My Hair Apology

Over the years I have been a very harsh critic of female hair, a dislike triggered I think, by a childhood incident when my mums afro wig fell off whilst leaning over my pram, I freaked out, (I honestly thought her head had fallen off!). I have cussed women out for how they have chosen to wear their hair ever since. I always had the strong belief that in putting fake hair on your head you were being false, dishonest and disrespectful to guys like me who truly believed that what we saw was real.

I also had a real issue with women who looked terrible in their fake hair, adorning cheap shiny wigs, and odd coloured extensions, (by the way ladies, your friends don’t always tell you the truth). It is down to you, my sistas, to do your best to get it right. LISTEN to that little voice in your head that casts any doubt on a new hair-do, because it is probably right.

That was then, now I hold a different view and because of my 180 degree turn on the subject, I feel it only appropriate that I use this forum to publish a public apology.

I am sorry.

I was wrong and I only hope my harsh words of old haven’t done any lasting damage. And the reason for my sharp turnaround? well, last week I watched the new Chris Rock film, Good Hair. A comedy documentary, that looked at the Black Hair industry and the history, politics and sociology behind it. It was a very interesting and thought provoking film that really lifted the lid on the whole industry, warts and all.

However, what was more interesting to me was looking at the many amazing styles adorned by the women in the audience. I sat at the back near the door and was mesmerised by the huge variety of styles on parade. They were like groups of different beautiful animals at a watering hole. You had the naturals, the wig wearers, the weavettes, the baldies, the permers, the relaxers, the plaiters (no not the group!) and the afrolystics. It was an amazing sight to behold and made me realise that hair was indeed a black womans’ crowning glory. It also made me realise that perhaps black women were not trying to emulate their white counterparts. On the contrary, women were taking advantage of what was available to them and making it work (well, in most cases anyway!). No politics, no history and no real argument!

You see, sitting in that auditorium I finally realised that weaves, wigs, extensions and all the rest were just accessories. According to the Collins English Dictionary, an accessory is ‘a supplementary part or object’. Fake hair is no different to a pretty hat or a pair of expensive sunglasses, just another wardrobe addition that makes the whole outfit work. Hair is now a fashion item that I am sure before long will be hung up on a coat peg the same as your favourite jacket! That day alone I saw all the colours of the rainbow adorning the tops of feminine heads, a  carnival corn’row’copia of colour with matching handbags, shoes and dresses, cut into amazing styles, works of art that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Tate modern or V&A. It always used to amaze me that a girl could have copper coloured hair one day to go with her Gold Nikes, and the following day she would be bustin’ something entirely different. All thanks to something…false. Back in the day you were stuck with a style for at least 3 months. Nowadays, styles are as disposable as used handkerchiefs and it would seem that the world is a prettier place for it.

I used to think that a black woman’s hair was linked to the level of pride she had in her own blackness, that in some way all of this hair shenanigans meant that our black women were selling out their race to mimic their white superior sisters. I used to believe that these women truly believed that the ultimate image of beauty was a blond with long flowing hair. But white women are also hooked on wigs, weaveons and extensions. They are all the same, in pursuit of that perfect image, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, where the hopes and dreams of women reside. The perfect look will never be found because it doesn’t exist. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the search for it can be a long and arduous task.

A woman’s hair is something we see, something we notice and subconsciously make a judgement, or decision on, about its owner. That decision occurs in a split second but can last a lifetime and can be the difference between getting a job, being asked out on a date or being let into a club. First impressions are that important and I can now understand why the big hoopla around fake hair styles. In fact to be fair, I should stop saying fake and say ‘real’, because of what they represent. They determine how you would like to be acknowledged and understood and they allow you to become whoever you want to become. I can no longer, as much as I have tried to, find any issue with that.

There is however one single caveat to my apology and that is the effect all of this has on our young girls, our future princesses. Hair like other parts of our body grows throughout childhood and through chemical processing, this hair is being damaged at a very young age, unable to grow back properly. Is this really okay? In the film there was a girl of three who regularly had her hair relaxed and didn’t really seem to be as happy about it as her mother was. My own eyes have seen girls as young as four with massive slap heads because their hair has started to recede and six year olds with scalp burns and alopecia, a disturbing sight. Ladies out there, please think about it! Salon owners, are you not in a privileged position of being able to teach and advise as you do your work?

Wigs, weaves and extensions have never been more popular. If the film is anything to go by, the industry is only going to get bigger and therefore more powerful and with great power comes an even greater responsibility.

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