Thursday, September 2, 2010

Unhappy to Be Nappy

Image by Viktors Kozers
When I ceased perming my hair a year or so ago, I envisioned my natural mane as soft and sweet as little girls’ ponytails on Easter Sunday.

The awakening has been rude.

Supposedly my grandmother was part Indian, however that part is non-existent in the six inches of wiry thickness springing from my follicles. When I stumbled into this whole “going natural” thing, I wasn’t expecting to wake up to the Serengeti on top of my head every day. I wasn't ready for the theme song of Lion King to hum softly every time I passed a mirror.

Somewhere in my imagination, I fantasized my scalp giving birth to wavy, obedient hair that allowed me to sleep without tying my head up, jog in 95 degree humidity, take a dip in the pool, wash, and ride out.

Where would I get such a radical idea?

Blame Essence and every black women's magazine, Web site, and blog that uses words like “tendrils,” “bouncy,” “coils,” and “curly” to describe natural hair. “This” (picture me grabbing two fistfuls of Fro-ville) is not “curly.” The boy from High School Musical? His hair is curly. Let's just call mine what it is....nappy.

I feel hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Run a muck.

For the record, I don’t mind intentional nappiness and/or a fro...every now and then. Even with a perm, my hair has always been versatile enough to wash and air-dry to create cute wavy big hair. It’s a style I’ve been known to rock occasionally, particularly when in need of a touch up; it's a great way to take advantage of new growth.

But when it comes to doing hair, I'm cheap and have ADHD. Which means I have little patience for doing my own and I'm not willing to pay anyone else hundreds of dollars to manage it on a regular basis. And so, I've continued my longstanding support of many Korean families with my purchases of convenient synthetic accoutrement.

But with sisters praising going natural as if unpermed black hair was the secret to good credit, finding a man, and losing weight, I figured I'd give it a try. After all, I love the way it looks. However, I was misinformed about what it takes to achieve that look.

My “oh snap” moment came one day recently during a conversation with a cousin whose wavy natural I admired.

“How do you get your hair like that?” I asked.

Cousin: Well, I condition it every day—
Me: You wash your hair every day!
Cousin: No, no, no. I rinse it and condition it every day. Then I smooth on gel section by section. Then I let it air dry.
Me: And you have to do this...every day?
Cousin: Well you don’t have to do it every day, but it gets bigger the more days you don’t do it.
Me: Sigh. I just want it to be low maintenance, you know? I don’t want to get up and do hair every day.

Then my cousin said something so simple, so profound.

“Listen, our hair is not low maintenance.”

Surely she squinted from the light bulb that illuminated atop my head. I had been chasing the puddle of gel in the middle of the desert, shrouded by a cloud of oil sheen.

Maybe chopping it low is truly the only way to achieve low maintenance.