We often call Miss E "Wanda Sykes" because their hair mirrors one another. I adore natural, African American hair----curly, kinky, big---lovely, in all its glory.
So after viewing Chris Rock's documentary entitled Good Hair (which is now available on DVD), I came away feeling less confident but at the same time, more determined to make sure my daughter doesn't fall victim to her own culture.
You see, when we first had Miss E, she was a tiny thing. She was under six pounds when she was born. But after two months, she had begin to resemble a beach ball---round, round, and round. There are photos of her lounging on a beach chair when she was just three months old while we were on vacation in Gulf Shores. One can hardly tell she has swimsuit bottoms on because her stomach covered the suit!
Our round brown bear got a lot of attention every where we went. I observed something very interesting while out and about with my little one. White women would typically remark how "big" she was, and their faces often reflected their criticism. Black women, no the other hand, would loudly say, "OOOOO! What a juicy baby! Girl, you are juicy!!!" Their reactions were far more positive.
My experience has been that white women are constantly scrutinizing their bodies. Thinner = better. And I believe this view of our bodies leads to even the youngest of children being criticized, like my daughter.
Seemingly, black women celebrate curves----"meat on the back porch," as my sister calls a round rump, for example. Breasts, hips, bottoms----round = better. Thin black women covet the curves of their rounder peers. So my "juicy" infant seemed to fit in to the definition of beauty in black culture. (Woo hoo. Stamp "accepted" on her and me, as a mommy, for making sure she's well-fed).
So, yeah, I felt pretty good as a mom. Black women approved of my child, and somehow, I felt like they approved of me. My baby wasn't twiggy, unsteady, or fragile. No. She was thick, round, and strong.
But then I watched Good Hair, and I'm realizing that just because we're "ok" in one department, we very well may fail in another: hair.
We've done ok so far. We have learned to only wash Miss E's hair every three weeks, condition it a few times a week, grease it up every day, comb it out every day, not get it unnecessarily wet, avoid sand and food (which is a challenge when Miss E wants to comb her hair Little Mermaid style with her dinner fork), etc.
Even though I was aware that black women's hair is forever changing and is quite challenging, I had no idea the extent of hair care---the hours upon hours of sitting in a chair in a salon and spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars upon EACH visit to the salon. All on the quest to "good hair."
Though we desperately want our child to fit into black society, I'm turned off by the emphasis on beauty that costs so much money and takes so much time. And what happens to the women and girls who cannot afford such luxury? Or, who do not care to fit into the new norm---long, straight, shiny hair?
I guess it's easier for me because I have never cared much about looking perfect. My nails are rarely polished, my daily makeup routine (which actually isn't every day...) takes me five minutes, I'm fine with a classic ponytail, and I wear the same ten shirts over and over. I'm thrifty, too, proud that my two favorite pairs of jeans cost $30 IN TOTAL. I value comfort. But the reality is, my daughter is black, and though I want her to know that going au natural is beautiful, I want to support her in fitting in.
One positive I took away from the film is that black people don't "get" black hair just like white parents with black kids don't get black hair. Black hair is a challenge. Period. And there's an endless (expensive, frustrating, etc.) quest to find the perfect solution.