Glimmers of Life

Archive for the ‘Black Hair’ Category

Heidi Klum revealed this week that she finds the hair of her mixed raced children a new challenge… reportedly explaining in the Huffington Post:

“Having four children, with one having straight hair and three curly, it’s a bit of a new world for me. Growing up with straight hair myself, that was all I really knew how to work with. It was pretty straightforward: wash, air, dry, done.Henry, Johan and Lou – my three youngest – have super-beautiful locks. Their hair definitely requires a different kind of care than my daughter Leni’s hair.”

Taken from this article on Made for Mums

Welcome to the club Heidi! I remember reading someone’s blog last year that disparagingly talked about white mothers with mixed race children who did not understand black hair… but actually I am black and I don’t understand my daughter’s hair – it’s another thing to add to the list of unexpected aspects of parenting.

I remember in the distant past having those “what if” conversations with my partner, what if we had a child, would they be this or that colour, what if they had hair like this person on the TV or that person in a magazine. And I also remember saving an article from Black Hair magazine that talked about different hair types… all way before my daughter was born. What didn’t cross my mind is how I would care for whatever hair any child I had would have.

So my daughter was born and when we first saw her she was very light-skinned, with straight dark hair and blue eyes. I couldn’t help but notice how not-black she was which was disappointing but I was a little relieved that her hair was straight. As the months went by people assured me that she would get darker and that her eyes would turn brown but the only thing that was changing was the straight dark hair was getting longer and fuzzier as it curled up into a funky little mohawk. Now two years on she has a full head of sandy brown hair (like her father) except that the texture walks the kinky line between her father’s and mine. Funnily enough her father calls it ‘fro but it really is a far cry from the full on afro that I have sported throughout my life. And despite me trying to educate him by regularly comparing strands of my hair and hers he persists in this misdiagnosis, and proudly tells his friends and his family about his daughter’s “cool ‘fro”.

In the meantime it is left to me to care for this new hair type that has entered our family. At the moment because she is young and prone to change I am not doing anything drastic (or chemical). I just use a child’s conditioning spray on a day-to-day basis (occasionally a bit of Pink) to make it easier to comb, then wash and condition it once a week with my shampoo and whatever conditioner is handy and monitor the results. Oh sometimes I oil it too but have only done this 3 times I think. It’s not fallen out yet and mostly looks shiny and cared for so I must be on the right track…(oh I say “mostly” to cover the days when she’s put sand, mud, paint, flour or some other substance in it). My plan is to take her to a hairdresser when she’s a little older for some expert advice (and a hair cut but don’t tell her father!) – although unlike Heidi I don’t have a celebrity hairstylist in my circle of friends who I can call on for an expert consultation, so I’m not sure where I’ll go yet but always on the lookout. Does Angela Griffiths (the woman who’s been in Corrie as Steve’s girlfriend, Cutting It and had her own chat show on Sky) still live in Manchester? Maybe she can recommend someone for me???!

I just thought I’d take a moment to say how fantastic Stylist Magazine is. Stylist is the free women’s magazine that usually appears on newspaper stands every Wednesday. I don’t know how long it’s been going for or much about it at all except that I like it. Every week I pick up a copy and look forward to taking a few moments to read it – sometimes I don’t get those moments (hence there reason there’s a pile of them by my bed) but I take the chance to read what I can when I can. In fact I particularly like it if my daughter falls asleep in the car on the way home because then I can stay in the car a little longer parked up outside my house and read an article or two. I’ll always try to read the “Day in the life of…” section and the interview at the back…. But inevitably they’ll be another article that I fancy reading… hence the pile by my bed!

But what inspired me to put my Stylist love down on virtual paper was the fact that they featured an afro hair product on their 30 Most Desirable Items This Week feature. It was one of those moments when your brain and voice box fizz with excitement and a little involuntary squeal comes out. Personally I found this reaction quite odd. What’s the big deal?! It’s just a product on a page, they do it all the time, there’s almost always at least one product in this feature that I like – one on which if I had the cash it would be splashed. I think what it was was that I felt acknowledged, acknowledged in the main stream. The beauty pages are usually targeted to the majority and that’s fine, I can still learn things, after all everyone has a face and tips on how to make the most of it can always be adapted whatever the skin tone. But this product is not for the majority, it’s only for those of us blessed with afro hair and Stylist thought they’d let me know about it. They say small things amuse small minds – but this little addition in the magazine delighted my little mind, that sits under my minority hair and put a big smile under my wide nose.

