Good Hair in Huntsville
My daughter has beautiful hair. I tell her so all the time. But you know what you’ll never hear me say to my daughter? … “You have good hair.” For me, that term – good hair – is loaded with assumptions, not the least of which is the implication that some hair must also be bad.
And while I’ve made a conscious effort not to refer to my daughter’s hair as good, other people do it all the time. I mostly offer a half smile, half cringe in response. I know it’s meant to be a compliment, but I also know that it’s meant to signify that my daughter doesn’t have stereotypical African American hair. (And certainly not the type of hair one would expect to see on the head of a child with so chocolate a hue; but that’s another, although not entirely separate, story.)
[sws_pullquote_right]”As you may have noticed, it ain’t all about the hair. There are underlying issues here of identity, self-esteem, and societal expectations.” [/sws_pullquote_right] The roots (pun intended) of this issue run deep, and in speaking with a couple of mothers about caring for the hair of their little girls of color, as well as a resident natural hair care expert, a few of those layers began to unfold.
Both of the mothers I spoke to have daughters who have multi-ethnic backgrounds and each of them shared with me the difficulty they’ve had in either finding the right products or hair care regimen for their children, in part because their daughters’ hair is so different from their own.
But Lindsay*, who happens to be Caucasian, also shared how that difference has impacted her daughter’s self-identity. “Just this morning, when I was brushing her hair, she asked me why her hair is so tangly and mine isn’t. I try to explain to her that everyone has different hair and that everyone’s hair is beautiful. Some people have to spend a little more time brushing and styling their hair than others, but that doesn’t make their hair any less beautiful.”
Christina described her daughter’s hair, a combination of her Mexican, Cuban and Nevisian heritage as “medium course with tight curly roots and wavy towards the ends.” She said that in her household, they actually try not to make a big deal out of it. And her daughter has even taken a lighthearted approach to her sometimes wild and frizzy hair by proclaiming, “I have mad hair!”
The one thing that I and the two moms I talked to all have in common is that our daughters love to have their hair flat ironed or blow dried straight. Let’s face it; the gold standard of beauty in our society still revolves around having long, straight hair and not the kinky, curly variety. And that viewpoint has not been lost on our daughters. So, the go-to solution for natural hair has often been chemical straightening or relaxing, an option that at least one of the mothers I spoke to has considered to better manage her daughter’s hair.
Without question, though, these mothers prefer their daughters’ natural curls. Lindsay said, “What I love most about my daughter’s hair is her cute bouncy curls. If only I could find a way to keep them from frizzing… I know that she would start loving her hair, too.” And so it seems, to straighten or not to straighten. That is often the question.
I stopped relaxing my hair 14 years ago, and it was quite a process. But now, lots of African American women are “going natural” and the hair care industry has exploded with products and services to support them. But when Ambrey McWilliams began her natural hair journey in 2010, she was frustrated by the lack of local access to many of these products, so she eventually started her own website, PURESS, offering products, resources, and social events, for other naturals in Huntsville.
Ambrey decided to go natural after realizing that she’d never really taken care of her own hair. Her mother pressed her hair as a child, and she started getting relaxers in college. Transitioning back to her natural texture, Ambrey challenged herself to 100 days of no “crutches”- no salons and no straightening (chemical or otherwise). But what surprised her most were the deep-seated reactions she sometimes got from people who appeared offended or insecure about her decision. But Ambrey really wanted to get to know her hair. In the process, she developed a passion for learning to care for her hair chemical-free. So, I thought Ambrey would be the perfect person to offer a little advice for moms who may be dealing with this issue.
One of the first things Ambrey mentioned was that people of color have an array of hair textures. And while there are typing systems available to categorize natural hair, Ambrey recommends paying attention to one’s hair density, porosity, and texture to maintain healthy hair. She also suggested that parents immerse themselves in all the knowledge that’s available online, but to “Keep your regimen simple. With kids, too many steps can make the already lengthy process, unbearable.” And most importantly, “Don’t give up! Natural hair requires dedication. You must find value and beauty in it to keep going when it gets frustrating.”
What constitutes “good hair” is a matter of perspective, but the term still creates some tension for me because, as you may have noticed, it ain’t all about the hair. There are underlying issues here of identity, self-esteem, and societal expectations. But how a girl decides to wear or style her hair is also matter of personal preference. And as long as its worn with pride… it’s all good.
For more information on this topic, check out the bevy of resources Ambrey shared with me below.
Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care – blog of Caucasian mom raising an African American child
The Natural Haven – A great blog that is comes from a scientific perspective.
Black Hair Science – blog of author of science of black hair
De Su Mama – blog with articles about mixed race hair care
Dr. Kari Williams – blog by Dr. Kari Williams a trichologist
Curly Nikki – the Mecca of natural hair articles
LOCAL MEETUP GROUPS & EVENTS
Natural Curlfriends of Huntsville
*The mothers’ names in this post have been changed for privacy.
Taralyn Caudle is a freelance writer and Huntsville native who returned to her hometown to raise her beautiful and energetic daughter, Gabby. When she’s not nurturing the talents of her budding artist, she can be found on the hunt for good food, good music, or a good deal on a pair of shoes. Practically possessed by politics, purple, and Prince, she loves alliteration (obviously) and has been known to quote music lyrics in everyday conversation, from Hall & Oates to
Kanye West Kendrick Lamar. Her current philosophy on life: a little bit of sarcasm and a whole lot of laughter never hurt anybody.
