The Path To Empowerment Lies Beyond Our Hair

So I’ve been reading about the number of black women seeking to free themselves from “creamy crack” also referred to as relaxers. Relaxers are similar to perms in that they alter the structure of your hair permanently. It’s designed to “relax” the natural curl pattern and texture. Amongst numerous blacks it’s thought to make your hair more “manageable”. That’s code for less Afro more Euro. It’s tied into our long history of ancestors who were enslaved and separated by skin shade, gender, etc to make large groups of people more compliant to misuse. Like Stockholm Syndrome survivors many, many blacks throughout the world who have long since been free still cling to many of these destructive thoughts and reinforce them with a brutality worse than the old slave masters.

This is where this modern day struggle exists and it’s one that has landed squarely at the feet of black women to conform to or have their BW card revoked. Many women have taken the mantle of educating other women in choosing alternative means of styling our hair. That’s great! So while I understand why there’s a need for offering all options there are times I feel some women are using this natural hair vs. relaxed hair argument as yet another means of separation/oppression. That may sound harsh but I’ve seen a lot of extremism being bandied about as enlightenment.

You cannot trade one form of oppression for another and call it freedom. Now having said that I can see where there are problems and why they need to be addressed. Young girls should not get their hair relaxed in my opinion but how often do mothers pass on their own insecurities to their children? It could be hair, it could be body image, it could be financial. We’re not perfect and sometimes we project our issues onto the little ones. We might want to put some thought into NOT doing that. Anyway, there are numerous styling options available without doing something that permanently changes the hair texture of a child who’s still developing. Once you relax the hair it has to be maintained every 6 weeks and beyond and must be cut off when you stop.

I also understand that some women spend more time worrying about maintaining a look and restrict their activity to keep their relaxed hair intact. That indicates an underlying cause of other concerns. Hair is the symptom not the problem. It’s tied to skin tone, hair texture and being considered desirable by men. Which brings us full circle to patriarchy. I’m going to focus on African-Americans here because it all correlates to those who are influenced by group think of a small demographic. The woman is never given an adequate rate of return on her investment in others: trying to uphold the “black community”, the need for many women to be seen as beautiful and worthy of love by black men [which is an inherent problem when you’ve focused on race as the determining factor and not behavior] and all the ways in which so many in the entire collective have compromised themselves to their detriment. If those men that they want to be tied to publicly declared how much they loved natural hair these women would change their hairstyles immediately.

Since we all have different hair textures the manner in which we style our hair is not a one-style-fits-all proposition. No two women are alike. Even in the same family. Often one woman’s hair angst would be scoffed at by another because she may consider that person to have better hair. That’s why it’s all relative. Other women from different races have their own hair issues but they don’t let it have such a significant negative impact that black women do. Historically women have always done things to adorn their hair. It seems this concern starts to reach a critical mass of dysfunction after a certain point but it isn’t going to be resolved without fixing the underlying sources. I relax my hair and I most certainly don’t hate myself nor have I not explored all my options. I, like many other people have preferences and familiarity. To imply a person is more enlightened simply by choice of using chemical processing or not is a fallacy. If I’m not mistaken comedian Wanda Sykes wears a curly afro and it looks fabulous. She’s had an incredible journey of declaring her orientation and getting married. Yet when it came time for her to have children she opted to not use her DNA. Her wife and children are white. She made a joke during an appearance on the Wendy Williams Show last week about not wanting to leave any biracial behind and have the care of their hair left to her wife. Ha ha.

If someone else thinks relaxing makes for an easier time they are in for a rude awakening. It all depends on the condition and texture of one’s individual hair. I’ve finally figured out I have extra fine fragile hair that requires constant maintenance and hydration. I cannot use curling irons and blow dryers unless they are at a low setting and sparingly. If I change climates I must readjust accordingly. Medicines and diet are also influencers. Quality products are also a must.

My main problem has been finding a qualified stylist who knows how to work with my hair and is focused on hair health. Most people who claim to be professionals have NO idea what they’re doing and misuse relaxers causing permanent damage to the hair. I’m sure many of you have been to a salon where they insist on using the same relaxer on every client and get frustrated if you don’t like the results. That’s more for their convenience not what works best for you. I do think that whatever style we choose we can benefit from professional expertise and may need to follow-up with a visit to a dermatologist. Finding a great hair stylist is just as difficult as finding a competent brow stylist. I cannot tell you how many consultations I’ve had where some person used the wrong type of wax or didn’t match symmetry and ruined my brows. It’s the same with my hair. Competence and quality in skill set is increasingly rare today across the board.

I have had periods where I did not relax my hair. In fact I stopped relaxing it 6 months ago but it wasn’t planned. I simply wanted a change.  I have no idea how I’m going to continue styling it as I have numerous options but haven’t settled on any one in particular. Options are always a good idea in theory but upkeep will still be required no matter what I do.  I’ve had my hair braided and had to watch for alopecia from having it pulled too tight at the hairline. My hair has fallen out from overprocessing when I wanted to change my haircolor. I even tried a weave for 7 months. It was fun the first two months then I felt beholden to a certain “look” so I removed it. Everything we do as women is part of our HAIRstory.

