When my hair started to turn grey, I embraced it. When the grey came in patches, I tried to convince myself it was cool. Then, I realized that I looked kinda like I had mange, and admitted it was time to fight this whole aging thing a bit. But, keep in mind, this is me.
So, I decided that doing the normal thing and trying to match my natural hair color (which is mousey blonde/brown grossness) wouldn’t happen. I doubled down and dyed it a lovely dark brown color with some neon red streaks. Since I worked for an internet company at the time, this was a perfectly professional hairstyle – right up until my stylist had to find other work to make her own ends meet. Cue panic attack.
And so I found my current stylist. I asked about vivid colors, prices, and all the normal things. We decided on a gorgeous color scheme that suited me. The goal was to have Sunset hair. Oh, it was so pretty!
Sadly, that dark brown didn’t want to cooperate. In order to get rich, vivid, neon colors, the hair beneath has to be pale. The closer to white, the better. Yeah, I never learned how to do things by half, and so we bleached. We colored, then the next time, we’d bleach again.
I’m sure most women out there can see where this is going. We did a LITTLE bit of damage to my hair (read: fried it to smithereens). I also learned that mixing warm and cool colors together is a great recipe for brown. Yeah, all of that pretty blue at the top, there? It faded into the pink, orange, and yellow. My hair was puppy poo brown within a week. Not exactly the end result I was looking for.
So, one more round of bleaching it all out, and we decided we’d start over with something a bit more complimentary to itself. Instead of a sunset, we’d go with fire. Bright, retina-burning colors that made me happy every time I looked in a mirror.
The end result has been my go-to color for just over a year. I love my orange and pink hair. Even more amusing, I dislike both orange and pink, but it sure looks good on me (in my opinion, and it’s kinda the only one that matters). Ahem. But yeah, my point in all of this is to get to what comes next.
You see, about two years of abusing my hair to achieve happiness (oh, and it honestly does make me happy) had some tragic effects on my hair. Just look at those split ends! Well, we’ve treated, pampered, and babied it, and I’m finally at the point where all of the fried bits are gone. My hair is once again soft, silky, and just as orange as ever… but I wanted to do a little more.
You see, for decades, black women have been using a collection of protective styles to look good while growing out their own natural hair. The ingenuity of these styles is amazing, and they’re gorgeous! Someone recommended that if I want to protect my own hair, I should try Sengelese Twists. This involves something similar to microbraids but twisted instead. To get the length I wish I had, I simply add in a little fake hair at the ends. Sounded like a good plan, looks beautiful on the women I’ve seen wearing it, and the kanekalon hair also comes in neon. Yep, I was sold.
So, yesterday, I spent 9 hours with my stylist. Look at those sexy twists! I adore my new waist length hair! It’s gorgeous, it’s neon, and it’s relatively easy to care for… but it’s so not fair.
The whole time we worked on my hair, other clients entered and exited the salon. Quite a few had something to say. Some people adore my neon colors and atypical fashion sense. Most? They grumbled about the stupidity of what I was doing. I couldn’t believe the horrible things people were willing to say to a complete stranger simply because they don’t like her choice of style!
Now pause and think about this for a moment. Many black women basically have to do their hair like this to be considered “professional” looking enough to get or maintain a job. Styles with only natural hair, like afros, are called disgusting, unkempt, and ugly. Dreads? Well, they’re dirty, right? (Uh, they really aren’t.) Microbraids, Sengelese twists, and such are the only natural hair options to look close enough to be acceptable in school or at work.
And this style wasn’t CHEAP! I’ll have to see my stylist again in six to eight weeks to replace the twists due to hair growth. That averages out to about a hundred bucks a month just in hair care, probably more. For me, that’s a luxury I can afford (and do in place of things I wouldn’t use such as cable). For so many black women, it’s mandatory. Large bills at the salon are the minimum required to keep from being kicked out of school, get a job, or be seen as respectable…
And on me, at least five people thought it was disgusting.
Now, I’d like to make it clear that I really don’t care if people like my hair. I mean, I’m basically a hermit except for my salon visits. I have no one to impress with my appearance but my husband (and he says my hair is sexy, just so you know). But the more I thought about it, sitting in that chair while my stylist literally twisted the skin from her own fingers, I couldn’t help but wonder how the very women (and the culture) that invented this style deals with it.
For so many people, affording a wardrobe for a new job is a hardship. Never mind feeding the kids, paying the bills, and keeping it all together. To be required to add in the equivalent of a used-car payment on top of that, just to meet the bare minimum of someone else’s opinion about your looks, an opinion that is based on an ideal you weren’t born into (white, Eurocentric beauty standards) is basically disgusting.
I’m lucky. I get to have this gorgeous hair, in a style I’ve always wanted and there are no repercussions for my eccentricism. Being made aware of my own level of privilege, however, is the best encouragement to write a book. I may not get it right, but I want to have beautiful main characters who don’t always fit inside the boundaries our society expects. I want to examine our perceptions of beauty and why it’s so hard to find cover art with non-white women for fantasy. Most of all, I want to write stories that aren’t whitewashed simply because it’s easier.
Basically, I just want to think outside the box, and help others see what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.