Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

In elementary school, I remember being envious of my classmates with long straight hair that they parted to one side with clips that looked like tiny leaf springs that opened when you bent them back and forth. The girls whose hair smelled like fruit because they washed it every morning. My cornrows came out once a week, and smelled like the bergamot oil in my hair grease.

For me, hair length was tied to femininity, and mine was frustratingly locked up in tight coils. I felt alienated from the image of the princess whose tiara sat on a mass of hair that cascaded down her back. The only famous woman people would compare me to was Grace Jones. She wasn't exactly an ideal model of femininity in the 80s.

I would put a towel on my head and pretend I had long hair (Whoopie wasn't the only one who did that). Its horrible to feel like your gender identity is better expressed by a towel than your own natural hair. I begged my mom for earrings, because people would mistake me for a little boy.

I wore cornrows until 9th grade when I began to get it straightened, both chemically and with the dreaded hot comb (which is every bit as bad as they say it is). I fluctuated between breakage and the illusion that I had straight hair.

In college, I rocked a short natural and eventually grew locks. Although natural hair has its own ideological/gender challenges, I don't have to deal with my scalp dying and completely flaking off a month after getting a chemical treatment, and I don't resent rainy weather, humidity in the shower, or swimming anymore.

I recently saw the Lion King and was happy to see the lead female character "Nala" play the adult role in cornrows that ended at the nape of her neck. It was great to see that a woman who looked like me cast as the semi-romantic lead in a mainstream production. Especially a Disney production, which is prominent in the imaginations of kids. I would have loved to see her when I was a little girl.


At 12:12 AM, Blogger willhablo said...

To the author,

I'd love to read more about your reflections of how life yous-ed to be.

Something in this essay reminds me of the Toni Morrison's the bluest eye. There are so many movies/books about diaries lately. Where is the diary of the lock-luster sister?

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Liza said...

Good post.


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