Other women who want to “straighten” their hair choose these Japanese or Brazilian treatments that use formaldehyde with is highly toxic, but it smoothes the hair shaft. It’s worse than any relaxer on the market and most black women can’t use it because it would immediately destroy our hair. So we’re not the only ones chasing after perfection. I also recall seeing a paparazzi  shot of one of those Kardashian sisters getting her hair extensions put in. My point is the grass is always greener on the side and we’re not the only ones so black women need to be careful in not projecting themselves as “damaged” over hair issues. I most certainly have not tried to hide who I am or refused to evaluate myself based solely on a hairdo.

Our choices must be made from empowering decisions. Not from fear of what we really look like but also not from conforming to a new set of rules that says you must do one thing to “prove” yourself. Having an afro, locs, etc. doesn’t guarantee you are an unindoctrinated black woman, fully functioning and free of self-hate or disdain (for other black women) any more than having relaxed hair does.

We also have to evaluate the costs of time, energy and money. Depending on one’s career certain hairstyles are not an option. We also have different skill sets and inclinations. As with everything we do we have to consider all the ramifications and what our life goals are. If we are going to navigate between various social circles with a wide variety of people we must also consider whether we are creating opportunities or generating obstacles. It comes down to what our priorities are.

I think that may be putting the cart before the horse though as some people still get caught up in arguing semantics instead of looking at the big picture.

P.S. For all of you who spent your money being ridiculed by Chris Rock did you stop to ask yourself why his mockumentary wasn’t more geared toward children as well as adults? Since he claimed it was for his daughters why not make a project that appeals to a younger demographic as well if it’s so enlightening? Why not do a project called, “Beautiful Like Me” where you role-play and enact scenarios that build self-esteem in young girls? Just a thought. Actually, that’s a good idea and a project worth considering.

6 Replies to “The Path To Empowerment Lies Beyond Our Hair”

  1. in our community, we have a term for it

    Pelo Malo/Pelo Bueno…. Bad hair good hair

    Dominicans have 13 names for the texture of hair. 13!

    so to say that other communities hair issues aren't as prominent as the african american community is a joke. I have quite a few family members and friends who can tell you otherwise.

    dope post btw

  2. "Having an afro, locs, etc. doesn’t guarantee you are an unindoctrinated black woman, fully functioning and free of self-hate or disdain (for other black women) any more than having relaxed hair does."

    I'm with you here, if only because I'm a not-quick on the uptake kind of person, so if someone is trying to get their point across to me via a hairstyle, I'm going to miss it. I figure, if someone's got a political statement to make, they'll verbalize it to me, soon enough. So I figure the hair is a fashion or convenience choice, unless explicitly told otherwise.

    My only issue with relaxers and weaves is who is getting the money from these purchases, and how (or if) the profits from hair care sales ever benefit BW. My understanding is that some of the major advertisers on BET are from the family of Black hair care products, but the images produced as a result of this funding are damaging to BW and girls. My problem here is with ownership, not with the actual look itself.

  3. Faith-do you read my mind??? LOL, but I'm serious! I share your exact sentiments expressed in this post. I would like to possibly go natural, but I think I've been slightly influenced by the "relaxed v. natural" debate myself. I'll just do what's best for MY hair.

    I've also been in a situation a few times where a stylist insisted on using Affirm relaxer on my hair, no matter how much I told her that I KNOW it does not work on my hair. Needless to say, those stylists never saw my hair again. Like you said, they are more concerned about their own convenience than my hair, paid for with my hard-earned money (close to $80!!). I want to try PhytoSpecific, but I can't find anyone that uses it in a salon.

    I do take issue with the abundance of sisters wearing weaves. Now it's cool for a hair styling break, special occasion, etc. But so many women wear them now like they were born with them, rather than just taking care of their own, real hair.

    1. Hey Randi523:

      You're lucky you found a stylist that uses any Avlon products at all because very few salons do. In my opinion they're the best relaxers on the market but that one type may not be the best for you. Now as for PhytoSpecific it's a very expensive no-lye relaxer which has been universally panned as not good for ultimate hair health when relaxing. I knew one stylist who used it but then you had to go to the salon for weekly roller sets and maintenance. Yet no-lye is pushed like it's going out of style. Yet someone else will be the exception. So again, it's very daunting. I have a relative with locs but dyed her hair some time ago and it weakened it to the point she's had a lot of breakage. I think whatever we do to our hair we must have professional maintenance from a qualified stylist at some point simply because we can still damage our hair no matter what we do to it.

      1. Faith-I think most stylists in the South (or at least New Orleans, Columbia, SC and Birmingham) use Affirm, and that relaxer just does not work well on my hair! They've tried all the different formulas-no success, IMO, and I know how my hair should look after an $80 relaxer and style.

        Thanks for the info about PhytoSpecific. It is expensive; I saw it in Sephora. I think I'll pass on it for now. I also read about a relaxer call Sytonics (I think that's the name), but it seems like a cheap version of PhytoSpecific. Why do you have to go back to the salon so often for styling with PhytoSpecific? That's interesting.

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