Thursday, June 29, 2006

(Thank God) I Am Not My Hair

After waiting for months, going to numerous retailers and watching my friend have a good old fashioned, Piscean Princess trademark "your customer service STINKS and somebody is gonna hear from me, just as soon as I get back to my desk to pen a strongly worded letter!" moment, I have obtained India Arie's latest album, "Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship". As always, the new album digestion process has been slow and methodical. So far, I think my favorite is "Good Morning", but by the time this weekend is over, I'll know for sure.

As I pulled into the parking lot at my job yesterday, volume at level 22, track 11 began...

little girl with a press n curl
age eight i got a jheri curl
thirteen i got a relaxer
i was the source of so much laughter
fifteen when it all broke off
eighteen and i went all natural
february two thousand and two
i went and did what i had to do
cause it was time to change my life
to become the woman that i am inside
ninety seven dreadlocks all gone
looked in the mirror for the first time and saw that

i am not my hair
i am not this skin
i am not your expectations
i am not my hair
i am not this skin
i am a soul that lives within

Yeah, India, I am so feeling you girl! The chronology and the ages are a little different, but all in all, my story is the same.

My mommy has never known how to do hair. She has never done anything to her own and she was pretty much incapable of making mine look decent. Several thousand miles away from her nearest family member, she was left to her own miserably incompetent devices. So for the first six years of my life, I had an afro. Sometimes that afro was teeny-weeny. Other times it was fluffy and unkempt with a ribbon attached to a bobby pin jammed into it's side.

Suddenly, things changed...and more capable family members were close at hand. Let the braiding begin! At first, there were cornrows in creative and elaborate styles. I couldn't have been happier! Until the cornrow-er went out of business and was replaced with a single braid-er. Now don't get me wrong, I realize that singles can be attractive and stylish. Back in 1980, a $2 package of colored plastic beads was all it took to take a head full of individual, slave-style plaits to the next level.

Unfortunately my braider thought those plastic beads looked cheap and tacky, so instead, I got some antique wooden beads. (Yes, they were wood. Like from trees.) They were gold and there was one on each 3 inch braid. With aluminum foil on the bottom to keep them on. Needless to say, I wasn't off to a good start in my new city at my new school with my new hair. Second graders are mean!

Before long, St. Jerry, the patron saint of little brown girls with major hair issues, heard my cry. Yes, dear reader, the Jheri Curl was born! Even though the bearer of the wooden beads would not even entertain the idea, once I was deposited into my father's hot little hands for the summer, it was a done deal. Finally! Not only did I have hair that moved, but I had hair like all the other girls. Of course mine was significantly shorter than most (think Easy-E, circa 1988) but it was a step in the right direction, regardless.

Anybody who was a child of divorce can probably remember that there was one thing that your estranged parents used as a tool to get at one another. For my mother, it was my hair. Upon my return after the summer of Jheri Curl #1, she promptly cut off all of my hair. It was back to the teeny weeny afro look, once again. The next summer, my teeny weeny afro had once again evolved into plantation plaits and I was off to visit daddy again. And he marched me right over to the local beauty shop and paid for more of those silky (aka greasy) curls. And when I got back home my mother cut off all my hair again. By the time the summer rolled around, I had cycled through the now familiar stages of hair regrowth. I even graduated from the Medusa look to the popular but impractical press and curl. Hot combs are indeed hot, rollers are pretty uncomfortable and not being able to swim was torture. I looked forward to Curl #3.

In a devastating turn of events, my mother wised up and cut my hair pre-visit!

Well, not to be outdone, my daddy waited patiently for my hair to get just long enough to wrap around one of those little rods.....and just like that, I was cool again! And this time, my exhausted & battle weary mother surrendered. The curl stayed.

Fast forward to 1988. Unless you were a gangsta rapper, the curl was no longer the style of the stylish. And I still had mine. By now I had experienced not only the original Jheri Curl, but the California Curl and the Wave Nouveau. And I was trying desperately to convince my mother to let me get a relaxer. Nope. Not happening. So here I was again, same city, new school, same bad hair. Tenth graders are mean!

