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Is kinky hair “hard” and straight hair “easy peasy”? by Tina Opie

Question for you:  Is Black hair “hard”?  Not hard as in the opposite of soft, but hard as in difficult.  One day a White female acquaintance and I were talking about our children, the process of getting them dressed up for holiday pictures, styling their hair.  She looked at me, shook her head and said in a commiserating voice, “Your hair is just so…hard”.  Whoa. She went on to say that her hair was easy-peasy, just wash and go, pull it back and she’s done.  Perhaps this was a politically incorrect response but I asked, “But, isn’t that boring?  I can do a wash and go too, but I can also straighten, twist, twistout, pull back, bantu knot, cornrow, etc.  In essence, I can rock seven hairstyles in seven days if I so choose.”  My acquaintance didn’t have a verbal response but her facial expression suggested mixed emotions:  on one hand, she’d never thought of that before; on the other hand, she may have thought I was being overly optimistic about my kinky hair.

A few things have gelled for me as I reflect on this conversation.  First, my acquaintance was merely parroting messages she’d likely heard about knotty, nappy, kinky, unmanageable hair (still upset about the title of the Washington Post article about my hair…folks, I DID NOT pick that title!) that Black women “deal” with and the long, silky gorgeous hair that White women are “blessed” with (please hear the irony in my voice).  Everything from Disney to Mattel to Elle to Lucky to Glamour underscores that message (although, more and more women with sufficiently multicultural textured hair are being lauded as beautiful…I still don’t see many kinky-haired women in all of our natural-haired glory).  What will it take to change that message?  Will there ever come a day where the unique beauty of kinky hair is appreciated as much as that of straight hair?

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Second, an internal truth:  I used to think that my hair was hard. Yes, there, I’ve said it.  One of the reasons why I wore a relaxer for decades was because I didn’t want to or know how to “deal” with my thick kinky hair.  Even after I got my last relaxer in 1997/8, I still chose styles like twists or cornrows that “tamed” my hair, only allowing the hairdresser to loose it from its kinky cage and re-tame it every four to six weeks.  That was followed by ten years of beautiful locs…again, a style I chose because it didn’t make sense to pay someone to twist and re-twist my hair every four to six weeks when I could wear locs and have the same beautiful look.  I loved my locs but at some point (roughly two years ago), a nagging sense that I’d been avoiding myself, my kinky-haired self that is, began to plague me.  I know that some people think it’s only hair but if that were true, why would I avoid it.  Wouldn’t I treat it like my ears, or nails or something?  Just let it be?  Hair is identity-rich, revealing so much about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us.  That, THAT was what pulled and tugged at me.  What did I see in my kinky hair that was so troubling that I felt a need to “tame” it, even while donning natural styles?

If you could change your hair texture to straight would you?  To kinky, would you?

  • Stephanie McNeil Calhoun

    I not only love my locs; I am in love with them. I love reading your pieces about our hair journey.

    • Tina Opie

      Hi lady! It’s so nice to hear from you! Thanks so much for supporting me and the site. It makes me feel really good that you appreciate the pieces. :)

  • Janelle James

    I loved the article. It was spot on. I cannot name how many times I get, “your hair must be so difficult” or the, “I can never see myself going natural because its so hard.” Point is, I really liked how you addressed the issue by giving a personal account and revealing some moments in your life where you had to ask yourself the hard why? Why you chose to wear one style over another; a question I do not think enough people as themselves.
    If I had any criticism I would probably say that it felt a little too surface level-isk. However, I may be viewing it like that because I wanted more than a discussion on the issue, I wanted an answer– what can I do to start loving my hair for what it is or navigating through those difficult conversations (like the one you had with your colleague) But your goal may be to simply invoke the thought and start the conversation not to provide the answers (assuming one exists)
    Nevertheless, I enjoyed the article. It was entertaining and I could feel your personality and warmth in every word!
    May Peace Be With You Always

    • Tina Opie

      I am so glad that you liked the article. You are right, my goal in this is to get the conversation going…I have many thoughts, suggestions but the blog is about EVERYONE”S journey not just MINE. So, I don’t like to preach about what has worked for me, rather I prefer to get people thinking about their own journey and then have them share their thoughts on the website with all of us! BUT, if you and others really want me to chime in, make your collective voice heard! :) Hugs!

  • csimpson

    I love this article! I confess I wear my hair the same way everyday. Once I had a 2nd grade student look at me & ask “how do you not have webs in your hair?” I love seeing the different styles my students come in with. What impresses me the most is the time dedicated to do your hair. So while it maybe “easy-peasy” yes it gets boring.

    • Tina Opie

      Hi! I miss seeing you in NY! Thanks so much for your comment and for reading the site! Be grateful for that “easy-peasiness”; work what you’re working with! :) Happy, happy NEW YEAR! :)

  • Laquita

    Interesting article. My though it that, no matter how one wears her/his hair, it is an adjustment at the beginning to style the hair in any particular way. I wouldn’t say that any particular grade of hair is easy or hard, just different.

    • Tina Opie

      Happy New Year! Thanks so much for commenting! I agree that hair grade / texture shouldn’t matter much, it very much has to do with knowledge. However, it seems that assumptions are made about kinky textured hair (it’s so difficult!) and I think it’s great that we’re exploring this and discussing the tradeoffs of different hair textures. Thanks again. Come back often! :)

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