About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Death to "Good and Bad" Hair!

Let me start by saying that I’m not going to comment at all on Chris Rock’s film Good Hair. The world has about mutilated that dead horse, right? This isn’t about “Straight and Nappy” from Spike Lee’s classic School Daze, either (although it’s playing in my head right now, high kicks and all). Instead, let me tell you a story.

A woman of a certain age was once describing to me the hair textures of three biracial women she knew. One of them, she said, had hair the most like “black people’s hair,” more on the kinky side of things. Another had hair that was “like good black people’s hair—but better—like a Latina,” and the third had “good hair,” which I assumed meant naturally wavy or straight hair. I smiled and nodded, but I was struck—and slightly saddened—by the enduring idea that a black woman’s hair is bad or somehow lesser. The uses of good and better here imply that a black woman’s hair is naturally bad. And in my experience, it’s not just women of a certain age who use and believe in this idea.

There are women out there who believe the natural texture of their hair is bad for the simple fact that it’s kinky. That’s it. It’s not that it’s damaged or falling out; it’s just nappy hair! There’s a historical dimension to this sense of shame, partly rooted in very old racist ideas about beauty and partly linked with long-standing fashion trends. Both are hard to contend with, but this leads me to wonder: when my sisters look at their nappy roots in the mirror, what runs through their minds?

Back when I used to straighten my hair (never had chemicals), new growth meant, Dangit! I have to straighten my hair again?! After a while, I realized that I didn’t have to do anything, so I stopped straightening my hair. It was intermittent for a while—I might straighten it; I might not—but after a few years it became a firm decision. I noticed that I liked the things my hair did on its own. If my hair didn’t want to stay straightened and downright refused to do so, who was I to try to force it? A very liberating experience.

It’s been an interesting ride. Family and friends alike have ridiculed me, sometimes in the spirit of fun and sometimes in the spirit of flat-out dislike. Here’s one of my personal faves: “What happened to your hair?” I went from having “good” and “pretty” hair—hair that fell mid-back when straightened—to “wild” and “big” hair. (Compare the pics: 2004 with straightened hair and 2008 with hair doing its own thing.) Some people like it, and some don’t, but I’m glad that I got to the point where I don’t care what others think about my hair. It’s healthy and reasonably well taken care of. ;-)

Of course, I don’t expect all sisters to do what I did. Different strokes for different folks. Some people tell me, “Oh, well, you don’t need a perm.” Who does need one? Some women choose to straighten/perm their hair because it’s what they’ve always done. Some do it because they have comb-breaking hair–I broke several combs as a child!—and just don’t have the time and/or desire (in some cases, the ability) to deal with it. For some it’s just more convenient to perm it or wear wigs and weaves. To each her own, but I would encourage my sisters not to base these decisions on notions of “good and bad” hair. If women can be born with “bad” hair, hair that needs to be “fixed” from jump, then countless little girls are coming into the world with a completely messed up sense of beauty. They’re born lacking something because their hair coils up. That can’t be the case; I just don’t believe that’s true. But how many women do believe it’s true?

I love a t-shirt one of my dear friends owns. It reads, “Good hair is healthy hair.” If your hair doesn’t constantly break off or shed a thousand strands a day, then you have good hair, whether it’s nappy, wavy or straight, long, medium-length or short. Wash it, condition it, and trim those split ends. Whatever else you do, consider canning the idea of “good and bad” hair. It’s so passé. Look around: slowly but surely, the world is changing.


  1. "Talking 'bout good and bad hair!" Lol. Always a fun topic. As you know, I practice my right to wear my hair both straight and curly. Like you said, to each her own. Go hair!

  2. Forgive me, that should have been Mrs. Bell

  3. I totally thought that was Darlita in the top picture. lol The second picture is exactly how I think of you: natural, fun, beautiful, and confident--just being you! :-)

  4. Thank you, Daniel!

    Lacy, how sweet are you! Thank you!

