I just got my hair permed, so it’s about time I get around to that Good Hair post I’ve been meaning to do since I saw it in December.
But first, some background on my hair: I have “semi-good hair” that I usually wear in it’s natural curly/wavy state. However, I do, once in a while, perm it. Recently, I’ve been using the box perms because they are far cheaper, but they don’t do nearly as good a job as driving the two hours to my hairdresser (no hairdresser in my area is trained to handle Black hair). The perms I use now are “organic” and I basically go through this process to ease the subsequent process of brushing my hair. A perm means less knots and yanking, more control.
I don’t recall how young I was when my mom started perming my hair. Perhaps around 10? Since then, I have had a weave, braids, hot comb, cornrows and even a Jheri Curl.
My daughters have good hair. I know they have good hair, because once, at the supermarket, a nice Black lady stopped my White husband and my pregnant self and congratulated me on my choice of mate because it meant we would have beautiful children with good hair. Well, one has good hair and one has patches of good hair and a patch of really tight spirals that people think is adorable, but in fact, is a pain in the ass for both of us.
Yeahuh. Anyway, on to the documentary.
When Chris Rock’s daughter, Lola, came up to him crying and asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” the bewildered comic committed himself to search the ends of the earth and the depths of black culture to find out who had put that question into his little girl’s head!
Prior to watching, I hunted down some reviews and found a blog that condemned the documentary for not offering a conclusion. The author felt Rock had copped out at the end. I believe the author missed the point that this documentary was made for Rock’s daughters to help them to see what makes “good hair” and to allow them to come to their own conclusions when they are ready.
The film went over a lot of the facts I already knew, but revealed deeper things that I had not stopped to think about, even though they now seem obvious.
It was not shocking that women were sacrificing rent and food to pay for weaves and perms, or that children as young as four were being subjected to these harsh chemicals.
What was most striking to me was the idea of intimacy and the loss that comes from the fact that Black women who go through these processes do not like having their hair touched. Permed or unpermed, my husband likes to play in my hair. Rock interviewed some men who were fearfully candid about the fact that this is not possible with some of their significant others. I like to play with my girls’ hair too and will run my hands through my husband’s hair when it’s not moussed and spiky. These are moments of intimacy that I take for granted. The men interviewed joked about this notion, but it seemed, underneath, that they were truly saddened by this restriction.
The various subjects Rock covered in the documentary circled around the Bronner Brothers Hair Show and its competitors. This provided the entertainment aspect of the film, but did not necessarily deliver any further insight – except, perhaps, for the one White hairdresser whom his clients called “The Hair Whisperer.” He is the falmboyantly stereotypical gay hairdresser who probably isn’t gay and doesn’t understand why people think he is. The thing is, I’ve had a similar hair dresser and he too whispered to my hair. He made it so soft and straight – without chemicals or even a hot comb – that I spent the drive home with my head hanging out the window so I could feel the wind whipping through my hair.
There were many other interesting facts presented about the Black hair industry, most of which make me cringe because so much of it represents a level of opression and a denial of our natural beauty. The kind of opression that makes people condemn a star for cutting her hair or say hateful things about the condition of child’s hair, believing her parents have done her a cultural disservice by not keeping her hair nice and neat like the Obama children.
Hollywood still has many stars who cling to the notion of having good hair – some of whom were interviewed for the documentary, and of course, this influences the public. Black hair and its “proper” treatment is an intrinsic part of (North) American culture. Fortunately, there are a few who go against the grain and aren’t afraid to be proud of what they were born with.