A lot of emotion and cultural and social connotations are caught up in hair – from the colour of it, to how it’s cut and styled. Hair has significance. The state of it tells others how healthy we are, whether we spend a lot of time on our coifs, or prefer the ease that may come from a shorter do, and if we’re creative, iconoclasts, or conventional.
For women, in particular, hair also signifies beauty. It’s a woman’s calling card. Even the Bible makes reference to it: 1 Corinthians 11:15 – But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given her for a covering. (King James version). Hair in many cultures is a woman’s crowning glory – even her greatness.
We’ve all seen the myriad ads for shampoos and conditioners with women with long, shiny and swishy hair – Pantene hair I call it – informing us of what our own hair should do and what it should look like. It’s unrealistic of course to think that the look can be replicated in real life without the assistance of a hair and makeup team and strategically placed fans, but women the world over buy the products that promise to make our hair as fabulous as what we see on screen.
But what are you to do if your hair isn’t swishy and doesn’t match the cultural norm? Well, for so many, it means doing everything and anything against your own hair’s nature for various reasons: from ease (if you’re naturally curly-haired it can be nice to comb one’s hair from root to tip with nary a knot or tear) to fulfilling cultural norms of “good” or “respectable” hair. Brazilian blow outs or keratin straighteners, Japanese straighteners, and chemical relaxers for women of African descent all “tame” and bring hair into “conformity”.
There comes a point though for some women when they just get plain tired of “the process”. Chemical straighteners can wreak havoc on a sensitive scalp; and for any of you who have watched, or are familiar with Chris Rock’s film Good Hair, where he shows the actual chemical composition of a relaxer, well, you know it’s frightening to think that a product that you put on your scalp can also eat through an aluminum can!
Not long ago, I had an enlightening conversation with a friend who had been relaxer-free for several years. One thing she said that resonated with me referred to the prospective dangers associated with the various chemicals we use – for our hair and our skin. She said: “If I become ill, with cancer or some other illness, I want the cause to be a mystery.”
It made a lot of sense to me, especially given the dietary changes I had made in recent years- eschewing meat, etc. Being relaxer-free meant being free from products with compounds I can’t pronounce. And it also meant being free from social conventions and allowing my hair to do it’s own unique thing – kinky, curly, or fro-like depending on its mood – defying what the broader society may deem as “proper” and “professional”.
My intention isn’t to sound high and mighty or self-righteous given that it’s only been a week since I cut off my straight, relaxed ends. I’m not in a position to tell any other woman what to do; there’s no single choice or style or method that all women (especially those of the curly variety) should abide by. Hair is personal and the decisions made with regard to its treatment and care are individual choices.
I loved my relaxer when I had it – I just outgrew it. Now I’m head over heels and falling in love with my curly hair – my real crown of glory. I missed it!