In a totally spontaneous act of teenage defiance, I freed myself. Yes, I took matters into my own hands and got rid of that stankin' curl once and for all. Unfortunately, like most spontaneous acts of teenage defiance, mine lacked proper planning & regard for long term consequences. I won't take you through all of the ugly details, but I will tell you there was a blow dryer and a pressing comb involved. During the 5 days that it took for all of my hair to fall completely out, my mother employed one of her most memorable vigilante parenting tactics - she did nothing. She wouldn't take me to the beauty shop for services of any kind. I had to go to my new school with my new adolescent hormones with my new look (think Tina Turner, circa 1986). Tenth graders are still mean!

So the updated version of the hair re-growth process includes a relaxer (finally), finger waves (brown gel and all), finger waves and pineapple waves (yes, at the same time) and the Nefertiti cut (I swear it was in style for a few weeks!). And then I discovered weave. (It was around this time that I removed my mother from the hair care process. Her work was done.)

Fast forward 16 years to right now. My hair issues are not nearly as dramatic. Thanks to my standing weekly appointment at Styling Divas, I really don't have to think about my hair much at all. Until summer rolls around (don't worry, y'all, I really am over the jheri curl) and I want to enjoy swimming and other water related fun. Like now, I'm preparing to drive 7 hours to the most romantic place on earth (by myself, thanks for asking) to frolic in Lake Michigan. So I get braids. Not the crappy, individual braids of yesteryear, but the sleek, stylish cornrow of the millennium.

As I pulled into the parking lot at my job yesterday, I chuckled to myself in anticipation of my co-workers' awkward compliments and the questions of the bolder ones...

"now, can you wash that?"

"what happened to your other hair?"

"can I touch it?"

And just like in the movies, right when I was imagining these upcoming scenes, Track 11 came on. How poetic!

(I Am Not My Hair, the video)


Blogger Changeseeker said...

Wotta a great post. Wotta a great video. I am SO feelin' you (in spite of what I look like). In fact, you know, I was at the Dunkin Donut this morning, splurging on a medium caramel swirl iced latte with sugar and whipped cream (it's been a rough week and I was getting ready to teach for three hours), when this woman came in. She was so strong-looking that I was afraid to look dead at her: African-American, at least 5'9" and wearing big shoes besides, a killer body and dressed so you couldn't miss that chest. And I swear, the thought that went through my mind immediately--even before I had really looked completely in her direction--was "I'll bet that's what the Piscean Princess is like." I mean, I know I have no idea what you look like, but it was the attitude. She was SUCH a powerful presence and I must have had that thought three times waiting for my drink. It got so bad, I was afraid she was going to think I was showing her too much attention. And then you write this post. No shit, Princess. I am so glad you're in my world.

I must be. Now I'm thinking you're behind me in line at the Dunkin Donut...

8:11 PM  
Blogger Piscean Princess said...

- changeseeker: That is hilarious! And I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks my blog friends are really my friends. Lucky for me, there's pictures of you so I don't have to create an imaginary image for you. I look just like the picture on my profile except I probably weigh about 15 pounds more and my hair is not quite that long and I rarely have chocolate drizzled all over me. But other than that, it's all me!

I am not sure if my presence is as powerful as the Dunkin Donut lady, but I know for sure that I leave quite an impression on folks. People from 15 & 20 years ago remember me & stories including or starring me. I'm always pretty stunned when this happens but it happens a lot.

One of the more powerful things about me is directly related to this post, actually. I had to figure out very early on that fitting in and having the latest clothes and stuff was not nearly as important as having true friends. Throughout all the stages I describe, I always had at least one person who was my friend anyway. Even when I was the laughing stock of the school/church/neighborhood. Strangely enough, all of the constant ridiculing and being an outcast (coupled with an extremely supportive family) eventually led to me being very self confident. And I can laugh about all this trauma now!

10:33 PM  
Blogger Jessi Guilford said...

So . . . how infrequent is this chocolate-drizzling situation, exactly?

12:40 AM  
Blogger iaintlying said...

