What is “good hair” and does it really matter?

Last night I watched the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair, specifically this film is about, as Rock refers to it “Black hair”, it was an interesting watch and provides a lot of food for thought about the lengths we go to for beauty. I really recommend everyone check it out.

So if you’re wondering why Chris Rock decided to make a documentary about hair of all things, the explanation is he has two young daughters and was understandably caught off guard and heartbroken when one of them came to him upset that she doesn’t have “good hair”.

Rock then goes on a quest all over the world to discover exactly what “good hair” is. I don’t think he ever really finds the answer, but he does help to open up a really great conversation, and I learned a lot of things I didn’t know.

For example, there are hair thieves in India who steal hair from women while they’re at the movies, all because India is one of the top exporters of human hair in the world. Who wants this hair? Chris Rock says it’s all Black women, but we know there are a lot of women who wear hair extensions, so I’d say the market is women who don’t like their own hair in general.

In India they either steal hair or, more commonly, it’s auctioned off by temples after a ritual hair sacrifice practiced by many Hindus (and other religions as well) called Tonsure. Hindus believe it is a way of shedding your ego before god, your hair is shaved off by an appointee of the temple and it’s usually done to ask for a blessing, or re-pay a blessing received. I’d like to know exactly when the temples got hip to how much that hair is worth and started selling it for literally millions of dollars—hair is gold people, seriously.

Once the hair is bought it’s made into weaves and sold to buyers in Los Angeles and other parts of the U.S., what is a weave you may be asking? Well, it’s human hair sown together which is then weaved, or sewn, into a woman’s own hair, to find out more about it check out the documentary. It’s interesting that the movie only focuses on Black women wearing weaves, because I’m pretty sure there are starlets of many ethnicities out in Hollywood and elsewhere in America wearing them too. Which brings me to my first real point.

It’s so super great that Chris Rock made this documentary, and he is lucky enough to have the kind of funding to get it made, but it touches on a lot of issues and never really resolves any—mainly why do women do this to themselves, and why is hair so important? In the film, Maya Angelou says “hair is a woman’s glory” it’s true that it defines the way we look more than most other aspects of our appearance, so of course we seek to control it as best we can.

I do wish there were some women behind the camera in this film (the writers and director all seem to be men) instead of just in front of it, because for the most part this is a very feminine topic, and I don’t think there was enough focus on really why the hair industry is so huge. The documentary kind of plays out like Chris Rock walking in on a conversation that has been going on for hundreds of years among women, and it’s so new to him it’s overwhelming, and can’t be tackled.

Early in the film Rock mentions that “good hair” might equal “White hair”, well it’s sort of glossed over that the Black women Rock interviews who wear weaves are buying Indian hair, not the hair of White women. This gets into the whole issue of race and who is really considered White (the Kardashians? Rashida Jones?) and who is considered Black? Is it defined by what you are genetically or how you appear to the world? Either way there are tons of White women, Spanish women, Asian women, Jewish women, Italian women, Greek women, who all might dislike their hair just as much as Black women, we’re all hating ourselves here, all striving for some unknown “good”, and there has got to be a reason why.

Here’s a pic of my mom from the 70’s with her natural hair, looks good right? Why was natural hair more acceptable in the 70’s? Maybe it wasn’t, My mom has stories about being called out and ostracized for wearing her hair the way it came out of her head.

What I’m always fascinated by is the invisible standard, I’ve written about it before in my post about unconventional beauties. This ideal is the fuel for the entire cosmetics industry, and fashion too. They have to protect the idea of “standard”, it must remain or the whole thing falls a part. I’m not saying they started it, certainly humans always want what they can’t have, these industries just use that desire to make money. It’s just like the fashion magazines telling us how studies prove women like to see “aspirational images”, you see? We want to be better, they’re just giving us the tools we need to be our best possible selves, how sweet of them!

So my feeling is if Black women want to wear weaves or use relaxers to make themselves feel more beautiful, that’s great, when things get bad is when they feel like they have to use them. That seems to be the point Chris Rock misses too, it’s a choice, and there is no reason to look down on a women (or praise her) based on what she chooses to do with her hair.

