Since seventh grade, I have indulged in the great Southern women’s ritual of forcing my hair to do things it doesn’t want to do. In Jackson, Mississippi, the trend was Farrah Fawcett, but a less care-free version of her feathered style. You hot-rolled the back and styled the front with a curling iron. Then, you got out your Aqua Net and sprayed, hoping the rumor wasn’t true that a woman once died when her lungs froze from inhaling hairspray.
Sadly, my hair would not do the uptight Farrah Fawcett or the Jacklyn Smith or the Kate Jackson. Every morning, after an hour of trying to force the feathers, I pulled my worthless locks back with barrettes in disgust. The hair God gave me does not like to be bossed around.
Over the years, styles changed, and I always held out hope that I could get my hair to work with me. In the ‘80s, I had some success with Big Hair. We used to say our hair was only big enough to go out in public it we could stand our college IDs upright in the center. Achieving this look took time and patience, and when it came to my hair I had plenty of both.
When Friends was popular in the ‘90s, I attempted Jennifer Aniston’s flip. I have since destroyed all photos from that era. I need no reminders of that epic disaster. More recently, straight hair has been in fashion, a trend I never thought would migrate this far South. My hair responded better to the flat iron than it ever did the curling iron, but the humidity undid my efforts before I got to work. I kept a rubber band around my wrist, so I could tie my hair back in defeat.
When my daughter came along in 2006, I didn’t have time for the iron and let my hair do it’s own thing. Some days are better than others but, overall, my hair seems happier and so am I.
Except now I have my daughter to consider. Her hair is a lush field of ever-changing wonderment. I’m always coming across undiscovered curls. Some are tight, and others are wavy. They grow in every conceivable direction and still manage to form the most perfect ringlets when near the beach.
I was instructed when I adopted a child of African heritage that I absolutely must learn to style her hair properly. I’m trying. I drop a tidy sum on hair products, sometimes brands jotted down on cocktail napkins passed to me by sympathetic black women at restaurants. I have grilled other moms of bi-racial children. They respond with multi-step processes they swear by.
I even signed up for a class taught at a local children’s hair salon for parents of children with wild, curly hair. Though the flyer didn’t spell it out, the class was clearly for non-black women who find themselves running their fingers through hair that feels nothing like theirs and is attached to a head that is howling mightily.
The instructor, a stylist and mother of two bi-racial children, was gentle and informative. Spritz the hair while working, alternating between water and conditioner. Wash hair as infrequently as possible, maybe twice a month. Use a rat-tail comb to get the parts straight. Get regular trims.
I expected to feel a rush of satisfaction when I bossed my child’s hair into four organized pigtails. Instead I felt conflicted. First, the parts are crooked. More significantly, this tidy, somewhat symmetrical style doesn’t look that cute on my kid. It doesn’t fit her free-spirited personality as well as her usual untamed mane.
The idea of black women grimacing at her hair and thinking me unworthy as a mother doesn’t scare me anymore. No one has ever uttered a critical word to me regarding my decision to adopt a child of another race. Instead women roll down their car windows and shout, “She’s beautiful! Try Baby Love! You can get it at Wal-Mart!”
I don’t want her to grow up thinking her hair has to be fixed.
Still, I’m hesitant to surrender to a natural style for her. I guess I was programmed so long ago to force hair to do what society says it should, I’m having a hard time giving up the tradition. I still have a set of hot rollers under my bathroom sink. I only use them once or twice a year, but it’s reassuring knowing they’re there in case I decide the cave woman look isn’t working on me after all.
For now, I’ll be sticking with wild hair. It’s hard for a Southern woman to admit, but giving up the hair-appliance habit shaves significant time off the morning routine.
As for my daughter, I’ll wait until she’s old enough to tell me what she wants. If she covets orderly braids and pig-tails, I’ll learn to do them. Until then, we’ll go untamed together. We are, after all, mother and daughter.