“The hair is the most elevated point of your body, which means it is the closest to the divine. … Because the hair is the closest thing to the heavens, communication from the gods and spirits was thought to pass through the hair to get to the soul.”
– from page 4 of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America
Yesterday, I met a 3-year old girl named Harmony while at a salon watching a friend of mine get her hair braided. Wide-eyed and in love with making faces at herself in the large mirror before her, Harmony didn’t much like the beautician messing around in her hair. No sooner the lady collected a tuft of hair to comb or cornrow, the little girl let out an “owwie” and reached to squeeze the hand of her closest parent – whichever one she saw had sympathizing eyes for her imagined pain. I smiled and reassured her it would all be over soon and she would look absolutely pretty once it was done. She smiled back then complimented me on something, anything she noticed at that time – oh, I love your jewelry, or your natural hair is pretty, or I like your finger nail polish. Questions would naturally follow – what’s your name, are you getting your hair done, who is that person next to you? Inside my heart melted with every “owwie,” funny face in the mirror, question or compliment she gave.
All year it felt as though I’d been contemplating or searching for a rather permanent solution on what to do with my hair. At the start of the new year, in a determination to be more self-assured in who I am and what I’m capable of achieving, I thought long and hard on how to establish my new professional style. Since adolescence, my hair has been the Achilles’ heel of my confidence. So, what better place to start my makeover than on the top of my head. Though I’ve been “natural” for over 15 years (gasp!), I’ve never been prone to leading, jumping on, or even paying attention to the “natural hair” craze of discovering fail-proof styling products, hair care regimens, and professional looks. Instead, I’d get on a brief hair care kick, let it go, later pick up some other styling method to try, then let “what will be, be” to my hair again… I know! Don’t we all?
Anyway, I began the new year in box braids (hair extensions) – an old favorite hairstyle I used to rock with abandon in the early ’90s. Thanks to a college staff person in Fayetteville who befriended me by asking if she could braid my hair one weekend, I learned the art of braiding with hair extensions and then proceeded to regularly put box braids on myself and my dorm mates. Remember, this was in the early ’90s when Janet Jackson’s appearance in the movie Poetic Justice and the music and style of Jamaican dancehall queen Patra were all the rage, influencing many a girl to go braided…and rightly so! Unfortunately, twenty years later, I no longer had the patience to braid extensions into my own hair like before – unless I went “jumbo” size like in the photo to the right (from earlier this year). I knew I needed an alternative style.
So by mid-January, I’d moved on to another old school look of mine. This one was from the late ’90s – head wraps. And though the braids did generate a few compliments, THE “hairstyle” that drew consistent looks of amazement, comparisons to Erykah Badu, and overall public approval was the head wrap. So much so, a couple weeks after going “all wrapped, all the workweek” I had a coworker tell me my new
style had given me a stronger aura. When I asked if she meant my new aura was regal like that of a queen, she replied yes. Looking back, it made total sense for her to notice that vibe from me.
While wearing a wrap, I held my head higher, walked with more confidence, and felt on top of my game – much more secure in myself. Surprisingly, I also found covering my hair to be extremely liberating and just the right professional (fall, winter, and spring) “hair” style for me. No longer was I self-conscious of what others thought of my hair – its thickness, curl, or frizz level – because I knew they couldn’t see it. And so faithfully over the next five months, I wrapped and rewrapped and twisted material into a daily crown of style and confidence for the workplace. Of course, on most weekends I allowed my hair the freedom to be in its wild and crazy state…as usual. Notice, I left summer out of the hair wrap equation altogether. Twists and braids were (and will continue to be) the hairstyle of choice for weather a bit too steamy for wraps, even in Asheville but most definitely when visiting down east.
And this brings me to today – it’s fall again, but I’ve yet to bring back my wrapped look. Though it’s now a proven “new tool” in my confidence kit, because of that necessary pause in use over the summer, I’m having to relearn all the cool stylings of wraps and twists I’d perfected this spring. Sitting in the salon yesterday, a bit envious watching one friend get box braids and my new best friend 3-year old Harmony get cornrows with medium-sized black, red, and white beads added to the ends, I thought “what about me? What will I do to ‘not be my hair’ this season?” Even with my wraps, a shield of sorts from the judging or guessing eyes of others, I accept the fact I will still struggle with my Achilles’ heel and continue to search for its best “resting place.”
India.Arie’s song “I Am Not My Hair” has been on mental replay most of my 2015: this spring, while listening to members of the biracial and multiracial student org I advised share their hair experiences, to this summer, going for a product consultation at a natural hair care salon, to now, somewhat toying with the idea of getting a tapered hair cut and subtle color rinse to mix things up a bit. Having others try to categorize you, guess your ethnicity, or judge your level of professionalism by your hair texture, length, or style is not fair nor accurate; but, all you have to do is walk the beauty isles of your favorite discount retailer to see the phenomenal growth in options for hair care products targeting women of color or families with mixed-race or natural-hair children – in no small part because of the industry’s catering to categories, ethnicities, and desires to create a standard of hair appearance.
But, as much as I believe we are more than the hairstyle (head wrap, hijab, Dastaar, turban, gele, etc.) we choose to wear on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, I know having a healthy opinion of ourselves and our natural beauty makes for a happier life and brighter inner light. As Harmony’s mother debated with the salon hairdressers over whether to go the “relaxer” route or keep Harmony’s hair natural, I wondered what impression would that give this little girl of her natural beauty. After her braided style was complete, Harmony couldn’t stop smiling… or shaking her head to hear the music made by the jingle of her beads. In that moment, I thought of the quoted book passage shared at the beginning of this post. It is a blessed assurance to believe that the crown of hair upon my head – most definitely when my hair is worn boldly in its full glory – connects me ever closer to the heavens above. Shouldn’t we all view our head, covered or uncovered, with or without hair serving as tiny receptors springing forth from it, as a conduit for our soul and the heavens to communicate more easily? I saw so in Harmony.