Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Not Just Us Sistas...

Rajul: free-spirited, curly-haired Manhattanite writer with an awesome collection of shoes. Yes, she is an Indian-American Carrie Bradshaw.

In past Hair Stories, I shared my childhood hair issues, mothers discussed their hair and the legacy of self-pride they were striving to pass on to their daughters, and natural women revealed why they stay away from chemical straighteners. Relaxed, curly, kinky or nappy, the Sisters opened up about how they know drama better than TNT.

Thing is, it’s not just us. When I broached the topic to ladies of others ethnicities, they all had horror stories to tell. Good Hair aside, Black girls aren’t the only ones who’ve struggled with their tresses.

My friend Rajul, who I’ve called “Jewel” since botching her actual name back in a poetry class we had the good fortune of taking together in college, has a head full of shiny thick ringlets. I remember sitting across from Jewel, girl crushing on her perfect hair, but as it turns out, she didn’t always feel the self-follicle love.

“I prefer my natural curls now, because I realize that they're exotic and sexy, rather than awkward and messy like they used to be before I learned to use product. But growing up, I was always told that I look neater and classier with straight hair. I get disappointed when people think that natty hair equals bohemian and free-spirited and straight hair equals uptight and white washed. Don't judge a female by her cover! I know some wild a** b-yotches with pin-straight manes.” For Jewel, either style is right depending on how she feels that day. “When I do blow it out, it takes a long time but it's worth it when I feel like switching up my look and my energy.” No relaxers, though. “Chem straighteners are a no-go. I've seen my friends' hair thin and fall from using them. If it ain't broke, don't fix it… I mostly learned from my girls' experiences with Japanese hair straightening. Madddd shedding.”

So how does she keep her hair looking so great? “I frequent the Dominican spots since my coarse, curly hair is most similar to theirs. They can really hold their own over there. They can do anyone and everyone's hair. And they do it well, mami.” At home, she keeps up a healthy hair regimen as well. (I remember her telling me over a dinner date at Olive Garden a few years ago how she walks around with a big curly 'fro on Saturdays while staying with her parents in Jersey, just to let her hair de-stress.) “Indian chicks swear by coconut and almond oil. Massaging it into the scalp stimulates growth and helps make hair softer. I’ve put a lot of people on. Just make sure you wash it out well. Our hair tends to get greasy quickly, regardless of how coarse it is.”

Rajul’s take on other women’s hair preferences is just as free-spirited as she is. On short hair versus long: “Depends on your facial structure. I've seen that short cuts compliment more delicate features - a la Nia Long and Halle Berry.” On highlights, coloring and dyes: “I think it's more like an expression of creativity ….” She cautions, though: “Don't walk into a board room meeting with brown skin and a Lil’ Kim wig. As women, we can stretch the truth but we can't break it.”

Dawn, mother of six (!). Yes, you read that correctly. SIX. And yeah, she knows she's hot.

The truth for Dawn, mom to a beautiful brood of six, is flexibility. Of Italian-American descent, Dawn changes her naturally “wavy/ semi-curly”, dark hair like nature changes seasons. To straighten it, she will usually add sheen in a spray for frizz control, use... the blow dryer and minimal use of flat ironing.” Like Jewel, she steers clear of chemical straighteners, but did confess to using a curly perm as a teen (Dawn, babe, why’d you use a curly perm when your hair is already curly? Were you looking to have a ‘fro? Just curious… love you.) She did her worse hair damage during that time period via color, though: “I was a 19 year old with dark brunette hair. I bought blonde, over the counter hair color. Being that my natural color was already dark, the blonde hair color only turned my hair a lighter shade of brown. I bought an additional box of blonde hair dye and dyed my hair again in the same day. I again, got similar results. Bought again, for the third time, another box of hair dye. This time however, in a shade of platinum blonde!” Uh oh… we all know where this is headed…

“Needless to say, my hair never reached the blonde that I desired. On the contrary, it turned the brightest shade of orange!! For a week I was called ‘carrot top’ by my co-workers. Until I finally went to a professional salon only to be told that my hair could not be chemically treated for at least six months or it would all fall out. They cut my hair length to the nape of my neck which the day before was down to the middle of my back! A month later, I went to another salon and had them dye it back to brown!!” Yikes!

