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Saturday, October 3, 2009

A personal look at Chris Rock's Good Hair

Posted By on Sat, Oct 3, 2009 at 1:37 PM

Eight hours.

Not the span of a typical workday and not the driving distance from here to Cleveland — eight long hours is the longest amount of time I have spent in a salon to get my hair done. It was a maddening experience all in the name of beauty.

From Tyra revealing her real hair on the season premiere of her show a few weeks ago to Oprah coaxing Chris Rock to run his fingers through her hair to prove, much to my amazement — and probably that of most of her viewing audience, that her current hairstyle is comprised entirely of her natural locks, the topic of hair, particularly black women’s hair, seems to be floating around quite a bit these days … not that the topic ever actually went away.

For generations, women have been obsessing over their hair. Many black women, in particular, have struggled with trying to turn what, for many, is naturally kinky hair into long, flowing strands. On an episode of Oprah that aired this week Rock revealed that his daughter was admiring the hair of her white friend a little too much for his comfort. He said that although he tells both of his daughters every day that they are beautiful, they still seemed dissatisfied with their natural hair texture. The proverbial light bulb went off in his head, and his new documentary called Good Hair was the end result.

Good Hair focuses a lot on the plight of black women and hair, but it also opens up the discussion for women of all races to be able to ask each other questions, get answers and swap stories about the extreme lengths they have gone to obtain just the right look from chemical relaxers, Brazilian straighteners, texturizers, weaves, hair pieces, and the umpteen hours spent on a regular basis to get the hair trimmed, touched-up, and just plain tampered with in general by a professional.

My eight-hour salon experience sounds ridiculous I know, but it is also not entirely unusual in the black community. The $9 billion dollar industry that is black hair care has made many an otherwise sensible woman an absolute slave, both financially and time wise, and to her hair. It can become an ordeal. If you have ever found yourself planning things around your hair such as when to exercise so you do not “sweat your perm out” or staying conspicuously far away from the pool at a pool party so you won’t get pushed into the water and have to cut somebody or giving the evil side eye to someone who looks like they are about to touch your hair out of curiosity or having to “sleep cute” at night to avoid messing up a fresh ’do, then you know what I mean.

Extensions, braids, locks, relaxers — they all require some level of maintenance; however, as one stylist interviewed for Good Hair said, “Weaves are where the money is.” Apparently, you can put a weave on layaway like any other big-ticket item, and weaves have become so popular in America that hair has translated into a big-time trade in India. In Indian culture, removing the hair is considered an act of sacrifice in exchange for the gods’ blessings. Much of this hair is then shipped off to the States. This “black market hair market” has made hair one of India’s largest exports.

For some women, it’s “have weave, will travel.” One lady traveled clear across the country to get just the right weave. In that same vein, I have known several female acquaintances who moved to Charlotte from other places and would commute often lengthy distances on a regular basis back to their hometowns just to get their hair done by the same person.

So why the obsession? Surprisingly, Rock found that it had more to do with a woman’s esteem rather than the mere common assumption that women do it for the attention of men. And the phenomenon wasn’t just among black women. According to the show anyway, hair coloring is to white women what weaves are to black women. Caucasian comedienne Ali Wentworth admitted to Oprah’s audience that with her hair dyed blond, she feels more “striking” versus how she felt when she wore her natural “dishwater brown” color. One white woman interviewed in a salon said she had colored her hair so much that she didn’t even remember exactly what her natural color is. And both Wentworth and Oprah mentioned that they couldn’t recall one white friend who still wore her natural hair shade.

To sort of bring the discussion full circle, Solange Knowles, younger to sister Beyoncé, came on the show last and displayed her newly cropped all-natural coif. She claims she wanted to be free from the addiction of weaves and spending $40,000-$50,000 a year on hair and half of her life in salons. She even disclosed the shocking fact that she received her first perm when she was just four years old, a practice Rock said he’s strongly against.

I have to admit that I agree with Rock when he said that Solange was more noticeable now because of her look than she ever as before — when her weave made her look like any girl walking down the street. The beauty of her face was much more pronounced without the distraction, if you will, of a big head of fake hair. Thankfully, Afros, locks, cornrows and other natural styles are becoming popular again and, perhaps more importantly, more acceptable by today’s mainstream society. Women have often been told that our hair is our crowning glory. So, in a world where long, silky dyed strands still dominate most images of standard beauty, it’s nice to see women confident and self-aware enough to do something considered as drastic as (gasp!) flaunting their natural hair.

So, whether you want to be “unbe-weave-able” or live “nappily ever after”, all hair can be “good hair” as long as it’s just another extension (pun intended) of the beauty within.

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