Nolan Miller (via New York Times)
Last night I went to an Elle party honoring Olivier Theyskens’ premiere collection for Theory. Suffice it to say, I had a healthy sampling of the Moet. It was one of those situations where the catering staff quickly re-upped depleted glasses every time they walked by. This helps to explain why after I was introduced to the designer, I told him he should donate his hair “to a weave.” I’m not even clear as to how one donates their hair “to a weave.” There are marvelous organizations like Locks of Love where human hair is used to create hairpieces for children with long-term medical hair loss, but that’s donating to a legitimate charity, not to a weave.
When I told Mr. Theyskens that his hair was worthy of weave-donation, he said something along of the lines of “this is good.” Who knows if he was able to decipher my brief rambling on about his hair quality.The fact that I thought he had “good hair” brought me back to an earlier preoccupation with the subject. It’s easy to blame it on the alcohol, but on some level, that concept of good hair will most likely continue to remain with me.
Yesterday the New York Times published an article on the rising trend of weave theft. Owners of salons and beauty supply stores from Houston to Minneapolis to Dearborn have increasingly been falling prey to this very specific crime. One salon had $150,000 worth of human hair stolen from their inventory. Items such as flat screen TVs, digital cameras and cash registers have been bypassed in lieu of the valuable commodity. How is that thieves have circumnavigated electronics and liquid cash for hair extensions? How did the weave become the next bootleg DVD?
Women of all persuasions utilize hair extensions. Naturally, I’m more familiar with the affinity for the pieces within the context of the African diaspora. While I’ve never worn a weave, I did wear my hair straight from the time I was 9. I remember being one of the last girls in my 3rd grade class to do so. At that point, I was simply drained from having my natural hair feeling as though it were being torn out of my head every time my mother combed it.
The hot iron, sizzling on the stovetop, offered a welcome reprieve from the multitude of methods my patient mother had tried to release my tightly coiled hair. Through the years she had combed different tonics into my hair in an attempt to make hair grooming less painful. I remember the daylong process of the Kiddie Perm and its nausea-inducing chemicals that broke down the curl. She may have missed a step in the equation, because my hair turned out as thick and coarse as it had been before. After that came the Sta Sof Fro curl activating spray. That didn’t do anything either. We just ended up using Vaseline for a while until I begged for my hair to be “straightened out”.
I bravely tolerated the burns on my scalp and earlobes in order to get the smooth, lengthened and shiny results. At 9 I felt like a new woman. That only lasted a year as I began to complain about the burns I’d managed to endure. By the summer of my 10th year I told my mother I needed a relaxer, often referred to as a perm in the black salons. My mother took me to her hairdresser Marjorie for my first appointment. I remember sitting in her chair and looking in the mirror, emphatically stating that I wanted her to give me “Whitley hair”. I was a big fan of The Cosby Show spinoff A Different World and I pined for hair like Jasmine Guy, the biracial actress who portrayed Whitley Gilbert. In its wet form, my hair was indeed Whitley-esque. But then Marjorie blew it dry and smeared it with a coating of thick, green grease. It no longer moved the way it had when it was yet, and it ending up leaving stains anywhere I rested my head. That was fine up until I transferred to a predominantly white private school a year later. There my classmates would touch my hair, grimace with a WTF? face, look at their sheen on their hands, then wipe it off on their uniform skirts. This led to me to using a paper towel to futilely wipe any surface residue off of my hair. I continued to get a relaxer until my hair started falling out. Then my mother and I reverted back to the hot iron—which she had never thrown out.
Once again I grew tired of the burns and found a hairdresser who worked out of her home and would pick me up and drop me off in one of those vans with the velvet upholstery. Once I left Florida for university in New York, I would either tag along with a friend to her stylist or I’d fine one who did hair from her dorm room. By the second semester of my freshman hair, a friend had introduced me to the Dominican way of hair relaxing. For the first time in my life my hair had real movement—like the kind in the Dark and Lovely commercials. The stylists at this particular salon in Queens didn’t use the thick pomades that Marjorie favored. Their post-shampoo process involved sitting under a dryer for over an hour with rollers, then having it blown straight only to be placed back into bigger rollers and blown straight a final time with a blow dryer.
Over the years I bounced from one Dominican Salon to another, depending on where I lived. I loved the results but I hated commuting to the salon and then listening to endless chatter under a hot bonnet for two hours. I attempted to do my hair from home as my aversion towards the laborious process grew. By 2005 I wanted to cut it all off and essentially make my hair a non-entity; essentially becoming something I only thought about when it needed a trim. I soon started washing my hair and wearing it in a bun wet without combing through the tangles. This resulted in locks forming—more Deadhead than Rasta. By December of that year, I was over the whole notion of straight hair and long hair and moveable hair. I ended up cutting out my entire perm, none of that growing it out and trimming the new hair. I was done. It was liberating and a mild shock to the system.
I’ve worn my hair short and natural ever since. I don’t spite anyone for wearing their hair straight or utilizing a weave. How a woman chooses to wear her hair is a very personal choice and I don’t impose my views on others. Girls, particularly girls within the African diaspora, are taught about the currency of their hair from a very early age. “Indian” or “tall” hair (in Jamaican parlance) is the pinnacle of so-called good hair. It’s long and shiny with a beautifully textured wave. I knew the value of this even as a 1st grader as my classmates and I stood around a kindergartener who was of mixed ancestry. Her mother usually gave her one or two long braids that went down her back. She also frequently wore Michael Jackson Thriller and Beat It jackets, which raised her profile even more. Just as the white girls had objectified my “exotic” hair by standing around stroking it, I’d done the same thing 5 years before to the kindergartener with the tall “mixed” hair.
In bell hooks’ Happy to Be Nappy, she writes of black hair as being “soft like cotton, flower petal billowy soft.” While I don’t foresee myself ever getting a weave in the near future, intellectually I understand the need to spend hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars to obtain Whitley hair that one may not have been born with. It makes sense that the demand for this premium supply would result in a criminal faction of the industry, but what’s even more criminal is a little girl who is taught, whether directly or obliquely that there is something inherently wrong with her hair.