Awesome Post! I have had my fair share of hair issues only because
I used to let others make hair decisions for me because I am really not a hair person... My hair used to go past my shoulders and shoulders and it was dyed bright red like Janet Jacksons used to be. When I had surgery last year, the anesthesia affected my hair. I couldn't get perms or color it anymore so I had to let it go back to its natural state. My natural hair is jheri curl curly. I discovered that I LOVE my hair in its natural state. It tickles my how even strangers want to touch it and my friends love playing in it. I think the fascination is born out of the fact that I am about India.Arie's complexion and yet I have this head full curls. Girl they are all over the place!
Letting my hair go natural has been liberating. I read your description that you gave of yourself to Changeeseeker and I have to say you are absolutley gorgeous! Have fun being your awesome sexy self. I'm still finding me but I know when I do,
I will be a force to be reckoned with! :-)

8:56 AM  
Blogger Damali said...

i so relate to father also introduced me to my first jheri curl, since he had one as well. i also went thru relaxing, hot combing, braiding, etc. and have finally settled into my locs for the last 6 years now. Its the best thing i'd ever done for my hair and i can't wait to be old with long grey locks.

Ok, i can wait :)

9:15 AM  
Blogger Piscean Princess said...

- iaintlying: girl, my hair was fire engine red my senior year of college! But it was super, duper short (think Missy Elliot or Sommorre). Unfortunately, my hair never had a chance to get long, so I've spent the last 10 years trying to get it there. So far, it hasn't ever gotten pass my shoulders, but I'm still working on it.

Lately I have been (more) seriously considering locs, or at least letting go of the relaxer. It's a scary step, but it might happen. It certainly needs to 'cause I am sick of these chemicals and all of the maintenance that I pay my stylist for! Not to mention I have seborheic dermatitis (aka excessive, disgusting dandruff/excema) so I spend plenty $$ on Rx to keep it in check. Surely the relaxers are not helping.

- jessica: no comment

- damali: my daddy had a relaxer during my curl years. he used to let me roll his hair every night. that was always the highlight of my day!

what's funny is all those years when I was growing up, my mother had a head full of thick flowing hair that was all down her back (thanks to her standing Saturday morning appointment at Chez Beauty). And now she's rocking a teeny weeny afro.

I am so jealous that you girls are au naturale! I think I'll decide what I'm going to do by my next birthday. Yep, that will now be my official, self-imposed "shit or get off the pot" deadline.

10:36 AM  
Blogger iaintlying said...

Princess, I bought India.Arie's CD. It's banging. very insightful and very much on point for where I am in my life right now

9:50 AM  
Blogger S* said...

I love this post! I'm still laughing at your descriptions (easy E circa 88) and thank God my dad never had a relaxer (he preferred the S-curl).

I think most of us can relate to the trials and tribulations of hair. My mother began relaxing my hair when I was four because I had masses of super thick hair that she didn't know what to do with. That began years of suffering at my mother's inept hands. I finally freed myself when I cut it all off and went natural when I was around 21. About two years ago I started relaxing it again, and now I have it texturized (which is softening the curl just enough so it's more manageable. I flat iron it so it still looks straight though). Who knows what I'll do next.

As far as all this debate over natural vs. processed...I say, love what you got...natural or not.

3:39 PM  
Blogger RachelsTavern said...

That was a great post. I always have a White privilege moment when Black women talk about hair even though there are aspects of our stories that are the same.

My Mom really couldn't do hair either, but when you're a little White girl, nobody knows that. My mom knew how to put my hair in two pony tails on each side or two barretts on each side. But my hair was usually really long because we didn't have money to go cut it all of the time, and it's actually easy to just pull it back into a ponytail. The other girls at school also liked to "do" my hair during story time becaues it was really long.

On another note, I really liked your comment about gangsta rappers and jheri curls. LOL!! That style want out soooo quick. However, some of those early 1990s hairstyles went out pretty quick too--remember the bilevel hair cut. It was like a bob with two abrupt layers. That was a bad moment in hairstory. I admit that I liked the high top fade, and I even liked the guys with the shaved parts. I also liked the braid crazy, unless they were those big dookie braids. LOL!! I thought the little small ones looked good, but once agains I had a big old White privilege moment because I had no idea how expensive those were, not to mention how long it took to get them. One of my college classmates had to get her hair done over two days because she got those microbraids. My roommate would be gone for a whole day getting the medium size braids, and it would cost like $150. She cherished those braids so much she left them in until they started falling out, which was usually between a month and 6 weeks.