Now older and wiser, Dawn has mastered color changes. “Highlights in my case are used to camouflage a lot of the gray hair that I already have. Therefore, I don’t have to run to the salon every four weeks to get a touch up. The highlights blend better with my skin tone as well as the blonde color against my face makes me look younger and more youthful! High lighting my hair doesn’t make me fake. It enhances my quality features, makes me feel good and at 41 years old and a mother of six children, keeps me looking fresh and admired by many for my youthfulness!” With all the coloring Dawn makes sure to condition her hair, which she admits is expensive, but worth it. She compares the change of hairstyles with different outfits: “Just like changing your clothes from pants to skirts... It enables one’s self greater option, diversity and variety!”

Amy & her two "monkeys" as she calls them. I see nothing plain about either of these beautiful children. :-)

Variety isn’t everyone’s spice of life. Amy, mom to two cutie pies and like me, a former English major, has long, thick brown ringlets, and hardly ever straightens her hair. (I personally think it’s super healthy because of it… I’ve had the urge to just run up to her and play in her hair for years, but then she’d think I’m insane, and I am not. Maybe just a little touched.) I wear my hair curly 99% of the time so that the 1% when I straighten it (using a flat iron now, when I was younger it was a chemical straightener for my bangs ONLY as it was the 80s and the big curly hair was actually THE IN THING), it makes me feel glam and fabulous!”

Judging by some recent music videos, big curly hair is back in again. Unfortunately, so are scary angular shoulder pads (I’m looking at you Rihanna), but back on to the topic of hair. Amy, who is of Jewish descent, hasn’t always had it easy being a Curly Sue. “I once had a boy ask me if I used ‘jheri curl' because it was the only insult he could think of and he was an idiot. I did not know good product, so I had a ton of frizz and limited curl as a kid. I hated when my mom cut it short, I looked like Jerry Seinfeld...not a good look for a girl in 6th grade! I loved the 'bob' I wore for my bat mitzvah, and since then I have always worn it long.”

While she prefers to keep her hair long and curly, she’s all for other ladies experimenting. “If wearing fake hair makes you feel better about yourself, then I am all for it. Women have enough things to bring down their self confidence, I am all for something that will boost it. But everyone with a wig or weave should have a good friend who can tell them if they look like a fool. (Same thing for clothing, but that is another blog).” Indeed, Amy, but I do wish someone would have a little sit down with Ri Ri about the shoulder pad thingy. Why was looking like a line backer ever considered sexy? Why is it once again popular? Yes, yes, another blog, another blog.

“My daughter has stick straight hair and she always calls it her ‘plain’ hair... oh, what i wouldn't have given for ‘plain’ hair growing up,” Amy shared. “When I straighten it, it's awesome for a day or two, but when I let it go curly again, I see ME in the mirror. At my wedding, I had a huge ringlet escape my bun and in a profile shot you can see the rebellious curl dangling as I kissed my new husband and it is one of his favorite pictures because of that silly curl. After a haircut, my husband will take a ringed curl and wrap it around his finger and tell me how much he loves the bouncy curls. It’s me, rainy-day frizz and all. So truthfully, I have come to love my curls.”

It’s amazing how much our hair can be a reflection of our personalities- free-spirited, ever-progressing, sweetly reliable. Of course, it still is just hair, and as Jewel noted, you can’t judge simply by appearances. She sums it up this way: “Hair is important, but at the end of the day, we've got bigger fish to fry.” Amen, sister! Like putting an end to all the 80s fashion faux pas that are coming back in style. If we don’t stop this thing now, it will spread to our hair… does anyone really want to look like a member of “A Flock of Seagulls”?

Liked this article? Well, there’s more to come in part 2!


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