The embarrassing ordeal has left Brown with some missing baby hairs, bald patches that are expected to recover and a much shorter hairstyle that’s nowhere near the amount of inches she had with her month-long braid.
Over the next six weeks, Brown can’t put much else on her scalp except for a concoction created by a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based plastic surgeon who removed the glue from her hair.
“At this point, I’m scared to put a relaxer on my hair,” she told The Washington Post in an interview, adding that she has decided to “go natural” and to “embrace the naturalness” of her hair.
Brown’s saga, which first went viral on social media and then became national news, appealed to some Black people who still shudder at the thought of a relaxer or the sizzling pain of a hot comb that got too close to skin — memories that have led many Black women to sport their own kinks and curls. Plenty of people ridiculed and got their belly laughs at Brown’s misfortune, but there was a sense of community among others, especially Black people who sought to shield her from being a spectacle of idiocy. The extreme she went to for zero flyaways is very unusual, but the desired outcome is as old as Black people’s time in a country that often mocked how they look, experts say.
The mother of five said she was familiar with Gorilla Glue before her very unfortunate mistake, using it often around her Louisiana home for tasks such as setting up Christmas decorations.
She figured she could just spray it on her hair and wash it out once she got home that day.
Days turned into a week before she shamefully admitted to her mother what she had done. That week became a month before she went to social media to seek help, she said.
“The only reason why I took it to social media is because we ran out of things to do,” she said. “I figured somebody out there would be able to tell me what to do. I never thought my little girl would say, ‘Ma, your video has a million views.’ ”
Brown’s scalp felt inflamed with the sensation of itchy, tiny bites she couldn’t scratch or pat away because her hair was too bonded. Her extension braid felt like it was getting tighter and heavier with each day.
She had to console one of her young daughters, who she said endured taunts from other children making fun of her mother. Brown had to keep under control the angst of possibly never running her fingers through her hair again for the sake of the children who came to her day care, Tessica’s Little Angels Learning Academy.
Neal Lester said he initially thought Brown’s problem was a prank, but as he continued to follow the story, he said it reminded him of all the ways Black Americans have used unusual hair products to manipulate or style their hair.
“I thought of Malcolm X and his experience with the conk,” said the Foundation Professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University, referring to the hair straightener made of lye, eggs and potatoes used by many Black people in the earlier and middle part of the 20th century. “That straightening started with enslaved people using axle wheel grease and dirty dishwasher with oil.”
Enslaved men used axle wheel grease as a means to dye their hair or temporarily straighten it, and the women would use butter, fat from bacon or grease from geese to care for their hair, according to “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.”
“Sometimes a piece of cloth warmed over a flame would be pulled across the head and worn for a short while to stretch the curls out,” authors Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps wrote.
Conversations about hair, especially Black hair, continue to evolve, Lester said, pointing to how Olympian Gabby Douglas was talked about when her edges weren’t slick enough for some or the criticism lodged at superstar Beyoncé for allowing her oldest daughter’s curls and kinks to do their own thing.
Brown’s ordeal ended last week when plastic surgeon Michael K. Obeng offered to remove the glue with medical grade adhesive remover, aloe vera, olive oil and some acetone at no cost, TMZ reported.
Obeng couldn’t be reached for comment.
Brown said reports of her suing Gorilla Glue are untrue.
“The fact that this Black doctor didn’t charge her for doing this, that to me is gratifying on some level,” Lester said. “It kind of restored my faith.”
The feeling of running her fingers through her scalp for the first time after more than a month was indescribable, she said.
“I’m going to embrace the naturalness of my hair. I am not my hair,” she said. “I am going to encourage everybody not to go to extremes to make themselves look beautiful.”
That will come with another journey that is sure to include blow dryers and flat irons for a “silk press” that will likely struggle in the Louisiana heat.
“The thing is, I’ve never liked natural hair,” Brown said, adding that she never really liked the look of kinks and curls but that her circumstances might change that.
Black women’s hair choices are often labeled as self-hate or Afrocentric with no in between, said Kristin Denise Rowe, professor of American studies at California State University at Fullerton.
“Many of us have not been in that particular predicament, but we know what it’s like to do something crazy … to get it to lay a certain way, such as toothbrushes for our baby hair,” she said.
Black women’s hair care has long been discussed like it’s a freak show, with comments about how much they spend on straightening treatments or hair extensions, Rowe said. That’s missing a lot of nuance about how these things come to be cultural practices, Rowe said.
“In reality, what’s crazy is anti-Black notions of beauty and professionalism and notions of what’s appropriate,” she said.
Grooming standards in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy have recently been updated to include the styles many Black women wear to protect their natural hair, and just seven states have passed the Crown Act, a law that seeks to put an end to hair discrimination.
“We know we exist in a society where we’re constantly being told it’s not right now,” Rowe said of the sector of support for Brown.
For now, Brown is trying to get the more than $23,000 raised for her on GoFundMe since people have alerted the company she doesn’t need the money.
A GoFundMe spokesperson said that before the withdrawal, Brown has to clearly state on the campaign page how she intends to use the funds. She plans to donate $20,000 to a reconstructive charity founded by Obeng, with the remainder going to three families in St. Bernard Parish, La.
“People are making fun of it,” she said. “I only came on there for somebody to help.”