I was really delighted last week to hear from Maggie, a Charcoal Ink reader. Maggie kindly allowed me to reproduce some of her email where she discussed her hair story. This is a fascinating insight into what black hair means to us individually.
I think it’s interesting how our hair can play a laid back but prominent
part in our lives. It is only checking your site and looking at your past
comments about blacks in Britain (Why Black Britain is an illusion) as well
the beautiful photos of black women sporting natural styles that has
prompted this. Growing up and trying to figure out who we are, for me, is
clearly expressed in how hair played a big part in that. Is it possible that
‘hair’ experiences can also be negative?
As a young girl growing up in Tottenham, my mother used to ‘press’ my hair.
Because it was unusually long (I’m quite dark skinned so it was considered
an anomaly), it didn’t make me popular amongst my black peers as the
jealously was intense and of course, to white girls I was still black. But
my mother insisted that I should ‘straighten’ my hair because it was time
consuming if it was kept natural, and also she wanted to show me off to her
friends. And remember in those days, and I’m talking about the 70s, you
didn’t have extensions, weave on, it was just the relaxer, natural afro or
wigs and most young black girls only relaxed their hair or kept it in afro.
I was supposed to be proud of being blessed but I was not. It just left me
miserable and lonely. The key thing is how we, black women, so much despised
who we were and our looks and wanted so much to be white – I included, even
though I was not exempt by having long hair. However I
do remember teachers, and some white girls commending me that I had the
‘best looking hair that they have seen a black girl’ but ‘compliments’ could
only take me so far.
And of course there are the practicalities of having long straightened black
hair: running out of the rain or keeping away from anything that resembles
water; retouching the virgin bits of hair every three months; hair gradually
falling out due to chemical left on too long or the weight of the hair being
too heavy (??); when they style that you’ve worked so hard to resemble Farah
Fawcett-Majors which ended up eventually looking too dry and sticking out
when rain touched it.
Some thirty years on, I constantly keep my hair in braids/extensions and
really love my look (after all black skin does age well). But the fight now
is to convince my daughter that she should keep her hair in braids but she
wants to relax her hair and look like Raven! I guess it will always be a
fight to make sure that black skin/hair is fairly presented along side with
long flowing curls! Thanks and take care.
What do you think of Maggie’s story? Was it a similar experience for you growing up?
I love when Maggie discusses her background of growing up. Hair is so entwined with our childhood but in subtle ways. I love that people can feel like discuss this.