There was a moment in the film which I found heartbreaking. Rock is interviewing a group of high school girls and asks what they think of natural hair. It’s obvious that one girl in the group is sporting an afro while the rest clearly have altered their hair in some way. Without a thought, the girls all point out how unprofessional the girl with the afro looks and how she can’t be taken seriously, the girl looked embarrassed, and didn’t speak up to defend her look, she was ganged up on after all. I hope she didn’t cave into the pressure and go get a weave because she really looked great, and I hope she finds some better friends too. This moment wasn’t explored at all though, and it’s deeply important.

It’s not just Black women, though obviously it’s far more common in that culture, many of us are faced with this issue. When I’ve gone on job interviews I always have the inner debate about whether I can wear my hair curly, or if I should straighten it so I look more professional. I usually end up compromising, like wearing it curly but pulling it back. I hate the idea that anyone can look at my hair (or any part of me for that matter) and judge my ability based on it. For some reason we have decided that the stuff that grows naturally from our heads can discern how capable or competent a person you are.

How do men play into this issue? They don’t have to deal with the problem as much, but there are curly-haired men I’ve met who clip it so close it doesn’t get a chance to curl. Why does everyone hate curly hair so much? Let me make that naturally curly hair, we have no problem with curls if they’re perfectly smooth and put in with an iron. I’ve stood there cursing myself in the mirror, knowing how ridiculous it is when I blow out my hair, straighten it with an iron, and then use another iron to put curls back in. The result is not that far from my natural hair, just without the frizz and unpredictability.

I’m sharing a photo of my hair after several days of not washing, that way most of the curl has been slept out of it leaving waves, and it’s usually the way I wear it. I always have to blow out my bangs straight, or they curl, and curly bangs isn’t a good look for me. I’ll have to post a pic of what it looks like when I first wash it at some point, it’s about four times bigger, which is why I don’t wash it so often. Honestly, I like my hair, and it’s not that hard to deal with, mostly because I’ve come to accept its natural texture, but I still obsess over it all the time, which proves what a common thing it is for most women.

The millionaire matchmaker, Patti Stanger (as a Jewish woman from New York I have a guilty love for this woman) tells the women she wrangles for her millionaires that they must straighten their hair, because “men don’t like curly hair”. I also think the implication there is that curly hair makes you stand out and gives you a personality, a big no-no. I’m betting Patty’s hair is about as straight as most Jewish girls—which is not so much, so there is a bit of self-hate going on there too I think. In my experience men don’t hate curly hair anyway, my fiance actually hates when I straighten it, so there Patty!

Anyway, I could go on about this for hours (and already have!), but you probably have important things to do so I’ll stop here. I hope this conversation continues, I hope more documentaries about the beauty industry are made (maybe by women next time), I hope we all at least take the time to think about why we do the things we do to feel beautiful, and try not to let pressure dictate what we do to our bodies.

So people, what about you? Curly hair? Straight hair? Somewhere in-between? Do you feel a pressure to change your natural hair in order to be taken seriously, or do you do it just because you like it? Or do you not do anything to it at all? Do we always want what we can’t have? I want to know!


Filed under acceptance, hair

17 responses to “What is “good hair” and does it really matter?

  1. Megan

    I think hair is such a touchstone of feminine beauty because it is so changeable. Unlike most parts of our bodies, we can change its color, shape and texture relatively quickly and inexpensively. If some magazine is making you feel like you should look like Jennifer Aniston, your hair is the fastest way to get there. Just a thought. I personally love curly hair and always wish mine was curlier (leading to a very bad perm and then a very bad sixth grade). But generally speaking, I think people look best with whatever comes out of their heads naturally.

  2. sara

    My mom also had a ‘do like that in the 70s!

    I have naturally wavy hair and I usually blow dry it straight because the waves bother me. It looks better and is way easier to manage that way.

    Here’s (another) BBC documentary about “good” hair, but from a woman’s prospective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9rXFskeFRM

  3. haren

    I think that spending tons of money and time on your hair is crazy. I think in the sixties and seventies people moved away from doing that because it was an age of showing how unmaterialistic you could be. Now the more money you spend on your hair the better because it is all about showing how much money you can throw away.