    Dar, I think "right" is an interesting word here. The beautiful thing about anyone's body is the ability to be creative in dressing it and accessorizing it. That includes hair, which is why the hair industry, with its own shows, is a prime example of how hair can be an art palette.

    With little girls, on the other hand, many of them get the right to express themselves through their hair and choose how they want it to look--like Willow Smith and her Rihannaesque 'do--but many girls don't have that right.

  5. I think I've known you when you wore your hair both ways, and I've always thought it was beautiful. That said, I love your hair now. It's like an extension of your personality.

    I can't say that I have any real knowledge on this subject, but I totally agree with your last point. People talk to me a lot about my hair, and that's what I always tell them. Go with your natural hair and treat it well!

  6. @ Lacy - Is that to say that the Monita in the first picture couldn't be natural, fun, beautiful, and confident--just being herself?

  7. Darlita,
    Not at all. Of course she is all of those things naturally. I just associate the second picture more with my concept of Monita. Perhaps that's a strange thing to say, but I think we all do that to some degree--it's why we notice when someone with long hair suddenly cuts it really short or someone with curly hair straightens it--because that hair may not be "them" to us. When I know someone well, at some point I stop even noticing their hair--it's just part of the package, part of who they are. It's only when things change that we start to pay attention.

    Here's where I'll probably get myself into trouble: I think people--myself included--do "read" hair, though, no matter what the person's race, gender, cultural background, etc. While the long, straight look might look more sleek or even polished (for lack of a better word), I think Monita's short, curly hair is more spunky and--dare I say it--fun.

    You know how you look at celebrities out-and-about and they look like they just threw some clothes on and walked out the door, but they look totally awesome, and you wish you could just throw on clothes and look that good, but then you find out they really spent two hours in a make-up chair and then met with a stylist in order to look that good? Well, that's Monita in the second picture to me. She looks great and she looks like she's doing that effortlessly (though I know from talks with her that hair that cute doesn't come easily).Perfect straight hair, no matter who you are, never looks effortless--especially if you are someone, like me, who has straight hair.

  8. Lacy, I agree that we all "read" hair when we see it, no matter who it is. I guess I just take issue with boxes. We're boxing people into a certain "type" of person, based on how they choose to wear their hair. As Monita points out in her book, there are some black women with naturally fine and straight hair. It can be effortless, depending on the woman. In my opinion, when it comes to a black woman's hair, there is no box.

  9. I agree that boxes are problematic. Dar, since you wear your hair all kinds of ways--straight, curly, cornrowed, etc.--you're clearly not putting yourself in a box and don't believe others should.

    I, on the other hand, choose not to straighten my hair, but I twist it, style it up with scarves, wear it all out, and put it all up. I don't believe I'm in a box either, but I don't think a box linking someone's personality with their hair is the issue here.

    While we do "read" what we see, my biggest concern is not about how people read my hair or anyone else's but about how women feel about their own hair. Dar and I are comfortable with our hair. But a lot of black women do put their hair in boxes, the "good and bad" boxes. For them, those boxes are real and potentially damaging emotionally.

  10. I love the conversation, by the way! Thanks for joining in, all!

  11. I'm going to shut up after this because I certainly am not qualified to talk about boxes put around black women's hair. In my comments about Monita I'm not looking at her as a black woman but just as a woman. As someone with fine, straight hair, I don't look at any woman, black or white, with sleek, straight hair and think it looks effortless. I think, what kind of product does she use to keep the fly-aways from showing, who trims her ends to get them looking so fresh, and I wonder if she has to spend thirty minutes blow-drying her hair straight every morning like I do? When I look at people with short curly hair, I think, God, it must be so nice not to have to worry about your fly-aways and split ends showing and not to have to comb your hair thirty times a day. These are probably completely unjustifiable stereotypes (I'll never know, because I'll never have naturally curly hair), but they are the way it appears from straight-hair land.