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I Had Hope For Other Hair: Confessions in Black Motherhood

I had hoped for other hair...
(My Little One Reading a Book Before Bed)

... for my daughter.

No, I didn't want her to have "good hair"... hair that ebbed and flowed close to the weight of Whiteness. I didn't want that for her.  I didn't want her to have hair that was deemed "managable" or "a good grade". as if you can give hair letter grades or grade it on a curve.

I just wanted her to have any hair other than MY hair. She inherited my hair. And I cried.

When I found out I was having a girl, anxiety was replaced with dread. "Dear God.. I have to learn how to do hair". See, growing up, my mother was my stylist, even way into high school. So in between salon visits, she would relax or press my hair. She'd style it or comb it. And I never worried about it. I tried and tried to do my own hair... and failed. The only style I could keep up were Brandy-inspired box braids (which some poor, Senegalese woman would do for hours) or a very short Pixie haircut a-la- 90s Halle Berry- a style that helped to mask my insecurities. But those styles came with a price: haircuts were not cheap and they didn't look that great once relaxers grew out. And box braids were tight, pulling my scalp, making it tender and red... and were sketchy around my already tender edges.

My edges...

I had inherited a genetic trait . My mother had it. Her mother..... all her sisters...all had very thin edges.I wish I could pinpoint the Ghanaian tribe this attribute is from. No amount of massage or Jamaican Black Castor Oil would/can revive them. It wasn't due to pulling or tugging. It wasn't due to relaxers (not solely anyway). They had just always been thin, My mother's saving grace was her soft, wavy hair that she could slick down with just water and grease.She could mask that her edges were thin. My hair didn't do that. It was all cotton and field negro... back of the plantation with a can of chicken fat. It didn't work out like that for me. Water just made it "revert" back to thin, wiry cotton. Gel made it frizzy and my edges and nape would bead up. I remember getting very ill as a girl, and clumps of my hair coming out. I am still not sure what caused it to this day.

As a kid, I was teased for two things: my lack of butt and my hair.. People thought I had cancer or something. Boys would point and girls would stare and make fun of my hair.. As I got older, I hid behind the new rage of "weave" and pony tails and eventually short hair styles. I dated a guy who pointed at my hair, my edges like "WTF is wrong?" and I felt so ashamed.

In college,  I finally let go of the relaxers, I was hoping my edges would grow. And they did.. and then stopped. They weren't full and lush as I'd hoped. My hair was still thin but just not relaxed, and the shrinkage after a wash was excruciating. It was the early days of natural hair, and we didn't have all the potions and concoctions like we do now. We were just finding our way.... and so I hid under wigs a lot of the time.

After graduate school, I grew my locs and my hair grew all over, all the way down to my waist.. but my edges are still thin and limit the styles I can wear.  When I got pregnant, my hair was lush all over.. and my edges flourished a bit.. and then breakage happened. And I was back to where I started.

When my daughter was born, her hair was a slick, swirl on her head. It was so lovely.I would stare at it everyday. But I could tell, she had my edges. Her hair wasn't lush on the sides. and I let out a*sigh*. I was hoping she'd inherit my father's lion mane.. or her paternal grandmother's hair... but no... she got mine: soft, cottony and thin.  And I was devastated. I knew I wouldn't be able to do all the cute styles I had seen. She'd be relegated just like I was to wearing headbands or "swoop" bangs to cover my sides. And as the months went on, her texture came to be. I experimented with tons of products and so far.. nothing is seem to be working.(Note: I did buy some Taaliah Wajid products on the recommendation of my soror... so we are trying them out this week...)

I just don't know how to process my disappointment and sadness. And I felt ashamed that I felt this way. I didn't want her to have "good hair".. just a full, lush head of thick African hair with full edges. Hair that I could experiment and do a multitude of styles on... So far she's only had puffs and cornrows (done by my aunt). Most times she rocks her little TWA. The back of her hair hasn't fully grown in.

 I confided in my husband (who himself experienced early male pattern baldness) and he said "Well.. somehow you are going to have to impart in her the self esteem to not really trip about it". But.. for black women.. our hair is our crown. And as a woman who has struggled her entire life with her hair... I just don't feel I have the tools for it.

I know this seems like an out of place blog. But hair intertwines with the dynamics of race and sex... and sexuality.. and self-esteem. At least it does for me and a lot of my black women friends. My hair even prevented me from learning how to swim as a kid. I was afraid it would revert back to the beady, cotton mess pre-press or relaxer.

But I can't do my daughter like this!  As I grow in motherhood, I am growing in my own self-confidence and awareness. I can't pass down anxiety about my hair that I felt as a  kid. We are just going to have to figure this hair thing out together, thin edges and all. Cotton sponge or not.


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