I’m obsessed with my hair.
Once I cracked eggshells over my head as a do-it-yourself, organic conditioner. In the nightly battle of sleep versus discomfort, hair wins as I contort my neck to protect my twist-out. I spend so much time in a stylist’s seat, I should start getting my mail forwarded there.
I care too much about my hair, and I’m not the only one.
“I think hair has so much meaning to us as black women,” said Tiffani Greenaway, a blogger and mother living in New York City. “We place so much weight on it whether it is natural, or straight, or in a weave and we’re the ones who care the most about it. No one else makes it an issue.”
Recently, the issue has been Gabby Douglas’s edges.
“Did I choose my hair texture? No. I’m grateful for having this hair on my head,” Douglas told reporters in Rio de Janeiro. “When you read that hurtful stuff you’re like ‘Okay, wow.'”
Douglas sweats while competing for Olympic medals, and apparently for some people on social media, it has become a quadrennial activity to mock her hair. While many black people have come out in support for Douglas, the criticism started at home — by black people. This is an immature fixation that borders on something even more harmful.
Can a sista sweat in peace?
“It’s just silly. These young ladies having to worry about the way they appear while they’re doing a sporting event,” said John Lewis, a 20-year Air Force veteran who raised two kinky-haired daughters. “It’s not good enough that they’re competing, but I guess they somehow have to live up to some kind of style standard.”
Rachel Dion Stokes has styled hair for 20 years in Kansas City, Mo. Her African-American clients are too unique to characterize simply – much like her own funky frizzies: cornrows in front and a Pam Grier-inspired Afro up top. Even so, Stokes has recognized how many women have prioritized hair over health.
“I don’t know what it is about black women and working out,” said Stokes, who noticed some mocking about Douglas and her hair on social media. “There are some that don’t care. I know some black women who are really more into their health and they cut their hair off. They wanted the freedom to work out and better themselves. Then there are some, and it’s not even a thought to go to the gym, because they are more focused on their hair and being quote-unquote ‘slayed.’”
We all know Beyoncé is ‘slayed,’ but spoiler alert: She didn’t wake up like this. Neither did the rest of us.
Our hair is complex. Well-defined wavy. Corkscrew-curly. Chemically-enhanced straight. Break-a-comb nappy. And for many black women with relaxers, sweat can be their hair’s Kryptonite. A 30-minute workout in the gym is only the preamble to the two-hour workout later that night in front of the bathroom mirror.
Slaying — which just means you look so good, you’re killing it — takes work. And it’s something black women with thick hair have sparred with and accepted since Madam C.J. Walker became the nation’s first black millionairess by inventing hair-straightening products.
For nearly two decades, Joseph Jefferson has coached track and field at Central High in inner city Kansas City. He can’t count the number of times his athletes have skipped practice to get their hair done. Jefferson, a bi-racial brother who “never in my life has been mistaken as a white person,” tries but ultimately can’t understand why hair is so important to black girls. Now his own two little girls are growing up and worrying about their hair.
The youngest, Kennedy, inherited his own loose curls, while nine-year-old Cadence’s hair is thicker. Cadence attends a French-speaking charter school and has a diverse group of friends. Jefferson takes his time and struggles to express this next thought.
“She’d like to look like her friends sometimes, and her friends don’t always look like her,” Jefferson said.
Society has designated long, straight hair as beautiful. And for generations, instead of embracing what grows naturally out of our roots, so have we.
Greenaway might have grown up in a Trinidadian household, but she shares the experience of so many black girls. Our mothers spoke the same language. We can still hear them remix the biblical verse.
“A woman’s hair is her crown and glory.”
Amanda Brown also heard the same thing growing up in Belleville, Ill., but has never uttered those words to her two daughters.
Brown’s 14-year-old just started freshman year at O’Fallon Township High School. Ayanna spends more time in the
weight room than under a dryer. She can leg-press 275 pounds and hasn’t had a relaxer in months.
Ayanna, with her chocolate skin and Under Armour head band over her edges, wants to play college lacrosse.
“For us, it’s not an issue,” Brown said. “She puts it in a bun, puts the headband on [and says], ‘C’mon! I got to go to practice! Let’s go!’”
Like Gabby Douglas, Ayanna sweats. Beautifully and unashamedly, she just wants to sweat and play. In other words, these young women embody true #BlackGirlMagic.
No yolky hair recipes. No sleep acrobatics. No inordinate time spent inside a beauty salon. No prioritizing (hair) style over substance.
The kinky-hair, self-image struggle won’t end with Gabby, or Cadence, or Ayanna but hopefully one day, we will all stop sweating the small stuff.
Candace Buckner, who is ashamed to admit that she just paid $125 at the beauty salon, covers the Wizards for The Washington Post.