asked & answered: i miss my perm! what do i do?!

Al Sharpton understands, girl.

unfortunately, i forgot to publish the first part of this question. the lovely writer sent a  question asking for advice on what to do about her hair.  it’s her second BC and she finds herself missing her perm (who hasn’t been there, am i right?!).  i asked what she missed most about it; this is her response:

well it was more predictable. It was longer. I think I miss the length the most, and I know my hair will grow, but it seems to be taking forever..

got it.  you’re definitely right about predictability… my hair will do any and everything it wants to, inspite of what i try to get it to do.  you can kind of never tell if a style will turn out the way it did last time, if it’ll be too dry this week, or what.  and as far as hair not growing fast enough, i’m fairly certain that like 95% of naturals felt that way at some point, if not now.

so here’s the thing, as i see it anyway.  we (black women, in general) have always made such a big deal of our hair, or have had a big deal made of our hair, for some very substantial, historical reasons.  the social construct of race is built on discernible physical differences.  it’s easier to judge, label and discriminate against someone when you can point to them and say “look at her skin/nose/body/etc!  She is clearly different!”  our kinks and coils mark “non-whites” as “non-white” as loudly as skin tone does.  race being such a big deal to the majority forces it to be a big deal to the minority, and it has been so since the beginning of humanity, pretty much.  so naturally, as any oppressed group would, black folk have tried to circumvent the thing that oppresses us however they could.  not being accepted and suffering because of it?  find a way to fit in.  skin too dark?  try a bleaching cream.  hair too nappy?  find a way to straighten it.  for us, hair was and is not only a genetic trait or fashion accessory; it had a huge bearing on your treatment and qualitiy of life in a society so obsessed with race and “otherness.”

for those reasons and many others, hair straightening became the norm for black women.  for a really, really long freaking time.  when that’s what you’re used to, when you’re so used to seeing yourself with straight hair, it literally is a shock to see yourself without it.  after i went natural, i still straightened my hair for three months, not because i thought i looked bad (i thought i looked weird, not bad.  later i realized that i didn’t look weird, just different), or because i didn’t know what to do with it (even though i had NO IDEA AT ALL what to do with it), but because i just didn’t feel comfortable because i didn’t look like the me i’d always looked like.  i also realized that i hid behind my hair a lot.  i always felt prettiest the day i came back from the beauty shop because i felt that no matter what the rest of me looked like, my hair was laid, so i’d pass somebody’s test for prettiness.  having a headfull of flowing hair that i knew people would approve of made it easier for me to ignore my too-big nose and uneven skin and that baby tooth that never fell out.  i could feel pretty in spite of my faults and flaws.

in spite of.

the challenge in natural hair is to feel pretty because of, instead of in spite of.  the space that you are in–missing your perm, missing that security blanket–is actually a really amazing, fertile space to be in.  if you can hang in there, take this time to learn to feel beautiful because of, not in spite of.  hair not doing what you thought it would or what you want it to?  having a bad hair day?  or week?  or month?  awesome!  screw your hair, because you know what?  you have bright beautiful eyes and a gorgeous smile.  or skin like a melted Hershey bar (or butterscotch, or what have you), and ten times sweeter.  or your grandmommy’s nose, and you know how gorgeous she was.  and who is f#cking with your fashion sense?! nobody, that’s who!  you can hook up an outfit, girl!  and even if you can’t, so what!  you are overall, inside and out amazing, no matter what you wear.  and no matter what your hair looks like.

now, if you can’t find anything attractive about yourself because of or even in spite of, that’s a whole nother issue that needs to be explored deeper.  seek out a comfy therapist’s couch–you need it, and deserve it, because everyone deserves to be happy.  everyone deserves to be able to look in the mirror and love what they see, no matter what is looking back at them.

no matter what you decide to do, remember this:  everything beneath your straightened hair is still there beneath your naps, coils, and kinks.  you are still you.  you can become as comfortable with your natural hair as you were with straight hair–it will just take time, a ton of patience, and a commitment to being uncomfortable until that comfort comes.  dedicate yourself to accepting what you can’t change–this is a lesson that will serve you well in *every* area of your life.

and most importantly, in the end, remember that it’s just hair.  i want to stress that i dont at all think that people who perm hate themselves; i always resented that being told to or assumed of me when i had a perm, so i know better than to think that now that i’m natural.  if your hair is stressing you out too much, by all means, holler at that Dudley’s!  do not let your hair make you miserable!  let this be your (and everyone’s) mantra:  it’s just hair.  whatever is underneath your scalp while covered with curls and kinks will still be there if blanketed by a straight hair via perm or wig or weave.  so make sure that *that* is the part of you that stays natural, whole, and accepting.  once you get that down, it doesnt matter what your hair is doing–people who use their natural hair as a crutch for beauty or blackness are just as lost as those who use perms as a crutch for beauty and social acceptance.   it’s just hair.  let it compliment you, not define you.

in conclusion, i think your hair looks absolutely stunning on you, and i think you look stunning with it.  but what i think doesn’t matter.  you follow your own heart, your own gut, and screw what anyone else says, no matter what you decide.

(you *really* are gorgeous, though!)

(not that my opinion matters!)

(just wanted you to know!)

(k bye!)


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