Big Hair, Big Deal: Why Black Women Care So Much About Our Hair
I once ran in front of an 18 wheeler because of my hair. Yes, you read that correctly. The mass of kinks and coils that grows on top of my head matters so much to me, I almost became road kill for it. It was the last day of school and I’d carefully flat ironed my afro into sleek shiny straightness. Boys were running around throwing bottles of water at each other and somehow I ended up caught in the crossfire. It was like something out of a movie—you know the scenes where someone is facing down a shooter and begging them not to shoot? That was me, looking into this guy’s eyes, trying to convince him that dousing my carefully straightened hair in water would be an enormous mistake.
He obviously did not agree with me as he emptied the entire bottle over my head. Whatever he saw in the look on my face as the water ran down it was enough to make him run though…straight across the street. And what did I do? Ran right behind him. I didn’t even realize there was a truck coming until I was on the other side of the road and I heard the loud honk the driver let off. My heart was pounding, partially because I realized I could’ve been flattened, mostly because I was so angry about my hair which was, at this point, no longer flat.
A lot of people don’t get it. Why are black women so obsessed with hair? Why do we go to such lengths to maintain and protect it? Why do we make such a big deal about it? Because it is a big freaking deal for a lot us. Whether we’ve kept our natural texture, chemically altered it, or wear extensions, our hair requires a lot more consideration than non-black women even dream about.
Personally, I've retired my flat iron. It takes too much effort to keep my hair straight. As a gym rat, I'm bound to sweat it out before my warm up is complete. And even if I somehow managed to remain sweat-free, humidity, shower steam, sprinklers, hot kitchens, rain, and anything that generates moisture will undo hours of work.
Swimming is a logistical nightmare that involves stuffing my abundance of coils into a painfully tight rubber cap that's guaranteed to leak anyway. My pool bag will be full with everything white girls carry, plus enough products to stock a beauty supply store. (This, of course, is just a fraction of the products stowed away at my house.) Before I leave the bathroom post-swim, I will spend more time than would seem reasonable to most people trying to make my hair cooperate after the chlorine assault it suffered in the pool.
Wash day proves to be another watery challenge. It's an all-day event that involves as much product as the pool situation. My arms will be tired, my scalp will be sore and I will be miserable. I don't make plans on wash day. There is no "let’s hang out after." If you’re not a pillow, a blanket, or a semi-firm mattress, don’t even look at me. After wash day, I'm going to bed.
If I choose to go to a hair salon, consider that another day booked exclusively for my hair. Even if I were to get a basic wash and set, I'd probably be in the salon for hours because black salons move at a glacial pace and that's just the way it is. But I'm the single braid type meaning I'll be sitting down long enough for my butt to go numb and the stylist to feel obligated to offer me something to eat (though she probably won’t). And after the hours and hours committed to looking super fly, the smile I'll be sporting in my show out selfie will be part grimace because my scalp will be on fire.
Then there's the expense: High quality oils, creams, waxes and gels, sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners (deep and leave in); Braiding hair, Brazilian bundles, and salon visits. A lot of my time at the beauty supply store is spent persuading myself to buy the products instead of a pair of shears.
And to top that all off, I get to deal with people, black and otherwise, who have smart comments about black women and our hair. Most people who aren’t black will never get it. Honestly, most black men whose most complicated hair style is a fade probably won’t get it either. And I’m no longer trying to explain. I am a black woman with a crown that requires a little extra shining. (Okay, a lot of extra shining.) But when it’s shining, nothing compares. I’m cool with all the work it takes. I’m carrying hundreds of years of ancestry in the strands on my head.
If a black man doesn’t want to deal with black women because it means dealing with our hair, that’s his choice. If a non-black person thinks our hair would look better styled one way or another, they’re entitled to their (wrong) opinion. I’m done trying to persuade anyone to love something that took so much work for me to love myself. And until they’re sitting down with me on a Saturday morning with a wide tooth comb and a bottle of conditioner, what they say is never going to matter.