In truth, I’ve written this post a dozen different times in my head with a dozen different slants. It has fluctuated between scathing, casual, informative, pointed and anecdotal. This will probably land squarely in the middle of all of that, if it’s possible to find a middle in all of that. I honestly don’t care that much for talking about hair to people that have no clue about black hair. It’s tedious, alienating, frustrating, embarrassing, awkward, and infuriating all at once and as it’s a relatively new thing for me I find it to be quite a waste of time as well. Why in heavens name are people so curious about my hair and what has possessed them to reach for it with no regard for personal space or basic manners? It’s a bizarre question and position I’ve found myself in since ‘going natural’, aka no longer chemically straightening my hair, in the winter of 2013. I recently decided to start wearing my natural hair out more and it has featured prominently on my Instagram stories as of late. As I anticipated the influx of questions that I, quite frankly, wasn’t going to answer I formulated the idea to write one post and be more or less done with the topic. So here you go *waves hands in spirit fingers*, get in losers we’re talking about hair.
My decision to stop chemically straightening my hair was triggered by a driving force that has informed a lot of my decisions in the past several years, motherhood. No, my name is not Mary and I am not currently expecting anything other than bills to be delivered to me. However, one day I want to have kids. ( A lot of children, actually…let’s talk about that another day). Recently it dawned on me that my future daughter’s impression of herself is very much informed by me as her mother. I plan to be one of those hippie dippy moms that wears natural deodorant and fosters freedom of expression and positive body image (that’s the next hurdle to tackle). This is when I realized I need to be fully confident in walking out positive relationships with my natural hair for my future kiddos. The natural hair movement has definitely picked up speed, but it was virtually nonexistent for me until college. If I want my children to find their natural hair as ‘enough’, it was important to find my own natural hair as enough and in order to do that, ya girl had to get to know her natural hair.
My natural hair fairy godmother/life partner/business partner/partner in crime/therapist/best friend/best artist of the 21st century, Mercy, encouraged me to get Marley twists like her after once I shared this idea with her. I hemmed and hawed for awhile. Mercy and I moved in together in NYC in 2012 and by fall of the following year I had given serious consideration for installing twists. I stopped chemically relaxing my hair in November 2013 and in January 2014 Mercy installed twists for me for the first time. The first time I saw myself with twists I hated it. I didn’t tell Mercy this, of course, because we did not just spend enough time to watch the sun set and rise again for me to say anything other than ‘thank you, I love it!’ (You are wondering, Jasmine, how long does it take to get your hair like that. First, please never refer to my hair as ‘like that’, it’s rude and dehumanizing. It’s a hair style, feel free to use the phrase ‘hair style.’ Second, it took a long time that time, but the time honestly varies between who is doing it, size of the twist, number of twists, etc. So, more than 2 hours and less than 24. Does that help?) I vowed to keep them in for at least two weeks to respect Mercy’s time and to give myself time to get used to them. I know that it takes time to adjust to things so I wanted to be realistic and kind to myself as I settled in. Two days later after switching from a center part to a side part, yes it was that simple, I loved them.
Thus came my abrupt thrust into the land of ‘can I touch your hair?’, ‘how long does that take?’, ‘how do you get your hair to do that?’, ‘how long have you been growing your hair?’ and the occasional, ‘I always wanted to get locs, too’. My responses in short were usually: no, not as long as you think, huh?, my entire life, these are not locs and I don’t have time to explain to you that a non black person getting dreadlocks is appropriation so I’m going to smile politely and remain silent. I have had people touch my hair that know me casually, customers at a store where I worked have attempted to reach over a counter to touch my hair (I moved out of the way when he attempted to do it. Twice.), strangers in Starbucks have touched my hair without me knowing (the person I was with me told me after the fact, but did nothing to stop them or alert me…), a co-worker once dug her hand completely through the back of my hair once I added in some pastel extensions, a stranger next to me on the train asked if he could touch my hair as his fingers were already in it-you get the picture. When Solange came out with the song, ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ it felt transformative and affirming and I stopped feeling crazy for being so incredibly angered and annoyed. Aside from the obvious lack of respect for personal space, manners and ‘we look with our eyes not with our hands’ of it all, it is dehumanizing.