Thanks Stylist!

When I went to see this documentary (a while a go now), I was impressed that there was a documentary that touched on my life and something I have an opinion on. I watch documentaries on the tv – but no more than your average person, and I usually do it because the subject matter is interesting and I would like to learn more. In this case though, I do have some inside knowledge and I think that’s why it got to me.

Good Hair takes you down a few different strands of the “black hair” world, but I think the part I found most interesting was about the industry, and how despite being huge consumers of black hair products – probably the only consumers really, that black people didn’t profit from it. Black people don’t make the products, source the products, distribute the products or sell the products, black people don’t own the industry. There is a part where the Reverend Al Sharpton explains how we wear our oppression everyday day. That was something I really wasn’t aware of.

But then there are parts that just left me with more questions – like when the Reverend Al Sharpton explains how James Brown told him to get his hair straightened to look like him – but why?

And then there was a little part which kids in a classroom and one black girl says something like I probably wouldn’t hire you with your hair like that, to a girl with a funky afro hairstyle. That comment strikes at the heart of the issue, why wouldn’t she hire her? What messages has she been given throughout her life to say that to one of her “sisters”? I think that would have been really interesting to explore.

But I have to say that the part that burned me the most was when he said that we don’t keep our hair natural because we want to be white, which he then spends no time at all in trying to dispel… is this really what he thinks? Is it really what black women think? Because I can safely say that that is not the case with me. I think Nia Long says at the end “black women are hard work” but I think that it’s black hair that’s hard work. Black hair doesn’t fit into the caucasian dominated world in which I live. And I don’t really mean that in terms of perception (although it could be the case), I mean it in terms of working for me. Let me explain a little….

When I was young, most of my friends were white. Whether they had straight hair, curly hair or something in between they could comb/brush it. At the flick of a wrist they could tie it up, let it down, have it half up half down whatever whereas I had to wait until Sunday night before I could have anything different done with my hair. My Dad would pin me down and haul a comb through the entangled nest while I cried. I’d then be stuck with that style until the next week.

Even now, I’ve had my hair in several different styles, braids, relaxed natural but I couldn’t honesty tell you that I know how to look after my hair. Almost every time I go to the hairdresser they say, your hair is damaged, your hair is too dry but when I ask for advice and tips on how to look after it rarely do I get a tangible answer. I have numerous half bottles of products around the house, that I’ve bought because they used it in the hair dresser or someone said it was good I use them and nothing seems to change. Now I am aware that this trial an error process is universal it’s not just black women that have a stash of products languishing in a corner somewhere, but the difference I think is that I’m not even sure when my hair is good condition, except when I come out of the hairdressers and you can never recreate that.

But why don’t I know how to properly look after my own hair – because it doesn’t fit. My hair is different from my mum’s (hers is less afro) so no help there, it’s different from my friends – no help there, it’s not the same as what I see in the mainstream magazines and I’m too boring for the specialist ones (blue loaf style anyone?), celebs – well they don’t count because they have more money to spend or their hair than I ever will. The only place it fits is at the hair dresser – but is the only way to look after my own hair to take it to someone else?

I don’t want to be white, I have straight hair so I can comb it into a style that suits me in the morning and go to work with minimal fuss. If I knew how to do that with my natural hair I would do it in a heartbeat and feel happier for it.
Maybe someone could tackle that in Good Hair – the sequel-a how to guide…

Thank goodness for the Cornerhouse in Manchester! I’d heard about this Chris Rock documentary on the radio and searched every cinema in the area to see if they were showing Good Hair, and nothing. I did actually even try the Cornerhouse website but there was no information. A week later they said it was coming soon and finally I got to see it.

At first I wasn’t sure whether it would be worth the £5 entry, but I decided that if you don’t support these things then later down the line you won’t get the option so I handed over my card and let it bear the strain. And I’m glad I did.

Good Hair is a documentary headed by Chris Rock which delves into some of the issues surrounding Black Hair, why every black woman wants straight hair, what lengths they’ll go to to get it, and how black men feel about it – with a bit of a hair competition thrown into the mix.

