Reflecting on the Meaning of 'Good Hair' for Black Women: Avis Jones-DeWeever
41, Woodbridge, research director
My earliest hair memory was sitting in front of the oven and dreading the ritual of getting the hair pressed with the two jar tops over my ears [to protect them]. And my mother takes the hot comb and that sound, sizzzzzzzzzzzz! The heat and the pain of getting burned from time to time. The little torture that black girls go through in terms of the first experience -- pre-perm -- in an attempt to straighten their hair.
Then we eventually graduated to an actual hairdresser, where you still had the hot-comb experience. Hold your ears back. You were on edge all the time. You could feel the heat as the comb approached your scalp. Not only could you feel it, you could hear your hair literally frying as they are pulling the comb through. The heat of your hair touches your face or neck. It's hot. It's not comfortable. It has to be done quite often to maintain the effect.
I can't remember a time when I did not hear the phrase "good hair." For me it was my father who had the quote-unquote good hair. Straight. A little curly. To go to church on Sunday he would put Vaseline on it and brush it. I remember going through that time in early childhood thinking, "Wow. Why couldn't my hair be like my dad's hair?" Like that side of the family. Why couldn't I have that?
I was very proud of my blackness. Even when I was little, people said I was like a female version of Michael from "Good Times." I was . . . unapologetically black. [But] even with that loving of myself and my heritage, my African-ness, I still had those issues with appearance, where I still wanted that wavy, textured hair, where I still questioned the beauty of my full lips and my full nose. It took me a little longer to grow into loving those things.