You may have noticed that my recent posting has been light and a little frivolous. That's because I'm on vacation this week and I don't feel like thinking really hard. I've been avoiding news and political shows and even blogs, for the most part. So, yesterday when Republicans had the rest of the country thinking about "teabagging," (Hee!) I was thinking about cultural beauty rituals.
When folks start discussing black women and hair care, cultural rituals almost always enters the conversation. If you are a black woman reading this, close your eyes and think about sitting, trying not to wriggle, between your mother or grandmother's knees in the kitchen --the air thick with the smell of singed hair and grease--holding your ear, so the heavy, iron, pressing comb can navigate your edges. Think about a busy Saturday in a black beauty salon, all the "regulars"--the folks who share your biweekly appointment--lined up with their hair in various stages of "done"; think about the loud laughter, the gossip, the clucking over the latest celebrity scandal. Consider the night ritual of wrapping and pinning and binding hair with a satin scarf. While I deplore the reason many of us think we need to spend copious amounts of time and money "fixing" our hair, the fact remains that the process of female hair care is a part of black culture--a part of how black women socialize, bond and find commonality.
Most black women (I think the stat is 80 percent) straighten their hair. I don't. I still have hair care beauty rituals, but now they are different from those of most women. As thrilled as I am to be natural, I sometimes miss the bonding.
Yes, there are natural hair salons, but I haven't found the atmosphere to be the same as in traditional salons. Plus, they're often pricey. My hair beautification routine is so simple now. It seems ridiculous to pay someone else a mint to do something that I can do just as well myself. Although, I reckon I'll try one of these shops some time, just to be pampered.
I'm too lazy to spend time on most beauty regimens. My nails are a right mess. But my hair...I love treating it well. I spent yesterday giving myself a henna treatment. This is one of my new rituals, acquired since becoming a nappy. Henna, a flowering plant found in African, South Asia and Australasia, is a natural way to dye skin and hair a reddish brown. It is also said to strengthen and condition hair, enhancing it's shine.
About once a quarter, I carve out time to pamper my tresses with henna. I boil filtered water, steep green tea in it, mix the liquid into super-sifted body-art-grade henna, with a few tablespoons of honey (a natural humectant) for good measure. I work the resulting smooth paste through my hair, caking it like mud. The henna feels really cool and refreshing against my scalp. And everyone remembers from kindergarten that it is fun to squish and squeeze things. Applying the henna feels like playing. Then I sit around in my grubbies, watching TV (Yesterday it was old "Sex and the City" and "Lost" episodes) and playing on the Internet. Some 24 hours later (after rinsing thoroughly and deep conditioning overnight), my hair is all shiny and soft, and when I go into the sun (which decided to surface again after like five days), my dark hair has subtle coppery highlights (particularly around those couple of grey hairs that have mistakenly taken up residence on my young and nubile head).
There are not many African American women I can share the experience of squishing henna paste on my head with.
Today, I find the comraderie of the beauty shop online in places like Nappturality and Curly Nikki and Afrobella, where nappy-headed black women can bond over our common beauty rituals--big chopping, twisting, mixing moisturizing concoctions with glycerin and shea butter, searching for "hair twins," henna dyeing, starting locs, choosing between Oyin, Carol's Daughter, Qhuemet or kitchen-made products. And yeah, we do the gossiping and laughing, too. (It's just that the laughing looks like this: ROTFL) I am also lucky to have a few natural friends.
Caring for natural hair is really quite simple and takes little time. You might not understand that if you venture into a thread on a natural, black hair care board. The hair typing...the products...the concoctions...Oy! But it's not that we need to do all these things, it's that we want to. Everyone likes to be treated well and self care makes us all feel good, and it feels doubly good to share the experience with others.
This curly sister may have given up the perm, but rest assured I still enjoy the pampering.
Image courtesy of Elaina's Blueprint on Flickr