The first time a black girl gets her hair done is magical. She sits in a chair for what feels like an eternity, going step-by-step through the process. Wash, blow-dry, and comb. Section by section her fluffy, blow-dried hair is turned to silk with the magic hot comb. Hairdressers are like sorcerers, a stroke of a hot comb and whoosh! straw is turned to gold.
I was seven or eight the first time I got my hair done. Before then, it was always neatly brushed and braided into pigtails. Sometimes my mother would make four or five braids, carefully greased and gelled in place. When I got older, she would only make two braids, starting behind my ears to make them look longer. No matter how much black gel or blue grease my mom brushed into my hair, I always came home from school with a halo of soft fuzz that managed to escape the heavy products. I remember begging my mom to let me get my hair straightened so I could be like everyone else, long, silky hair and all.
Then finally, on one glorious summer day, my mother took me to a salon to get my hair done for her wedding anniversary celebration. Finally, I had reached this magical rite of passage- my first step into black womanhood as I knew it. I anxiously peered in the mirrors in the salon, trying to gauge how far along the hairdresser was. After impatiently sitting and trying to read my mother’s face for approval, the magician spun me around in my chair to face the mirror. My hair was so long and shiny. It moved softly and smoothly so different from the bounce and heavy swing of my braids.
The first time a black girl gets her hair done, she is in awe. She examines her head from every angle, her young, toothy smile stretching across her face. Her bright eyes see beauty in herself that they’ve never seen before. She feels like a princess, like someone in a movie.
The first time a black girl gets her hair done, she saunters around with her head tilted up just slightly enough for her hotly straightened hair to reach a little lower on her back.
Everyone expressed their admiration when they saw my hair. “So beautiful” they would say. “Such a gorgeous child”. And I felt gorgeous too. It may have been the first time I can recall truly feeling beautiful. I embraced every minute of it. I wanted my hair to stay like that forever.
Sadly (but expected from a young child in the middle of summer), sweat and maybe even a little pool water from summer play ended my fairytale short. My long, shiny, straight hair didn’t last the week. The clock struck midnight and poof! Bye bye silky hair, hello boring old curls.
Strange how the charming childhood memory of a step into adulthood is so tainted with the naive but twisted belief of a young black child that straight hair meant she could finally be beautiful. The key to the magic of this magical moment is that straw is turned to gold. Natural curls, coils, and kinks are pressed into silky, straight strands and suddenly, she becomes beautiful. And the silky, straight hair is beautiful, but so are natural curls, coils, and kinks. The experience loses its magic when we realize that the straw is gold too.