Friday, February 19, 2010

It's Not Just Us Sistas- Part II

Giddel with her hair straightened and cut into the perfect, layered bob.

In “It’s Not Just Us Sistas”, Rajul, Dawn and Amy (hilariously) shared their hair stories. In this installment, my best friend Giddel and good friend Robyn get their turns to assure us that women of every color, ethnicity and background have at one time or the other, waged war on their tresses.

Giddel (who was the object of my gushy BFF Valentine on Sunday), is Puerto Rican and has a head full of very thick, soft curls. From the time we met back in high school, I always loved her hair. Back then, she thickly coated her hair in gel, an easy, but sometimes damaging (if the gel contained alcohol) fix to get her sometimes unruly hair to behave. The downside- her hair was often crunchy, like many Curly Sues in the 80’s & 90’s. I must say there have been major improvements in hair products lately.

Anyway, Giddel’s most horrifying hair memory wasn’t the crunch of pulling her hair back, but a hair cut that haunts her since childhood. “My father decided that he would have some random friend of his cut my hair when I was about 4 and that person jacked up my hair so bad that my mother had to have my hair cut very short. As a result of that incident, at around 5 or 6 years of age I was mistaken for a boy while participating in a Girl Scout activity. I’ll never forget that, that was the first time I had ever been insulted and didn’t know what to do with myself except cry of course.” Unfortunately, she isn’t exaggerating about that cut. She allowed me ONCE and only ONCE to see a picture of her from that time period. She was tiny, standing with a large group of kids in a park in Philadelphia. I stared for a minute, scanning the little faces, playing “Where’s Waldo” looking for a munchkin version of my best friend. I had to admit, I didn’t see her… because, well, she really looked like a him. It was at that point I saw the family resemblance between Gi Gi and her younger brother Carlos. Quite unfortunate.

Wearing her hair in its naturally curly state (with good product), Giddel posed with her hubby David while celebrating their 1st anniversary.

The bad hair days didn’t end there, either. “At around 10 or 11 years old, my mother , who never knew what to do with my hair, decided she would try and hold my hair out of my face with barrettes -you know the little plastic ones that came in bright colors- so she could keep It loose. Since my hair was wet at the time it worked but once it dried it was the worse sight ever, my hair puffed into an untamed afro and the barrettes ended up suspended 2 to 3 inches above my forehead. Yeah that was fun and unfortunately there’s a picture to remind me of it.” She’s never let me see this one, not even ONCE! I guess there are some things that must remain hidden. By the time we met, she was 14 and had moved into the aforementioned gel stage. I soon did her the “favor” of introducing her to a plug-in hot comb (I was relaxer-free at this point, so I figured I’d share whatever advice I could). She eventually learned heat could tame the waves, but could also cause damage: I “never had problems with hair loss, but [experienced] a lot of damage from using styling products and a lot of heat from styling tools. It took FOREVER to get rid of the horrendous amount of damage I did to my hair.” One product she never tried: chemical relaxers thanks to “a cousin who told me my hair would fall out if I tried them when I was about 8 years old.” I wish I had listened to my cousin Velvet who told me to stay away from the creamy crack when I was a girl. But that’s my hair story…

After all the hair blunders, Giddel has been scared straight- and curly- and only uses proper products and is careful with styling tools. “I prefer my hair straight when it is cut short but curly when it's long. To straighten I need to blow dry it with a round bristled brush in small sections -don’t forget the straightening serum to help tame the frizz! - and once that is done go back over it with a flat iron to set it. I defiantly need to use a good conditioner designed for my curls, Redken Fresh curls has become my favorite. Conditions and doesn’t leave behind any residue that would make my hair look greasy.” Gi Gi has worn her hair very long (so long when straightened she could sit on it) and stylishly short (my fav was a Rihanna-during-the-“Umbrella”-era cut she had last year). “I love short hair as much as I love long hair. Having the option to have either of the two is enjoyable! And when my hair is short it’s easier to maintain and versatile as well, if I want to go long I can just have a good weave put in!” She’s all for adding hair, not just for herself but any women who wants to play with her look: “I am not against wigs or weaves. I feel that sometimes you want to achieve a certain look but you cannot with your own hair or you just don’t feel like putting in the time and effort to do so. It gives you another avenue for creativity with your look.”

Giddel and David with their children (and my godkids) Benaiah and little Sapphira.

I asked her point blank if she felt ethnic women who dye their hair blonde or add extensions are denying their true selves. “Honestly, what is ‘Keeping it Real’ anyway?” Good question, my friend, one that has launched innumerable debates and countless African American Studies courses throughout the country for decades. Gi Gi continued, “When a woman decides that she wants to wear a weave in her hair, does that make her any less of a woman? Does it lower her IQ? Those individuals, who think it necessary to make that sort of comment, to me, are just looking for something to complain about. The majority of women who use this styling medium use it for their own satisfaction. Many women that are in the public eye use hair weaves to maintain or create a certain look and none would be the wiser. To me, as long as the weave is done to compliment the woman who is wearing it then she is definitely being ‘real’ to herself.”

I asked, “Well, are they denying their heritage? Are they ‘trying to be white’?” She responded, “Who’s ‘trying to be white’? Why is it that having the option to wear your hair straight suddenly becomes an issue of race? What’s interesting is that there are some women whose hair is so kinky and coarse that straightening becomes a necessity to manage it. If she decided not to straighten it she would be criticized for having ‘bad hair’. And those women whose hair is naturally straight spend hours trying to put curls in their hair that will only fall out a few hours later, are they ‘trying’ to be black or Hispanic? No, it’s just a matter of personal preference.”