I could also relate to the divorced parents and hair thing. My husband and his ex do the same thing. They don't have a daughter, so they do it with the son. Was he was little his mom had him in corn rows, which my husband hated because "those are for girls." Then she finally cut them and he had a short taper, which would grow out pretty quick. When Branden comes to our house my husband says, "Branden do you want to look like Daddy?" And then he proceeds to shave his head bald. In particular, he likes to shave his head right before he goes back. My husband got into the bald thing in the 1990s and has kept it to hide his receeding hair line and for whatever reason he thinks that is the best way to cut a male child's hair--bald, bald, bald. LOL!! I've already told him if our child is really light he needs to rethink the bald thing because I think most lighter guys don't look good with the baldie. I guess we are going to have a power struggle. LOL!!

11:45 AM  
Blogger RachelsTavern said...

Sorry for the typos......My brain is on holiday.

11:46 AM  
Blogger S* said...

Gosh, I haven't heard someone mention "dookie braids" in AGES! I didn't know anyone on the "outside" (I say this in a nice way, Rachel!) could possibly know what they were.!

12:07 PM  
Blogger RachelsTavern said...

LOL!! I don't know how I knew it. It's been a loooooong time since I heard anybody talk about dookie braids either, but the post got me thinking about the evolution African American hairstyles.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous hedonistic said...

Awesome song and awesome post, and I can totally relate. Not because I'm African American, but because I'm sitting here typing with my head completely shaved bald! I definitely have Hair Issues!

Over the last few years I've had a multitude of natural-hair and synthetic hairpieces, all behaving differently and requiring completely different hair-to-human relationships. I think I've tried every hair product ever invented.

I also remember the haircut politics during my separation and divorce. I'd send my long-haired daughter over to her father's house, where my ex-mother-in-law would give her a haircut. It always made me so mad! Today my daughter is old enough not to let this happen anymore, thank God/dess . . .

1:12 PM  
Blogger Damali said...

Miss Princess,

I don't know if i'm ready to listen to India's new jawn her interview and in reviews i've read, i hear its alot to do with lost love...i'm in the midst of losing a relationship that's been an integral part of my life and development and i know i'd cry too much with her rawness and honesty looking me all in my face...i'm still going to buy it to support her but it will be hard for me to press play.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Piscean Princess said...

Hey alla y'all! Sorry for the delayed responses - I just got back from Michigan.

- Rachel: Girl, you are bringing back some serious memories! I brought the complete photo history of Piscean Princess to work last week & while I was gathering them I ran across all the styles you named. I had the bi-level bob (with my curl) and I had an unfortunate dookie braid experience as well. One of my boys in college (still) had a high top fade with the parts shaved in. And I do not miss those $250 micros that took 22 hours and $75 worth of human hair. More than anything, I don't miss taking them out. Mine never lasted more than a month, which was always a huge disappointment & waste of money.

What is it with these dueling divorced parents & the hair?

- S*: You gotta tell me more about this texturizing process. That might be a good way for me to transition once the decision is made.

- Hedonistic: First of all, welcome! I guess everybody's got issues with the hair-to-human relationship, huh? That's why I love india.arie - she writes music that is real and human and everybody can embrace her words on one level or another.

- Damali: I know, girl, I know. Take your time. You know how india is - she can acknowledge and embrace the sad & painful at the same time that she is celebrating life and the opportunity to experience such a range of emotions. Whenever you're ready, I know it will be cathartic for you. (And I hope your Saturday was good! I sent you some positive energy.)

8:44 AM  
Blogger Mocha said...

Oh, sista girl. I'm feeling you. And I'm loving this post. I have yet to get my man to understand why I need a standing appointment to get my hair done (except for the summer, just like you). It's a loooong road.

2:58 PM  
Blogger S* said...

