Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hair Obsessed

I read a review in a mainstream magazine which described Chris Rock's new film Good Hair as a documentary about how African-Americans' "obsession" with straightening their hair. That description made me cringe. If non-black people go to see this documentary and walk away with that impression, then I hazard to say that something is significantly absent that needs to be articulated. As I watched the film, I was entertained--that is what Chris Rock set out to do. And his ending message that it is more important what's inside your head than what's on top of it is a good message. But, as a black woman, I was also saddened that we work so hard to achieve a beauty ideal that Eurocentric origins. I know this wasn't Chris Rock's purpose, but I wish something about the historical aspects of African-American grooming habits had been explored. There wasn't even a nod to Madame CJ Walker. [Although Rock did make a point of how much we spend in comparison to how little direct ownership we have to the hair products we use.] And while some discussion was had on the dangers of using chemical relaxers on the heads of young children, no discussion was had on the racial, psychological and societal disconnects that lead little black girls to lament the fact that they don't have "good" hair. Isn't this the very question Rock's daughter asked? Why in 2009, are little black girls still questioning their natural beauty? We have all experienced it. As a child, I used to put a yellow towel on my head and swish it around imagining that I had long flowing golden locks like the women I saw on tv. When years later I saw Whoopi Goldberg in a skit doing the same impression, I knew my experience was not isolated and was symptomatic of something deeper ingrained in our experience as black women in this country. So now that I sport an Afro after years of straighteners, hot combs and irons, I do not begrudge any woman who chooses to straighten her hair, sport a wig or a weave. We have a right to look how we like. My own transformation was less a political or social statement, but an effort to stop hair loss. My decision was right for me and I'm happier with a healthy scalp and full, thick, curly, kinky, nappy, beautiful good hair. But how do we impart this to our children? Rock's film regrettably only had one woman, Tracie Thoms, representing the perspective of natural hair. And no one clearly said I love myself as I am.

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