When Gi Gi wants to leave her hair in the hands of an excellent professional, she takes a very long drive from her home in Virginia to her cousin’s salon in Philadelphia. This might seem extreme, but she has her reasons. “Having moved to another state recently has made finding a salon with personnel who really know how to work with my hair… a challenge. I had been told by a stylist that she almost never sees someone with my hair type and when the other stylist who was working on my hair decided to ‘teach’ her how to straighten my hair type *sigh* that was the worst blow dry I had ever received. Because of that I’m willing to, and have already done, drive 4 hours to my previous place back home just to get a good hair cut.” Dirty Jerz might have its problems- pollution, high car insurance, even higher taxes, corrupt politicos and the entire cast of “The Jersey Shore”- but we do have a positive in an excessive amount of salons and beauty parlors… and being sandwiched between Manhattan and Philly with even more choices for follicle treatments.

Me, Gi Gi, Robyn & our friend Meghan (miss you!) on my 25th birthday. Yes, Gi Gi & Rob know each other. You can read about our time in employment hell together here. Alisha: Bringing great people together.

One of the first things I noticed about Robyn, who I met in college where we both worked as peer counselors/mentors to freshmen, was her long, dark, thick curly hair. I also noticed that although she was always professional in our office, this little girl (we’re both only about 5’2) had a mouth like a sailor and had a quick comeback to any diss someone might try to throw at her. So lady-like, yet tough… Like Charlotte York, sans the WASPiness, with a Jersey girl attitude.

At that point, a then 19 year old Robyn, who owes her curly mane to her Greek father, used gel, and like Giddel, had crunchy hair. And like Gi Gi, had travelled a bumpy course through childhood trying to manage her curls. “Having curly hair as a kid, you are automatically different. I think it was more of a confidence issue I had, rather than anyone actually teasing me for that at least....I've just had some BAD haircuts, usually as the result of trying to have my hair like that of the straight-haired girls. There was the bob in 7th grade that caused my hair dresser to have to shave the entire bottom layer so that it wouldn't stick out too much.” Ahhh! She SHAVED your head for a bob??? Although I haven’t seen any pictures of her from this time period, methinks Rob probably looked like a mushroom. Back in the 90’s, I went to school with a few girls who thought they had a bob but actually looked like Toad from Super Mario Bros.

Little Robyn at a birthday party, hair teased to Jersey girl-mall high perfection.

She continued, “Then there were the bangs that were way too thick and refused to stay straight.” (Hmm, maybe she should’ve tried the chemical straightner Amy did back in the 80’s?) “There was the mullet-esque cut my mom gave me all through elementary school.” (OH NO! Was this mullet like, Joan Jett or Billy Ray Cyrus? I guess either wouldn’t have been too great when most girls wanted to look like Punky Brewster.) “My personal fav was the cut I know affectionately as ‘The Jesus’. I was going for Jennifer Aniston as ‘Rachel’ and ended up looking like the Son of God...not a confidence booster for an 8th grader!!!” Wow. No, I’ll have to agree, no teen girl wants to look like The Christ.

Robyn, with curls, and her life long best friend, Kimmy. (Hi Kimmy!)

After all that, amazingly, most of the time, Robyn now wears her hair straight. Through many a trial and error, she has learned what works best for her hair. “I use a wet/dry straightening iron. When I was younger my hair stylist decided to make an experiment of me and tried every kind of chemical straightener on me -including the stuff they use only on Black Needless to say- see straightening iron above- it didn't work.” I’d like to add here, that it might seem shocking that a box of Creme of Nature didn’t work on a white girl’s hair, but as it turns out, relaxers don’t always take. Period. You can check out this story from Black Girl with Long Hair to read about it. This also explains why she couldn’t go the Amy-route with her bangs.

Mwah! Dan plants a big one on his lovely bride, Robyn, who has mastered blowing out her own hair (love the bangs).

After the series of bad cuts, she usually maintains length: “Longer is best for me b/c then I have the option for curly or straight. If I let my hair go Au natural when it's curly I look like an electrified poodle.” At the salon, “I've never really noticed an ethnic distinction. I am always on the hunt for someone who knows how to handle curls though.” Rob believes ladies should have the option to play around with their hair, to do “what makes them feel good about themselves -although I do think Kate Gosselin looks crazy with those ‘highlights’.” Agreed. I never understood the zebra method of hair coloring myself. And if I might stay on the subject of Ms. Gosselin, her infamous haircut that looked like a reverse mullet was bad. But now that her $7,000.00 extensions have turned and look like a horse’s mane, I’m starting to miss that buzz cut. Please note Giddel’s comment above about weave complimenting the wearer.

Despite all the battles, Robyn has come to love her hair. She no longer envies the “straight-haired girls”. “As much as I've fought my hair all these years, I would still pick my own. I love the versatility that it allows me...straight, curly, bangs, no bangs, half back, fully back, parted to the side, parted in the middle...the list goes on...”

Ahh, versatility. All the ladies featured in “Hair Stories” have prized it. The next group of women who will share their stories will discuss the length- and, um, short- they go through to achieve change. That’s right, next up, we’ll look at the ladies rocking weaves, wigs and extensions.


Giddel said...

I love this! the ongoing saga of women's hair..
[sidebar] Yay I'm in the same article with Robyn!!

Alisha De Freitas said...

Lol, glad you loved it! I have to admit, you two are my favs. It was fun to write.

I hope everyone reading it gets that all of us have our own struggles, no matter how curly, straight, thick, thin or whatever our hair might be. But I believe no one has "bad hair." It's all different, but beautiful.

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