Overcoming Tresses of Distress
I had a chat with a friend some days ago about how I would love to re-live childhood experiences of my mother carving out lines on my scalp with a wooden comb as she prepared to plait the “tie-tie” which was a common hairstyle of Eastern Nigeria those days. After that inspiring discussion I began looking forward to the weekend when I would relive that experience with my own daughter whom at several times expressed her displeasure with her hairdresser in the salon just down the street.
When Sunday came and I made my daughter sit between my knees the way I used to sit between my mother’s knees as a child, I realized how much my five-year old relished this opportunity for mother-daughter bonding. As I begin the weaves I also came to realise how much our priorities have evolved so much over the years that we risk losing traditional value systems that influenced our choices, what we eat and what we wear.
As a modern working woman, I have worn hairstyles ranging from long braids to silky straight weave-on made perhaps from the hair of Indian women or maybe even those gotten from dead horses. . urghh! I will never really know where they originate. However, it fulfilled my fantasy of having very long hair straight hair which gave my natural 5 inch, mildly processed (oppressed) hair a chance to grow out. The other reason many black women like me wear these styles is that the natural curliness of our black hair is not quite appreciated by a society where standards of good hair are judged from the straightness, length and bounce of your hair.
I loved the tresses because my own hair grew healthy under the “extensions,” as the lengths of hair are sometimes called. For one I did not have to deal with my hair daily except once every two or four weeks. Still, eventually they would have to be removed and redone another seven to eight grueling hours. Hair has always been a troubled terrain for me as advancing career and enterprising woman and mother.
African women wear their hair in creative ways underlying the fact that a black woman’s hairstyle is important and even symbolic, so she had better get it right. This may be a reason why emerging hairstyles are being named after successful celebrities like Beyounce, Niki Minaj and why Rihanna’s hairstyle is a signature of her look.
Over the years entrepreneurs have invented a myriad of products in their attempt to meet women’s need to tame their hair into looks more fitting for society. The first African-American female millionaire, Madam C. J. Walker, earned her riches from developing and marketing a successful line of beauty and hair products for black women. These efforts of replicating human hair have been misinterpreted such that we often do not distinguish between society’s standards of beauty and our own way of looking at and evaluating ourselves.
While I was concerned about what would be the lifestyle of Indian or Korean women who grew their hair expressly to be sold to the growing market of African women, the greater worry for me was the distress of hair and beauty ideals in modern fashion that have become a barrier to self esteem of many African women. A broad range of these hair products are sold today at varying prices from five to one hundred and fifty thousand naira (approximately one hundred US dollars). There is the brazilian, indian, peruvian and did I hear about a Bolivian one the other day?
The energy, time and money expended in women’s quest for skills to understand how to use all these foreign hair types indicates that the peculiarity of our own hair texture is perceived to be inferior in the minds of not just whites (including other races from where human hair originates) but even some blacks, men and women.
I can appreciate that for our own self-esteem we strive to appear our best by copying practices of mainstream American society but when we spend more of our productive hours and resources debating the differences between Indian, Brazilian or Peruvian weave-on, in the midst of economic empowerment challenges we face at the workplace and society generally, we diminish our potential to engage with more serious issues.
The message I hope this article will send to our young women and girls is not to care less about their appearance. Rather, it is to make them realise that how they wear their hair, tressed or stretched, must not overshadow what they think, imagine and their potential to contribute to the world.
Parents should teach their daughters that “beauty is only skin deep” and if this proverb appears a bit old-school-ish for this generation to appreciate, I’ll recommend you get an ipod loaded with India Arie’s 2006 Grammy nominated song featuring Akon _ “I am not my hair”. This might inspire someone to overcome her tresses of distress!
Photo: ehow.com, dailymail.co.uk
2012, Tiya Miles, Opinion: Why focus on Gabby Douglas’ hair? CNN