Saturday, November 25, 2006

it's in the water




Okay, the picture says "New York" but I'm in California and I'm always very aware of water when I'm out here. Water and my hair, that is. I don't think enough is said about black hair and water, or what is said is wrong. So much of what is put out there pushes oils and heavy grease more than water. Through trial and error I've discovered that my hair loves LOVES water. When it rains, I'm always late to put the umbrella up over my head. Other black women are looking at me strangely as I walk down the street in a light drizzle with no head coverage and all I'm thinking of is how soft and manageable mother nature is making my hair without any extra work on my part. If my hair gets dry and unmanageable, a spray bottle with water and a very light oil (almond oil, olive oil...) will work to get it to talk to me again. It's the great detangler. You really don't need that $20 bottle of your-hair's-not-like-barbie's-so-spend-lots-of-money product. Invest in two tiers of shampoo and conditioner. Treat yourself to a top of the line brand for dry curly hair (the kind you find in a specialty store) but also purchase a good drugstore set for dry curly hair so the piggy bank doesn't go bust. And try rinsing and conditioning your hair often and shampooing infrequently. It's more important to gently rinse out the build up in your hair than it is to apply detergents. It works for me.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Going way back

Does everyone have these stories? Remembering the feel of the hot comb at the back of your neck? Hearing the sizzle of grease melting into oil so loud it sounds as if you’re being cooked alive, even as you feel comfortably at home sitting in a chair in the kitchen of your mother/grandmother/aunt’s house. If you make a sound or any complaint, if you yell out, reach for your ear, your mother/grandmother/aunt replies, “The hot comb is nowhere near your ear!” You are a wimp. You’re not capable of absolute stillness in the face of danger just to have pretty straight hair.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Ancient hair food secrets

Some of the secrets are in the kitchen. They may not smell like rose petals but they work to deep condition the hair without breaking the piggy bank. Let’s go to the fridge: eggs. It’s not just for breakfast anymore. Separate the egg yolk from the egg white. Mix the egg yolk with beer. I use old beer that I gather from the well of half drunk beer bottles at parties in our apartment. Or mix the egg yolk with mayonnaise. Choose beer if it’s a weekend where you’re not planning on going anywhere or doing anything where someone is going to have the desire to bury their nose in your hair only to smell evidence that you might require a professional intervention. Mayonnaise if you’re looking for a deep conditioning treatment and more dramatic results. Mayonnaise is also not something you want to put in your hair before any night on the town with anyone special in your life. In my case, this would include my mother, who would bury her nose in my hair if she were suspicious of a drinking problem or overeating (only eat because you’re hungry). Use the egg whites for a great facial if you’re skin is oily. If not, you don’t have to separate the eggs at all.

Looking for answers

There's a haircare beauty book that came out awhile ago by Andre Walker, who was Oprah's hairstylist at the time. I was so excited about it that I went to the bookstore to check it out as soon as I thought I could afford to buy it (beauty isn't cheap). I thought, finally! Finally, because it was so hard to find any advise about the care of my hair - everything seemed to miss some key point that held the secret to beautifying my hair. I found the book, Andre Talks Hair, turned out prominently, coffee table style on a table in that overgrown chain bookstore on the northside of Union Square in NYC. Finally. Like so many other patrons pretending they were planning to buy, I carefully scanned through the book. In the shiny pages, he explained this hair type category system that I don't know if he invented or just passed on. My hair type - his for that matter, as far as I can tell - was at the bottom of the scale: 4a or 4b. The only hair advice I found for my hair type in the book was to go relax my hair because it wasn't really worth bothering with at all. It said not to even bother with texturizers for 4b hair because it didn't really work for this hair type. It said nothing about the damages of relaxers and no mention of natural hair types of styles at all. I found it strange and sad and not very informative at all. And I guess I'm not the only one who felt that way because now it's available on Amazon for one cent.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The best thing about natural hair is that I get to enjoy the summer rain rather than run for cover like a sugar cube afraid of melting. I don't have to worry about having invested time, money and a sore bum in a beauty salon chair to get straightened hair only to be confronted by the rain gods.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mistaken identity