Texturizing is an awesome way to transition from a relaxer because you can flat iron the hair to make it look the same texture if you're afraid of a drastic change. You just keep texturizing and trimming your hair until all the relaxed hair is gone. You also don't have to get it processed as often and you don't sit there for ages letting the chemicals "cook" in your hair. You end up with nice thick hair that can be straight or curly, instead of thin bone straight hair (as it was in my case).

5:11 PM  
Blogger Piscean Princess said...

-mocha: Well hello there! Thanks for coming, I've seen you around (Granny/Vibe, maybe?). I have had a standing weekly appointment since 1996. And I know how to do my own hair. But I can't be bothered with that. It takes so long now that it has grown, I'm all about convenience. My stylist usually gets me in and out in an hour, hour and a half - on a Saturday morning even. It is so worth it.

-S*: Ok, I get it. I'll have to get some more info from my stylist when I go get my braids re-done.

10:26 PM  
Blogger ant said...

I hate my hair. So I put I'm thinking of growing dreads.

I like how they look so far, but I'm not sure how this "liking" is going to last.

I really, really, hate my hair.


10:13 AM  
Blogger S* said...

You gotta love what God gave you...even if you have to help it along a little bit.

Dreads and twists have never been for me. The only thing worse than natty locks is a jacked-up weave. You have to maintain and take care of your hair no matter what style (or non-style) it's in!

11:37 AM  
Blogger Piscean Princess said...

-Antoine: Don't be going around hating your hair! And Lord knows if you don't keep liking the locs you can cut them off. I'm curious what you don't like about it. When I look at your photos I think it's relatively soft (unlike mine, which I'm convinced is responsible for several cuts on my fingers and hangnails & such). 'Course everybody wants what they don't have. When I was younger, I would have killed for soft hair. And my sisters, who had soft hair, were always wishing that their braids would stay put like mine. Now I just wish my hair wasn't so volatile. If it's not the braids being too tight it's my wool coat or stress or lack of moisture in the air - I just can't seem to get it past my shoulders.


-S: I'm with you. There is no excuse for bad looking weave. They make so many textures now that it's not that hard to blend, expecially if you keep your hair clean and don't try to keep the tracks in for-ever-ever. When I used to get a full one though, I was always so annoyed that I had to deal with it every day just like my real hair. It all just seemed like a huge rip off to me.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous hedonistic said...

I used to LOVE Shari Belafonte Harper's extremely short 'do.

Then again, back then I used to think trying to spend a lot of money getting one's hair to look or "behave" some other way than natural was a total waste of cash.

Then I lost my hair. And started spending $300/month faking it. Ouch. So I suppose I'm much more sympathetic about folks paying for weaves and extensions today!

1:53 PM  
Blogger blkbutterfly said...

a great post w/ very interesting comments.
i never experienced a curl, for which i am truly grateful. :) oh, but i did love to rock the finger waves. lol @ the memory of that brown gel. lord, how nasty it was when that mess started to flake!
i stopped relaxing my hair in dec. 2002 and except for the few moments of weakness and frustration, i haven't regretted my decision. when transitioning, i wore braids and twists. from what i understand, texturizers are also a chemical process, and by putting one in your hair, you wouldn't be chemical free. before i began my journey, i perused to get some insight. it's a great resource. anyway it goes, like so many have said, love the hair you've got!

1:37 AM  
Blogger S* said...

Gosh, get women (esp. black women) talking about their hair and it can go on forever!

Yup, texturizing is a chemical process too, though not as intense as relaxing. It's a great way to transition back to natural, if you're not keen on chopping all your relaxed hair off to the "new growth".

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Amirah said...

After reading all the posts regarding our hair - the challenges, the joys, the frustrations, etc. I wanted to share this site with you - It was created by a woman inspired by God to seek out wisdom and understanding for the healthiest way to grow our afro hair long and healthy. You'll find info on growing hair, no matter what style you choose - natural, braids, relaxers, etc. I have several friends who've been very successful with her techniques, including myself. A key element is proper nutrition along with vitamins that promote hair growth. Also, keeping our hair (that tends to be dry) moisturized and trimmed is part of the hair growth regimen. Enjoy! Amirah

12:16 PM  

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