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Nappily Ever After? Hairstories Take Center Stage

Amber Mobley |
April 6, 2009 | 4:18 p.m. PDT


It's been nearly 10 months since I've chemically straightened my hair.

As a black woman, that's a big deal.

I remember cutting off the permed portions of my hair after letting it grow naturally for the first few months and not knowing exactly how to feel.

Hair is an emotional, spiritual, cultural kind of thing for me, as it seems to be for most black women.

Even as a child I had hair appointments -- whether it was in the kitchen with mama or with the beautician, Mrs. Allen.

A thick, short, yellow-skinned woman with grayish-white hair and glasses, she hot combed my hair until it lay, straight and shiny, down my back.

I would sit on a stack of phone books to boost me high enough for her to work her magic. I still remember the heat and smoke that came off of that hot comb, the occassional burns, and my effort to stay as still as possible to avoid them.

Eventually, like most black girls, I grew too old to get my hair pressed and it was time to start getting a perm. A process that chemically straightens the hair, a perm could burn your scalp and often did.

After that came weaves -- sewn in and glued in -- and numerous other transformations.

Stories like these, "hairstories", are not just mine. They're rooted in black culture.

And just recently, theroot.com is encouraging us to tell all about it. Published by Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, theroot.com is a daily online magazine that provides commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives in an aim to raise the profile of black voices in the mainstream media.

The hairstories do just that. At least they did that for me, for it was during a Google search for sites about natural hair care that I stumbled upon them and really took a moment to reflect on my own hair's history.

Some of the highlights include:

- Yodith Dammlash's collection of short hairstories by black women and portraits of them with their different hair -- styles, textures, processes -- in Strands of Strength.  

- A piece about the recession's relation to the state of black women's hair, which takes a sort of tongue-in-cheek approach to measuring how bad the times really are by checking the frequency of black women's hair appointments.

- A woman's transition from dreadlocks to a weave, which is, for those who don't know, like polar opposites.

- A declaration that sometimes a haircut is just a haircut and there is no symbolism.

And, then there's my very favorite: the great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, a pioneer in black hair care, issuing a 5-part hair manifesto that calls for a hair truce between natural-haired sisters and those who choose to perm and weave, between mothers and daughters to help their daughters "learn to love their hair and break the cycle of pain...and style with less daily drama," and between black women and themselves.

Her final point is this: "Resolved, that we will care for our hair, groom our hair and love our hair because when we do, it will not matter what anyone else says...The only way the hair wars will end is if we draft the peace treaty ourselves." 

Black women's hair experiences usually take a basic formula as they grow from a child to a young adult to a grown woman.

Press. Perm. Your prerogative.

But the variations are personal and unique.

Theroot.com's hairtories bring that to life ...and, it's just in time for the Easter season when, in special preparation for Resurrection Sunday, a lot of little black girls will go into a lot of beauty salons all across the country, sit on top of phone books and hear the crack and sizzle of a hot comb, the burn of a perm, or the tugging and pulling of styling -- just the beginnings of their own hairstories.   




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