As a piece of entertainment I enjoyed it. I laughed, I questioned, I got angry (see next piece) – it touched me.  But it also bugged me a little though that rather than delve for answers it simply offered up the obvious or reverted to the superficial. Like when you go to a restaurant for a good meal, and you know the chef has freshly cooked the main course but that they’ve just microwaved the dessert from a packet.

Overall this is an accessible if not a little light film about Black Hair. I’d say this is definitely one to watch, especially if you’re black or know someone black, as it touches on some interesting points. Ideally though I’d say take a group of friends so you can talk about it afterwards. I’ve found myself chatting with friends who haven’t seen it about some of the points made, but it would have been much better if they’d seen it too.

I don’t usually buy Marie Claire, I don’t even really read it as it seems a little high brow for my childlike knowledge of fashion and trends. But last month my job required me to buy a copy and I decided to sneak it home for a cheeky read. To my surprise I came across a whole bag dedicated to black women.
Now back when I used to be an avid reader of the Guardian on Saturday, one of the many highlights was the section written by Hannah Pool called “The New Black” (i think). It was usually an article about something “black”, or at least that black women would be interested in and as a black woman I was interested. But then it stopped – and I was left without a guide….
So this section in Marie Claire is a welcome surprise. In the edition I read, it had a bit about having natural hair, and a bit about make up. It was small considering it is such a fat magazine but appreciated.
This month’s edition of the magazine has a shower gel freebie, so it may just be worth getting a copy…

Saturday was a dark day for me. Despite the sun offering its rays all day (even though it was a Bank Holiday weekend!), I ended the day under a cloud. The reason, I just couldn’t find any foundation in Boots.

Now my “make up personality” can be summed up as light-hearted and fairweather – although the use of “fairweather” in the context of black make up seems slightly misleading. Basically I go through phases, sometimes I wear it everyday, other times I don’t which means my collection of make up is…erm… quirky. The range is made up of free samples and impulse buys from the past five years. But the one thing I do spend time on when it come to make up is foundation.

My first and last perfect foundation was discovered on a trip to New York. I went with a friend of mine who’s been friends with make up since she was about 13 and now has a good stable relationship with it. In contrast I was definitely a late starter, don’t remember ever playing with mummy’s make up as a child and even in those experimental teenage years I only got as far as nail polish. My 20s I did try but always ended up not quite looking myself…. fortunately I usually only work it at night to go to clubs so there aren’t any pictures of how bad it probably was.

So on this trip my friend thrust me in front of a Sephora assistant and asked him to help me. Having heard that foundation for black skin was notoriously difficult to find I wasn’t expecting much. The guy came back with two bottles – the first wasn’t right, the second was perfect. I was amazed and told the guy so until he thought I was mad. Three years later I went back to buy more and it had been discontinued.

Since then I have been struggling to find the right one. I tried Maybelline, and was so convinced I’d got it right that I took up the “buy two get a discount” offer… one is still sitting unopened amidst my quirky collection alongside another half a bottle. I tried Prescriptives, the lady on the counter was lovely and I think the colour was right but not the consistency as it seems to disappear very quickly. I also went to the Body Shop where the assistant used all her powers to try to convince me it was the right colour when I could see it was at least two shades out.

I’ve heard that Mac and Bobbi Brown are good for darker complexions but as I walk past the counters in the department stores the assistants suddenly seem to get busy and turn away, or worse give me the once over and then the “stay away” stare. Maybe it’s because they can seem me thinking I want some nice make up but I don’t want to pay loads for it. It’s like one of those duels in olden days but executed through subtle looks and eye movements.

So now that Black women are everywhere I thought I could be catered for in an everyday store in an everyday way. WRONG! I went to the Revlon stand (as they had an offer on… can you see a trend here?), nothing. I went to a few others.. nothing. I even went to the lady at the No. 7 counter, who could only offer me what I think amounted to invisible foundation. It looked like the right colour when it came out of the bottle but when she put it on my face I looked exactly the same – uneven skin tone still clearly visible.

