Saturday, February 10, 2007

pre-transition (a re-post from July 2006)

little girl with a press n curl
age eight i got a jheri curl
thirteen i got a relaxer
i was the source of so much laughter
fifteen when it all broke off
eighteen and i went all natural
february two thousand and two
i went and did what i had to do
cause it was time to change my life
to become the woman that i am inside
ninety seven dreadlocks all gone
looked in the mirror for the first time and saw that

i am not my hair
i am not this skin
i am not your expectations
i am not my hair
i am not this skin
i am a soul that lives within

Yeah, India, I am so feeling you girl! The chronology and the ages are a little different, but all in all, my story is the same.

My mommy has never known how to do hair. She has never done anything to her own and she was pretty much incapable of making mine look decent. Several thousand miles away from her nearest family member, she was left to her own miserably incompetent devices. So for the first six years of my life, I had an afro. Sometimes that afro was teeny-weeny. Other times it was fluffy and unkempt with a ribbon attached to a bobby pin jammed into it's side.

Suddenly, things changed...and more capable family members were close at hand. Let the braiding begin! At first, there were cornrows in creative and elaborate styles. I couldn't have been happier! Until the cornrow-er went out of business and was replaced with a single braid-er. Now don't get me wrong, I realize that singles can be attractive and stylish. Back in 1980, a $2 package of colored plastic beads was all it took to take a head full of individual, slave-style plaits to the next level.

Unfortunately my braider thought those plastic beads looked cheap and tacky, so instead, I got some antique wooden beads. (Yes, they were wood. Like from trees.) They were gold and there was one on each 3 inch braid. With aluminum foil on the bottom to keep them on. Needless to say, I wasn't off to a good start in my new city at my new school with my new hair. Second graders are mean!

Before long, St. Jerry, the patron saint of little brown girls with major hair issues, heard my cry. Yes, dear reader, the Jheri Curl was born! Even though the bearer of the wooden beads would not even entertain the idea, once I was deposited into my father's hot little hands for the summer, it was a done deal. Finally! Not only did I have hair that moved, but I had hair like all the other girls. Of course mine was significantly shorter than most (think Easy-E, circa 1988) but it was a step in the right direction, regardless.

Anybody who was a child of divorce can probably remember that there was one thing that your estranged parents used as a tool to get at one another. For my mother, it was my hair. Upon my return after the summer of Jheri Curl #1, she promptly cut off all of my hair. It was back to the teeny weeny afro look, once again. The next summer, my teeny weeny afro had once again evolved into plantation plaits and I was off to visit daddy again. And he marched me right over to the local beauty shop and paid for more of those silky (aka greasy) curls. And when I got back home my mother cut off all my hair again. By the time the summer rolled around, I had cycled through the now familiar stages of hair regrowth. I even graduated from the Medusa look to the popular but impractical press and curl. Hot combs are indeed hot, rollers are pretty uncomfortable and not being able to swim was torture. I looked forward to Curl #3.

In a devastating turn of events, my mother wised up and cut my hair pre-visit!

Well, not to be outdone, my daddy waited patiently for my hair to get just long enough to wrap around one of those little rods.....and just like that, I was cool again! And this time, my exhausted & battle weary mother surrendered. The curl stayed.

Fast forward to 1988. Unless you were a gangsta rapper, the curl was no longer the style of the stylish. And I still had mine. By now I had experienced not only the original Jheri Curl, but the California Curl and the Wave Nouveau. And I was trying desperately to convince my mother to let me get a relaxer. Nope. Not happening. So here I was again, same city, new school, same bad hair. Tenth graders are mean!

In a totally spontaneous act of teenage defiance, I freed myself. Yes, I took matters into my own hands and got rid of that stankin' curl once and for all. Unfortunately, like most spontaneous acts of teenage defiance, mine lacked proper planning & regard for long term consequences. I won't take you through all of the ugly details, but I will tell you there was a blow dryer and a pressing comb involved. During the 5 days that it took for all of my hair to fall completely out, my mother employed one of her most memorable vigilante parenting tactics - she did nothing. She wouldn't take me to the beauty shop for services of any kind. I had to go to my new school with my new adolescent hormones with my new look (think Tina Turner, circa 1986). Tenth graders are still mean!

So the updated version of the hair re-growth process includes a relaxer (finally), finger waves (brown gel and all), finger waves and pineapple waves (yes, at the same time) and the Nefertiti cut (I swear it was in style for a few weeks!). And then I discovered weave. (It was around this time that I removed my mother from the hair care process. Her work was done.)

Fast forward 16 years to right now. My hair issues are not nearly as dramatic. Thanks to my standing weekly appointment at Styling Divas, I really don't have to think about my hair much at all. Until summer rolls around (don't worry, y'all, I really am over the jheri curl) and I want to enjoy swimming and other water related fun. Like now, I'm preparing to drive 7 hours to the most romantic place on earth (by myself, thanks for asking) to frolic in Lake Michigan. So I get braids. Not the crappy, individual braids of yesteryear, but the sleek, stylish cornrow of the millennium.

As I pulled into the parking lot at my job yesterday, I chuckled to myself in anticipation of my co-workers' awkward compliments and the questions of the bolder ones...

"now, can you wash that?"

"what happened to your other hair?"

"can I touch it?"

And just like in the movies, right when I was imagining these upcoming scenes, India Arie's hot new track, "I Am Not My Hair" came on.

How poetic!

1 comment:

corene lavhan said...

This has to be one of the funniest! You Dad and your Mom are classic!