My Blog__ My Good Hair: A Corn Row Retrospective

June 06, 2012 | By

When my pal Daniel asked me the other week to play a role in Eating Out's upcoming music video, I responded "Fuck Yeah!". And when he told me that my character was going to be sporting a full dome of cornrows and a set of pro nails to match (I was Maya Beaudry's understudy and she was still away) I was again like "Fuck yeah!" inwardly thinking, "Fuck it, I'll try anything once." And here's what happened inside my head while I bumbled around Vancouver with fifteen tight little braids and quite a bit of exposed scalp.

Dear Diary: one thing I have realized about myself is that my hair is my crutch. Any other crutches fall way, way behind this one. As a big, messy brownish mass, my hair provides welcome coverage to my neck and shoulders and I can hide under it and I can twirl it around my fingers when I feel nervous. My hair dresses me in the morning. Or maybe I dress for it. Either way, the thing dictates my sartorial life. If it's in a wild mood or if it's calm and collected, I work around it quietly and obediently. You could liken me to a blind disciple obeying an unruly god. If it jumps off the cliff, well I might as well jump too.

So, as you can imagine, as I walked up to meet Daniel outside Nunu's on Commercial the other week, my hair and I felt a little strange about the whole thing. I dressed awkwardly formal. Seriously, I wore a blazer.

And if you were on Commercial that day, you might have walked right by me in Nunu's hair dresser chair. I was white girl number 1. The process was relatively painless, but it could be that I was just sedated from the smell of hair relaxers. Nunu's is marked with a white doll head perched atop a white sandwich board and some seriously scary odors of chemicals oozing out of the door.

The hair fumes got me thinking about Chris Rock's documentary 'Good Hair'. When I was first scoping out cornrow style options (you know, researching Da Brat and all that good stuff) I came upon the hot discourse between black women in America about their hair. It's incredibly interesting, and everything about sitting in that stinky chair at Nunu's brought it to mind: a shop full of women, chatting casually while extremely dangerous relaxers are slopped onto their scalps and while weaves of Indian hair are setting.  From my R&D online, it seems that everyone has something to say about whether or not African-American women should be doing this hair relaxing thing, or whether they should be getting something more organic - aka cornrows, like me.

Of course, I have no real comment on this issue - I am total outsider in more ways than one. But I think the "good hair" worry is a paranoia shared by all too many females, and is relevant to skin colour and origin only in it's specificity. I think the whole issue just got dumped onto a margin. As women, most of us spend way too much on our hair in the first place. As an extreme, shaving your head as a female gets you labeled differently. Whatever year it was, Britney's baldness was a big media shock and it became the visual representation of how crazy she'd gone.  See? She's clenching her teeth and has a shaved head - she's fucking bonkers! Does that really mean that she has gone and totally lost it? She's probably clenching her teeth like an animal because the media chases her for a picture like she is an extinct dinosaur or the Loch Ness monster.

near bed time with my re-appropriated doo rag.

What I don't think people talk about enough in any critical feminist debates is our hair and its role as a huge sexual signifier and an icon of youth and fertility. In ad campaigns, it's all wound up with the goals of success and happiness. Long, flowing, golden Gisele Bundchen hair is deeply revered. Unlike big boobs, big beautiful hair doesn't get a bad wrap for hanging out in the sun like cleavage. But like nice breasts, good hair is on women's minds - all women at one point or another - so let's not bullshit this one. When mine got tucked away, I quickly lost my ability to know what to wear, how to wear it; I found myself putting on lipstick at ten in the morning. I worried about looking ugly. I felt inclined to dress more girly than I usually do. I was shocked at myself, but my hair and my sense of femininity are inextricably linked. I thought I was above all that.

Sitting on the Skytrain that sunny Thursday after the salon, I got a few stares. I decided that I either (a) look like a freak, due to the fact that my head is maybe misshapen. Or (b) I look like a fashion maverick freak, which is worse, and people are wondering where I am from. This is way worse. Or I (c) look a gangster, but I ruled this out as impossible. Or could it be (d)? Do I just look like a vacation braids freak? If so, I am pale, so people are probably assuming that I went and got this done in a place with no light and snow. Or maybe people weren't looking at me at all. Is that the worst?

I didn't mind looking different than I usually do, since my hair has looked exactly the same since I was five. But my sudden insecurity and shock at seeing my own scalp peeping out everywhere made me think that, while everyone's yelling about the validity of toplessness, too-young celebrities, too-thin models, implants, make-up and otherwise, maybe we should throw in a few comments on how a good amount of the entire female population in North America drop 200 plus on getting highlights and "soft, windswept" layers every few months. Not just black women. And I don't think that Chris Rock was wrong, but I guess what I'm saying is that maybe Larry David or a similar male type should make a documentary about us. Because it's ridiculous.

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