I am no make up expert but I really did start to believe the hype… that black women were now being included in these mainstream make up ranges, then I look at the shelves and see that “Dark Almond” is the most colourful a range gets, or that there are 10 variations on beige and one actual brown colour stuck on the end, and the reality starts to reveal itself. Looks like I may need to brave those department store counters after all… although I may check out how well this cloud evens out my skin….

They say that black hair is really versatile, I’m not sure who “they” are but i’ve heard that said several times. In fact when I think about it I have had a fair few different styles over the years but I had never tried the weave. I’d managed to get through 30 years without ever having tried one of the staples of black hairdressing…so i thought it was about time i tried.

My thinking behind the decision was that a weave can’t really do any lasting damage – except to your bank balance. And fortunately for me my local black hair shop had just opened a hairdressers and they were offering cheap deals to build up the customer base. So it seemed that the stars had aligned and it was my time to enter the world of the weave.

Now having not been a part of a black community for a good ten years, I was coming to this wide eyed and wet nosed. All I knew was that I wanted a weave…oh and a fringe… but the devil is in the detail….

So I turn up on the day of my appointment with thoughts of flowing Beyonce locks – in my head I was on a dance floor near the wind machine busting a funky move while my new hair danced in the breeze. The hairdresser had said i would need 2 packs of hair but that’s all the advice I got, so it was quite a shock when I was met with a barrage of questions from the Asian lady behind the counter when all I wanted was 2 packs of hair.

She tried asking me what brand I wanted… I gazed past her at the array of hair hanging from the wall and could only come back with a very British, “I’m awfully sorry but i’ve never done this before… erm… I’m not sure.” The lady shop owner wasn’t fazed she just said, “Ok what length do you want?”. I wanted to offer a  “Well I don’t know?!!” in a stroppy teenage style, but i ended up pointing to a vague point between my shoulder and my elbow saying sheepishly “About there?”

We went through straight or curly
We went through length (14 or 18 inches)
We went through human or synthetic
We went through colour
We went through texture

Then we got to price (I gone for some straight dark brown, 18 inch human hair)….. and then went back through the previous questions until I became too embarrassed to ask any more questions – and I was also starting to feel bad about the amount of times I’d sent her up the ladder to show me hair i couldn’t decide if i wanted.

Eventually I made it out of the shop with the required 2 packs of hair. I went upstairs to the hairdresser and waited my turn. As i waited all I could think about what the hair I was clutching, is it the right colour? I should have gone more blonde…. Would she let me exchange it?

The woman already in the hot seat was standing up after her weave was complete. She’d gone for curls with a reddish hue – she looked fantastic. That’s what I should have gone for, but it was too late now, it was my turn in the hot seat.

First they tackled my afro-like mop – pulling and plaiting it into submission around my head. They had a bit of trouble because my hair was too long and wouldn’t sit right, but soon I was onto round two the sewing in of my new hair.

Within two hours it was done. My new hair was there. My eyes went wow, but my heart sank a little. It was so straight, so square…  I looked so much younger.  By the time I got home all the strange looks I’d received in the shop, had wore me down. I stared at it in the mirror and had to admit that it looked terrible. The hair was too straight – it looked like i was wearing a wig, the colour was all wrong – it jarred against by pale winter tone and looked really fake.  My husband wasn’t much help as I think he hated it more than I did, and was advising me to take it out to avoid acute embarrassment at work in the morning.

But i’d spent the money now and if I took it out what would I do with what’s left?

With this in mind I left the hair and decided to just rush through the corridors of work hoping that people wouldn’t really notice. I have actually experienced taking bad hair to work before – the difference then was that I didn’t know it was bad… I actually thought it was funky. However the comments that brightly started “Oh you’ve changed your hair” and then just hung in the air as I waited for the “it looks nice” that never came, told me otherwise. Typically the day I took this hairstyle to work was the day that everyone seemed to have a question for me. To my surprise the hair received rave reviews.

Having now canvassed friends, family and those other people who you speak to but who don’t fit into either of those two main categories, it seems that those people who really know me don’t really like it, and those who know me less well think it’s great. My conclusion from this is that it’s a good hairstyle, I’ve seen loads of others with it recently… but it just doesn’t suit me and my personality. But I’ve not given up – I’m gonna try a weave again… but maybe I’ll go for the curls with the red hue.