Aug 9, 2012

U.N.I.T.Y.- The Weekend My Friend Melanie and I Bonded Over Our Hair

I promise we did not plan the matching blue tops. I swear. 

During my friend Melanie's and my 12 year friendship, we have talked about pretty much everything under the sun.  But until recently we rarely ever discussed our racial differences.  We just have so many things in common that discussing our differences just barely ever comes up.  Well a few months ago Melanie asked me if I would be interested in watching Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair together. "I just think it would be so fun to watch together." she said.  Having already seen the film, I chuckled at the thought of my possibly having to further break down certain things in the film regarding my culture for her. Then something dawned on me.

Melanie was interested in this movie because she was intrigued about black hair.  To say that I was less than intrigued about a white woman's hair would be an understatement. I'm just going to be honest here.  At the time, I felt like ever since I was a little girl I've been overloaded with knowledge about the European standards of beauty.  Unless I bought a magazine that was geared towards black women, chances are that every other magazine had articles that catered to enhancing the beauty of white women.  And really with all that I have had to do to my hair in over thirty years from weaves to braids to bi-level stacks and The Big Chop, I could  not fathom that the plight of the white woman to keep her hair in check could even compare.  And wasn't their hair pretty much all of the same anyway?  Does that sound a little close minded to you? Yeah me too. That's why I changed my mind and came up with an idea. "Why don't we watch the movie and do our hair together?" I said.  Saturday was coming up and with that being my Big Hair Day consisting of pre-pooing, washing, deep conditioning, etc,. I figured we could really get into what it took for us to individually maintain our hair. This was perfect timing as Melanie's own "Big Hair Day" was coming up because she had to touch up her roots with hair color. She loved the idea and we set a date.


I went to Melanie's house and we both went into the bathroom to start our respective routines while sharing about our hair textures and styling woes.

Me explaining the beast that is hair shrinkage

Melanie paying the price for beauty
When I reached the point where it was time for deep conditioning and her hair color went into processing, we went into the living room to watch the movie.

Movie time!

Melanie, who we all lovingly call The Wise Pixie, currently has a super cute and flattering pixie hair cut.  When I first met Melanie she had a really fly bob. Her hair was and still is platinum blonde (which I always forget is not her natural hair color because it fits her so well) and it had a layer of turquoise underneath. Fly!  She's never been too afraid to take risk with her hair. As our discussion moved into a more cultural direction,  I asked her if she ever felt pressure to be blonde because society holds blondes to such a high standard of beauty. I was pretty enlightened by her answer:

"I went super blonde after I lost my first job out of college and ended up moving to Pittsburgh by myself. I lived with an amazing family - her brother, a stylist, told me he wanted to try cutting my dark blonde, ashy, shoulder length hair into a pixie cut and bleaching it out. I didn't have anything to lose, I didnt know anyone, and I wanted a change! It was exciting and liberating and I loved it."

Ladies, doesn't that liberating hair cut sound familiar? Doesn't that sound like our monumental Big Chop?  We continued watching the film together and took breaks in between to discuss some things further. One thing that stood out to me was the discussion we had about keeping up with the latest hairstyles. In the movie they talk about how expensive it is to buy and maintain weaves.  I shared with her that I did my Big Chop because I was tired of feeling like I had to keep up.  I just wanted to be myself.  What she said next was something I definitely chalk up to cultural differences:

"Have you been to a Bon Jovi concert recently? Have you noticed the women are sporting the same hairdo they did in the 80's - as they squeeze into today's version of the same ripped jeans and old shredded, tasseled tees of yesteryear? The hair has stayed the same since the first time they gave love a bad name. My wise friends Becky & Karen pointed out that women who tend to keep the same coiffure for decades do so because that dated hairdo is from a time when they were happiest in their lives."

Now grant it some women do these things at concerts for one night nostalgia but plenty of women do not.  I knew exactly the type of women she was referring to and a light bulb went off when she said it.  I then remembered that the haircut I had when I was my happiest was an MC Lyte bi-level haircut that I rocked while wearing some pin-striped Gitano jeans. I have never thought about going back to that hairstyle.  "Oooooh!" I said.  "Yeah that's definitely a cultural difference."  I thought about all of the makeover shows I've seen and how so many of the white women on there had been rocking the same hair style for about fifteen years. I would have never thought about Melanie's statement possibly being the reason why.  

As we continued to watch the film, Melanie turned to me and said "You know Michelle Obama and Hillary have not done this. It would do some good." We both hollered over that. "They should!  They should totally do their hair together in the White House!" I agreed. "More women should do this together. Each one teach one! Could you imagine the racial reconciliation that could come from this?"  While we both proudly sat on the couch feeling like racial reconciliation trailblazers, Melanie's roommate walked in and we explained our little experiment.  She came in and joined us on the couch during the part where Chris Rock was interviewing men in the barbershop about how they felt about women wearing weaves. "They know?!" Melanie's roommate asked in complete shock. "The men know?!"  Melanie and I both burst into laughter over her amazement. "Yup! They know." I concurred. After more laughs and a few more discussions, we headed back into the bathroom to blow dry our hair. 

"I have a dream that little black girls and little white girls will come together over their hair."- Author umm...unknown
I truly hope this story encourages others to not be afraid or defensive when it comes to discussing things like our hair.  Although we chuckled over the mental picture of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton sitting in plastic caps next to each other, I believe I can also speak for Melanie when I say that we honestly wish that more women would do what we did. Let's face it; sometimes white women are afraid to ask black women questions about things like their hair and sometimes black women are tired of answering questions about it. At the end of the day, how are people not going to assume the wrong things about each other if they don't have dialogues and get the right information? As women with natural hair, some of our stories about our natural hair journeys are so empowering and what woman do you know could not use a little empowerment every once in a while?  I truly believe that not only can more dialogue dispel a lot of assumptions, but it can help us unite over our similarities and embrace our differences to the point where we can appreciate one another as women as we should.
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