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Good Hair (2009); And My Transitioning to Natural Hair

May 9, 2013

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I’ve had a relaxer nearly my whole life. As a black female growing up in an inner city, it’s just something you do, whether by choice or not. I vaguely remember the first time I received a relaxer. The memory remains in broken pieces almost like a nightmare. I was about 4, maybe 5 years old at my older cousin’s house at the behest of my mother. I vaguely recall the process itself of having the relaxer applied to my scalp, but the aftermath of screaming to the top of my lungs in pain because my scalp burned so badly always stands out. I had to be chased around the house before the perm could even be washed out. This pivotal moment was just the first in an ongoing cycle I’ve endured for most of my life.

The steps of getting a relaxer, or perm, is as follows: First, do not, and I repeat, do NOT scratch your scalp for at least two days prior to getting a relaxer. This prevents any chance of a chemical burn and furthermore the appearance of scabs or tenderness on the scalp afterwards. Patting one’s head is an acceptable substitution, but try going a few hours without scratching your scalp and see how difficult that truly is. Next, sit for about 20 to 30 minutes while the relaxer is distributed evenly throughout the hair. God help you if you’ve slipped up and scratched. In this instance, just grit your teeth, squeeze your eyes close, and bare the pain, it’ll be over soon. Now, have the relaxer washed out and enjoy the sensation of water feeling like needles stabbing every inch of your skull. If your stylist is gentle, the rinse won’t be terrible and may actually feel soothing upon applying the 2nd of 3rd lather of shampoo. Last, have your hair styled and dried, then sit back and smile at the lustrous, bone straight mane that now sits at the crown on your body.


It’s a hell of process, but the result of straight hair is worth it. However, recently I’ve been desiring a change. I’m at a quarter of a century in my life and I’m just now realizing that I’m tired of spending close to $100 that I don’t have to endure a process that’s tedious and painful. I’m at a stage in my life where I think… no, I know that I’m ready to go natural. The thought of going natural has been terrifying. It’s something that I’ve debated heavily for the past year, teetering back and forth between if I’m actually ready to go through with it or not. Thankfully, with the support of my lover, friends, and reluctant mother, followed by watching Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, I think I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be.

I’m a firm believer that all things happen for a reason and Good Hair couldn’t have come into my life at a more perfect time. I’ve known of its existence since it was set to release in 2009, but for one reason or another I just never got the opportunity to actually see it. Yet, the universe allowed for situations to line up in my favor recently, and a good friend and co-worker, whose beautiful natural hair I envy, restarted the conversation we had months before about me going natural. “What are you waiting on?” She wanted to know. The excuses were endless: what if I don’t look good with an afro? What if my head is too big? What if my hair is just as hard to manage in its natural state then it is now? What will prospective bosses or people in future work environments think about my hair? Will I get the same amount of respect from others with natural “nappy” hair that I get with straight “acceptable” hair? These were questions all aiding my initial plan to wait on something life changing to happen before I actually went through with it. “If my boyfriend and I broke up,” I told myself, “then that would be my starting reason to cut all hair off to go natural.” My friend assured me that I was being a scared little pansy, and that my fears were unwarranted. She told me that I should let “the big chop” of all my relaxed hair be my life changing event. “After all,” she assured me, “it’s just hair.”


Ester Rolle as Florida Evans. A woman and style I’ve admired my whole life.

After that conversation I informed all my natural co-workers that I’d soon be joining them. One of my dreadlocked co-workers rolled her eyes when I told her, dubious to my claim as almost a year earlier I had said the exact same thing. Later in the day she quoted a line from Good Hair, in which I told her I had yet to see. She was shocked. “You’ve never seen Good Hair!?” she yelled. The day passed and the night rolled in as I got dinner with a friend. Excited about my plans, I revealed to him that I was going natural. He started discussing hair and mentioned that he learned his fine, silky Indian hair was the most coveted hair for black women, a fact I already knew as weaves in my culture are a normality. He said that he learned this tidbit from Good Hair to which for the 2nd time that day I had to shamefully admit that I had never seen. “You’ve never seen Good Hair!?” he yelled at me, then proceeded to call Videodrome to ask the counter to reserve it.

The night ended with my friend, boyfriend, and I huddled in my living room as I finally watched Good Hair for the first time. It was fabulous. Comedian and social commentating genius Chris Rock documents the trials that black women go through for the upkeep of hair. Put together in a hyper realistic style that marries stock footage with talking head interviews, on-site direct interviews, scientific experiments, and behind the scenes footage, Rock explores nearly every aspect of the black hair care world to investigate its history, social function, the politics of black hair products, and the spectacle of hair fairs and shows. The result is an insightful documentary that introduces others to the struggle black women knowingly take to keep up our hair. As Rock shows, some of us are well aware of the cons of having straight hair, but choose the pain for beauty. While others have decided against the norm and choose natural. Good Hair affirms that getting relaxers, weaves, wigs, and so on are purely personal choices by means of preference. And with age, my preference has changed.

Solange Knowles sporting the her natural hair in all its beauty.

Solange Knowles sporting her natural hair in all its glory.

After seeing Good Hair my mind was made, although the fear of change is still imminent within me. I’m going natural. Not immediately, but soon. I didn’t need Good Hair to teach me relaxers were bad for my scalp, my years of getting scabs from chemical burns taught me that. I didn’t need Good Hair to teach me where weaves came from and to what extent black women go through to look perfectly maintained. Nevertheless, what Good Hair did was remind me of the ridiculous fact that my hair in its natural state is not viewed as beautiful or attractive by the standards of most people be it Black, White, or Asian, and for years, myself.

I’ve damaged my hair long enough throughout the years in an attempt to look acceptable within society and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of seeing my hair shed in large amounts at the first sign of new growth. I’m tired of feeling that even with straight relaxed hair, my hair isn’t beautiful. I’m tired of letting magazines and social norms decide what’s attractive or what’s not. I want my hair to run wild, big and powerful. Will others judge me? Will I regret my decision? Possibly, but I no longer care. At the end of the day, it’s just hair.

The lovely French actress Mbissine  Thérèse Diop in  Black Girl (1966).

The beautiful French actress Mbissine Thérèse Diop in Black Girl (1966).

Read a less personal, critical analysis of Good Hair over at Pretty Clever Films.

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