like the co-workers at the gym were adamant about embracing their own natural hair as opposed to relaxers.
My mom, who wore a relaxer throughout my entire childhood up to my late 20s, grew locks after medication started thinning her hair out. And quite frankly, I think she looks 10x better with locks than she ever did with a relaxer. The same goes for my older brother during his locking and braiding days. (He’s bald now although he could grow his hair back anytime he wants to.)
However, that tense ground where sistas will judge each other for their hair choices is where I don’t want to be. It annoys me when people just assume all black women wear weave — because I never will — but I also don’t want to be the one to judge sistas who do. We’re not all Team Natural. We’re not all wearing 3-feet long ponytails. Some of us haven’t seen nor touched a relaxer in years. Whatever your hair choice is, if it works for you, go for it. I’d like us to ease up on each other for not always choosing to wear whatever style the critic considers “complete.” Wear whatever you like on your head, and I’ll wear whatever I like on mine. Regardless of where you are on the hair debate, let’s consider this a “done” deal.
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