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!