  4. alison

    I was born with a golden afro, and cursed those curls most of my life, ofcourse now I would kill to have them back.I dont know where they went but they are gone. I now find myself with my hot rollers almost everyday bringing back my puff. When I was a kid, my classmates always had something mean to say about my puff, I remember being compared to the man on the Quaker Oat box. (grr) What I dont understand is why people think they can so casually make comments about people having “bad hair” I no longer have my luscious puffy curls, now I find that my limp locks are the cause of ridicule from my idiotic coworkers. They always have a comment…..I agree with you and megan, people look best with what comes out of their heads, hair type and color! Brush on.

  5. Kristen

    love the photo of your mom! As a gal with curly hair that always looks messy and frizzy, I can relate to dreaming of silky straight hair. I hate that all the hair dressers I go to insist on blowing my hair out straight. Doesn’t anybody know how to make curly hair look good naturally? Obviously this post hit a nerve. Thanks!

    • Very true about curly hair, I hate on makeover shows the way they always straighten a woman’s hair, like “now that you have straight hair you’re beautiful!” I’ve heard good things about Devachan, but I don’t think my hair is curly enough for it, it’s for serious curls.

  6. Carmela

    I have always had curly hair, and let it go naturally. I’ve never dyed it and rarely blow it dry to straighten it (maybe once or twice in 40 years). And get nothing but compliments on how healthy and beautiful my hair is. I think it’s because it’s never been processed. I love curly hair, and my husband does too. I’ve never heard that men don’t like curly hair! Who are these men? I haven’t met them 🙂 People should go as natural as they can with their hair. Life is too short to spend time fighting it. Work with a good stylist to get a cut that makes the most of what you’ve got — straight or curly — and spend 5 minutes a day on your hair!

  7. Carmela

    P.S. to Kristen — there’s a shop in the village called Diva Shawn (I think that’s how it’s spelled, not positive) — they focus on curly hair. I haven’t gone, but I have several curly-haired friends who do — and they swear by it. It’s a little pricey, but apparently worth it.

  8. Hi, love your blog… read about it on Beauty Schooled. I’m a licensed esthetician (and magazine editor) and when I was in beauty school in 08 I really found myself hating my naturally wavy hair and wishing I could get it straight without a blow dryer. (I gave mine away in 2001 after I broke up with a boyfriend who preferred my hair straight, and never looked back). I hadn’t felt that way about my hair since high school! So, I bought a flat iron at a beauty show and I admit I love it. When I want to go straight, I can. Usually I do it after a couple days of not washing, since it looks better straight then the sort of in between way it becomes when I don’t wash. But I have heard at least one career woman (an attorney of Jewish descent) say she had to straighten hers or she didn’t feel professional enough for her job. Made me feel lucky I am in a more creative field. Though I have thought about something more permanent, I have yet to pull the trigger. I like being able to decide which way I want to go each day.

    • Thanks for reading!

      Ugh, it sucks that people feel like they have to change their hair for their careers. Unless you’re an actor playing a part, it just doesn’t seem right. I totally understand wanting a change sometimes, I’ll go months without straightening and then one day I’ll go back to it for a couple weeks, change can be fun—it just shouldn’t be enforced!!

  9. Wilberthe

    I’m a black girl and my mom started relaxing my hair when I was about 12 years old (I’m 18 now). The main reason why I agreed to it was because it was too hard for me to get my natural hair ready for school every morning. As time went on my hair accumulated tons of damage, so much so that I’ve had to cut it really short twice, and I really hate short hair on me. So recently, I decided to give up on that whole mess completely and try wearing weaves, and I really love it so far. I personally think it looks way better than my now poor, tortured natural hair, and it’s so much easier to take care of. I just hate that people think that since I’m wearing a weave, I’m ashamed of the natural texture of my hair, which is completely not true. I just honestly don’t really like how it looks on me, and weaves are practically maintenence free, which is perfect for someone like me who’s never liked spending tons on time on thier hair.

    • Your comment confirms my feelings about the documentary, so thanks so much for sharing! I hated that Chris Rock acted like these women wear weaves because they hate themselves or their natural hair. I know a lot of women who make beauty choices because it actually saves time and makes them feel good about themselves, it’s not just because we feel like we have to, even though it’s sad that sometimes that is the case.

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