I remember the first time I cut it—or had it cut. I was nine. I wanted an Afro like my sisters, but my hair still was wavy then, not curly yet. I begged my mother to cut my nearly waist-length hair like Dorothy Hamill the figure skater.
“It’s cute,” Mama said. Then, “But you’re going to grow it back, right? You’re not going to keep it like this?”
From the time I started taking care of my own hair, I became a strand-abuser. In high school, whenever I was depressed, I would take scissors to it in a haphazard way, leaving gaps of scalp waving everywhere and upsetting my poor mother to no end.
Then, at fifteen, I gave myself my first relaxer—and sores on my scalp.
And in college, I discovered the curling iron and blow dryer and started using them every single day. It’s a wonder I’m not completely bald right now.
I call my hair my “one beauty,” but it was a beauty I took for granted. Now, all of sudden, over thirty years later, I troll the web at night for Black hair care sites, like www.longhairdontcare.net for tips about growing Black hair.I spend more and more time worrying—and just thinking—about my hair. I know it’s not very radical Black feminist of me, but I can’t help it.
Sure, other Black women think about their hair, too, but the difference with me is, I don’t care how cute my hair looks. I don’t care about being fly: these days, I’ve started wearing it in a bun–that would be called a “no-contact style”– lest the ends drag across my clothing and break off; most days, I look like a spinster schoolteacher.
My problem is, I made the mistake of reading some article about how hormonal changes of women in their thirties and forties can impact their hair and cause them to lose it. I thought, well, people in my family tend to keep their hair. Then, I had a dream where I was suddenly bald and woke up with a panic attack. It didn’t matter if the baldness was a metaphor for something else; now, I’m afraid of going bald. So I only get my hair trimmed on the “growing moon,” the new moon cycle, because my granny had very long hair until her nineties and she only got her hair trimmed on the growing moon.
Two weeks ago, I decided to stop combing and brushing my hair altogether. Instead, I comb my hair in the shower while it’s wet—with my fingers, like a cavewoman. I drag my fingers slowly and gently through my hair so as not to pull any strands out.
I ordered an expensive 100 % sulfate-free shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, and gel. I massage my scalp daily with a special concoction of jojoba oil mixed with basil and rosemary to encourage blood circulation to my follicles. I grease my hair each night with coconut oil. I sleep with a silk scarf on top of a silk pillowcase, just in case the scarf comes out. I drink half my body weight in water each day. I take multi-vitamins. I’ve upped my protein intake.
And let’s not even talk about heat styling my hair. That would be a big, fat “no.”
I can’t watch Willow Smith’s video, “Whip My Hair” because I fear for strand damage. “Be careful!” I whisper to the dancing kids, yanking their necks around in the video. “Oh, please be careful! Please stop doing that!”
And worse, I’ve started singing that Sesame Street song by the little Black Girl in the shower, while I stroke my curls lovingly. (I’m not lying here.) I love my hair, y’all. I really, really, really love my hair. I’m just like that little girl. Except, she’s got way too many styling options, in my opinion. I think she should just wear a schoolteacher bun.