For my entire life, the only thing my hair has ever done with any success is hang straight. Long and straight. Short and straight. To get waves in my hair for my wedding, I got a super-curly perm, avoided conditioning to keep the strands coarse so they’d hold a style. We moussed it and curled it again with a hot iron, around lunchtime, sprayed it until it was a helmet of honey-brown waves. The wedding was at 4pm. By the time we reached the reception at 5:30, my hair was straight. Straight as if I hadn’t spent hours and dollars and dollars and hours on trying to make it something that it never naturally was.
I work with a woman who flat-irons her hair every morning. It has a dry, crispy look to it; it stands out unnaturally from her head as if she were carved from a log. A very few times she has come into the office with waves in her hair, and her loveliness surprised me. I often wonder if she knows how pretty her hair naturally is, if she knew that the time she spends on it every morning detracts from her very real beauty.
Many years ago, I worked with a woman who had Uncombable Hair Syndrome – which actually is a real thing – and I so admired her super-tight corkscrews of tumbling brown and blonde and red hair. They were wild and untamed and amazing. I unthinkingly once asked her how she got her hair to do that, and she told me it was how it naturally grew, how she’d always wished it would do anything else.
On the way home this evening, we passed a billboard with a photo of a beautiful African-American woman who had long, straight hair. The words shouted
HIGH CLASS HAIR!
WEAVES BY ***** SALON
My jaw dropped. Did it really say those words? With all their implications? Is it really true that if one does not have straight, carved, unnatural hair, one must be low-class? If your hair has waves or curls – or worse, gorgeous spirals and kinks – then you belong in the slum, with the rats and the cockroaches? Must you flat-iron it every day, so that your children will not grow up asthmatic, subsisting on food stamps and reduced-price school lunches?
What an appalling narrative we teach our girls, our women! And that it doesn’t matter whether you’re white, brown, black, or any other color – you must have perfectly straight hair to count as anything. I certainly don’t believe that my straight hair has been the cause of any successes or failures in my life.
Human beings – women and men – are given great dignity and beauty. We are made in God’s image and likeness, fearfully and marvelously made, and we are called by God very good. We are given many gifts: one of those is the gift of creativity. Humans are the creatures God made to collaborate with God in the act of creating itself, so I do not criticize anyone for applying that creativity to our hair, our skin, our bodies, or our clothes. Changing the style or texture or color of our hair expresses the creativity that God gives us and expects us to use.
The curliness or kinkiness or straightness or waviness of our hair – naturally or chemically or otherwise occurring – should have nothing whatsoever to do with our class. I know it’s easy for me to say – the privileged white woman, college-educated, never had to struggle all that hard to get by.
But seriously? High-class hair?
And I pray for a world so broken that we think the answer can be found in weaves, in chemical treatments, in flat OR curling irons. I pray for all the women who don’t know they’re precious and unique and beautiful. I pray for everyone who believes in the narrative of low- or high-class hair. I pray for my own sinful contributions, both for passive complicity in such utter nonsense as high-class hair and for the actions of discrimination that I know I commit every day.
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, on earth as it already is in heaven.