I know a lot of families with biracial children. Thank you for covering this. I think it has a good message.
Thanks, Priscilla! Glad you found it useful. 🙂
I was roundly unimpressed with the other piece to which this one was preemptively compared in the RCM clubhouse, and consequently I tempered my expectations of what you might do with the topic.
But I shouldn’t have. This is out of the park. You did a really fine job with this, Taralyn. Great work writing genuinely and inclusively with a topic that could have easily turned divisive.
Bo, thank you so very much for your kind words! Truly, it means a lot. For one thing, you must know that because I’m such a fan of your writing, this is high praise, indeed. But also, both Stephenie and Jennifer could probably tell you that I agonized about the right approach to this piece. I really wanted it to be informative and insightful, and I think that was only achieved by really taking the time to speak with the women mentioned in (this post as well as a few other moms I know). So, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Oh, and I kept my word about not reading that other piece until this one was done. Now, I’m really curious… Thanks again!
Wow. My turn to say thank you for your kind words, ma’am.
I think we can safely call a Mutual Admiration Society between Taralyn and Bo. 🙂
I know we have different backgrounds, but I’ve had quite the struggle with curly hair as well. My mom has stick straight hair and my dad has curly hair but keeps it short so has no idea what to do with long curly hair. I struggled through crunchy gels, weird haircuts, perms, straighteners, everything I could get my hands on. I finally happened across a website that changed the way I was dealing with my hair and I wanted to pass it on for anyone struggling with curls. NaturallyCurly.com is a great resource for any type of curly hair. They categorize curls and have forums where you can search for someone with your “type” of curls and see what she/he is doing. The community as a whole tends to embrace getting rid of products that dry your hair (sulphates and alcohol) and products that coat your hair (every version of -cones out there). It has made an incredible difference in my hair and how I feel towards my hair. And I cannot stress enough how important a good haircut is. Finding someone who understands how to cut curls has been incredibly helpful.
Hi Colleen! Thanks so much for sharing this website. I think I actually came across it during some of my research, but obviously didn’t list it. So, I appreciate you mentioning it. Delving into this topic really did remind me of the significance of how lots of women/girls feel about their hair, regardless of their backgrounds, because it is often so connected to our definitions of beauty. Thank you again for sharing.
I found naturallycurly.com to be a great resource as well. Even though I began my natural hair journey thinking only from an African American perspective, that quickly changed when I realized that “curly” hair is not a race specific trait. I’ve learned now that many women of all racial backgrounds can have a love/hate relationship with their curls. The term curls I’m using generally speaking of course. I never hated my “curls” but its not an effortless process either. Doing research and reading the blogs that Taralyn mentioned above (including naturally curly) were my light at the end of the tunnel!!!
This piece resonates so much! My daughter is a 3c on the curly girl scale and naturallycurly.com and the Curly Girl books were lifelines for me (acaucasian w/ stick straight hair) as I learned to take care of her hair properly. She loves her curls! She loves playing with a myriad of hairstyles and once every few months, she enjoys having it flat ironed.
One thing you didn’t provide (and that I would truly appreciate) is a resource list for hair stylists that specialize in this hair type here in the area. We are fairly new here (6 mos) and still have not found someone. Since RocketCityMom offers resources on everything else, this most basic element would be very appreciated.
Hi Kelsey! Thanks so much for your comment and your suggestion is well received. I will definitely give some thought to putting together a list like this. And to be honest, it’s been a bit of a struggle for me as well. Luckily both of my stylists over the last few years have also been able to do my daughter’s hair,too (we both have natural hair), but I have been looking for a stylist that SPECIALIZES in natural hair without charging a fortune. There is one place, Simply Beautiful, that I’ve heard good things about, but I’m not sure where their location is now. Might be a good place for me to start my investigation…
Chris Rock did a documentary called Good Hair about “good hair” and it is wonderful. You can view it free online. I am white and have always had black friends. I also have always inherently known you don’t ask to touch ANYONE’S hair! That being said this movie was so informative. It opened my eyes and allowed me to understand on a deeper level how important it is for all girls and especially girls of color to be built up and told that they are enough and that they are special.
Hi Jeri! Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree. Chris Rock’s documentary on this subject is really good, and I’ve seen it several times. Since I’ve had firsthand experience with several of the dynamics it covers, I think the most informative part for me was how Chris Rock addressed the economics, if you will, of good hair, which could be an entirely separate documentary. I’m so glad to hear that you found a deeper understanding from it and so glad you gave the post a read! Thanks for stopping by!
Hi Taralyn, I just discovered you on Rocketcitymoms.com. I was very interested in your writing background, because I love to write and am “working” on a book that I will probably not finish, LOL. As I perused through your work, I found this article and just had to respond.
My name is Toni Parker and I am the founder of CUSH Cosmetics—a natural hair care company that makes products for curly hair. We will be in the Huntsville Whole Foods Market soon. In the meantime, you can buy them at http://www.cushcosmetics.com . I will reach out to the local meetup community here in Huntsville. Thanks for the great information.
Hi Toni! Thank you SO much for stopping by. I’m so glad to hear about your products. I have been looking for some new products for my own hair. As I’m sure you know, sometimes hair can get used to a product/products and not be as a effective, so I’ll definitely be checking out your site. I’m in the middle of this little entrepreneurial transition and love connecting with other writers, so feel free to visit my website or find me on FB and let’s connect! Finish that book! 🙂