One morning I was walking down the street to my job at a NYC newspaper and I had to pass a construction site. I thought to myself, “be prepared for anything,” because I’d had an odd assortment of experiences just from passing build sites in the past. So looking straight ahead, I kept my focus on the tin can-looking mobile bagel stand in front of my office building where I stopped every single morning before going in to work. On my path there was a guy smoking on the left and on the right was another guy from the build site who was talking to Mr. Cigarette. I’m on the runway between them and their conversation stops just before I pass through them. I hear Mr. Cigarette say, “Hey Whoopie, how you doin’ today,” and I’m confused at first, until I realize that apparently a woman with twists is the same thing as a woman with dreads in their eyes and Tyra keeps her weave tight, Halle Berry doesn’t have a fro, Beyonce and Oprah like it straight, Eve keeps it short when not weaved, Alfre keep it short or wears a wig and no other major celebrity works the red carpet in dreads, never mind cornrows, boxbraids, or twists. Yes, Angela Bassett wore boxbraids in "Strange Days" but the movie did so poorly that no one’s tried it since (Yes, Kimberly Elise wore them in "Set It Off" but the character she portrayed was the weak link in the crew). Tyra Banks once had a swimsuit fashion photo shoot in Brazil where she wore cornrows but on TV for both her shows she keeps it straight. Now, I like Whoopie but we look nothing alike. Same race and gender but that’s it. Could this example be categorized as a very mild form of natural hair profiling?

Here’s another scenario. I had a job on the Upper East Side that was so far east that I had to take long walks to find any food variety for my lunches. Returning to work from one such lunch journey, bag of food in hand, I was stopped by two police officers who had quickly parked their police car and jumped out to stop me on East 75th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. The short one asked, “Where were you about twenty minutes ago?” I said, “At work.” He said, “Can you prove it? Show us your work ID.” Well I didn’t have my work ID because this was just supposed to be a quick food journey. I hadn’t even taken my purse with me. They said, “About twenty minutes ago someone robbed a jewelry store on 34th Street and you fit the profile of the person we’re looking for: braids, hoop earrings, green shirt.” With relief, I pointed to my hair and said, “These aren’t braids, they’re twists.” They just shrugged at me: what’s the difference? Well, to a hair obsessed woman it’s all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between hours and minutes combing your hair, thank you very much. It’s the difference between hairstyle flexibility and hair style commitment. I looked down at my shirt to confirm that it was green, but I didn’t have to tug at my ears to check for hoop earrings because those were my staple no-brainer fashion statement.

The two officers wouldn’t let me go back to work. They kept grilling me, not believing I worked on the Upper East Side. They just kept staring at me, kept asking me details about my job, waiting for me to crack, or something. Meanwhile, I wondered when was the last time they had actually tried to get from 34th Street to East 76th Street in under twenty minutes at midday, by subway, car or whatever: it’s no breeze let me tell you. Did they really think…? I had already asked to get their badge numbers. Do I look like....? They weren’t going to let me leave without some contact info. I was upset that my daily idle focus on food was disrupted by some negative representation of natural hair, a green shirt and hoop earrings. It took a month before I could wear those earrings again. But I wasn't giving up my hair.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Everyone always remember their first time

The first time I twisted my hair I was in college and I had a huge exam the next day. It was 5pm, I just got home from classes and I should have been on the verge of studying my notes. I should have been buried in a book in a library, or sucking down a cappuccino and absorbing factoids to help me ace my test. But I realized that the most important thing for me to do at that moment was to twist my hair. It was irrational and yet rebelliously satisfying. I stayed up all night twisting my hair and kind of studying. I don't remember how I did on the test, but I remember liking the feedback I got on my hair...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

"Don't you want to stretch it out?"

My mom is staring at my head. She says, "Your hair's growing." I reply, "Really?" My hair seems the same to me but it's been awhile since I've seen her so maybe she's onto something. Maybe she's noticing something I can't see cause I'm too close to it, like slow weight loss or weight gain. She touches it, laying her hand on the top of my head and running her fingers through the twists, letting her hand catch a group of ends to gently tug, testing the real length against the curled length. She says, "Yes, it's growing. Don't you want to stretch it out?" FYI, "stretch it out" in this particular context means perm. But it could also mean to press, hot comb, blow dry with attachment, flat iron. I reply, "No." She says, "Are you sure? It'll make it stronger. And it'll look pretty." Maybe she didn't say pretty. She might have said, it'll look nice or stylish. But I replied, "Yeah, I'm sure. I think it's strong as it is." My hair hates heat treatments and chemicals. I've said this to my mom before. On some level she knows this but sometimes the idea of a conventional looking daughter who fits into what was acceptable for young women when she grew up and where she grew up does cross her mind. I think sometimes she sees my hair length as a missed opportunity. It's not that she doesn't like my natural hair, but why have all that hair if you're not going to do SOMETHING with it?