It reminds me that I am ‘other’, that people view the black body as a commodity they can interact with and touch at will, and that for all of the talk of ‘post-racial America’ there is still lack of representation for people who don’t have straight hair growing out of their head. It feel like an exotic animal or something caged in a zoo to be petted and fondled. I can understand curiosity, but there is a very thick and very real undercurrent of entitlement exhibited when people think I have to answer all of their questions or agree to be touched. The touching is almost always accompanied by 21 questions that are microagressive and usually have no real meaning to the person asking other than curiosity. I am going to hazard a guess that you are reading this through the use of internet so I’d also like to remind you that Google is still a free service. Conversation and interrogation are not the same thing and if you absolutely must forego the parameters of polite human interaction and have answers you can just look them up online. I fall into frequent Wikipedia binges about black holes and there’s no reason one couldn’t do the same about black women and hair. There was a documentary about it (I didn’t see it), countless articles and ton of Youtube videos. I don’t really have the time or emotional bandwidth to constantly take strangers and casual acquaintances through the history of black hair. But I’m digressing, let me bring it back.
Having twists was a cold water in the face shock of what it meant to embrace natural hair and protective hair styles for black women. (Twists are one of many protective styles that black women use as a low maintenance way to grow and care their hair. Extremely curly/kinky hair is fragile and can be subject to breakage if it is overly handled with heat, friction or products. Twists allow my hair to be tangle free with minimal products, minimal friction and no heat.) Still, I love twists with my entire heart and it felt like a puzzle piece slotting into place. They are reflective of my personal style, which tends towards the bohemian side of things and low maintenance. A dream. I’ve had them in brown, black, ombre blue and added pastel bits to the underside. After a few years I started to realize that because of the size of the parts and weight of the extensions twisted in my hair that my hair was starting to break off in patches. I had begun having them done professionally once I decided it was a style I wanted for awhile and although the woman who did them was fast and they looked amazing, they were doing the exact opposite of being protective. So I learned how to do them myself. With Mercy’s guidance and a lot of Youtube videos I successfully installed twists all by myself and I felt freedom. I could now do whatever I wanted with my hair. I didn’t need to worry about making an appointment or fitting into anyone else’s schedule and I was beginning to learn how to maintain my own natural hair. Whoo-hoo!
Shortly before I moved to California I decided that I wanted to start wearing wigs. I had three big reasons for it-1) I needed to give all of my hair a rest from twists, 2) wigs look so fun!, 3) I was going to have to job hunt in LA and I was cautious about how people would receive my twists. (I was once told by a would be employer for a catering/special events company that clients prefer a ‘classic look’ so that last point is well founded personally and culturally). I decided to go for a wig that would make it look like I had taken my twists out and straightened my hair. So many people thought that’s what I had actually done or that I had gotten a flawless sew-in when I made the switch, including family members and other black women, so I counted it as a success!
Then I decided I wanted to go blue for Coachella.
Then I wanted to go a little blonde.
Okay, now blonder and shorter.
And sometimes natural because I actually love my natural hair and curl pattern as it grows and regains its strength.
So here we are. I’m going back to twists in the middle of October (once my current part time job is over) and I’m so looking forward to coming full circle. I plan to continue to experiment over the years and continue to tell people, no, you can not touch my hair. (Caveat, you can touch my hair if: 1) we’re making out, 2) you’re giving me a scalp massage, 3) there is a bug in my hair or it’s on fire. Please do not manufacture any of these situations just to touch my hair. Except the message part. I love a good massage.) I in no way look down on other black women for continuing to chemically relax their hair, but I’m glad that journey is over for me. One day I may post a follow up to this that goes a little more in depth about Marley twists, protective styles, colorism and maintaining European standard of beauty. But this post is already super long and there are plenty of phrases for you to drop into Google later tonight so I’ll leave off here for now.
“Don’t touch my hair
When it’s the feelings I wear
Don’t touch my soul
When it’s the rhythm I know
Don’t touch my crown…
They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know”
to note! if you are/have been a person who has touched my hair or asked to touch my hair rest assured that I hold absolutely no animosity towards you. this is a multi layered issue that I only briefly discuss in this post. the purpose of this post is to communicate 1/10th of my feelings and experiences on being a black woman transitioning from chemical relaxers into a world of twists, wigs and puffs. this is a very brief and shallow commentary on the issues at large of microagression, lack of representation, and ‘otherness’ I’ve felt and experienced and in no way attempts to vilify anyone I know personally who has ever asked about, touched, or commented on my hair. let’s all vow to do our part to expand representation of black women in the media, which includes magazine, online and visual media platforms in which natural hair is addressed in a carefree, informative and inclusive manner.