Natural Hair & Care

Black Barbie Uses Relaxer October 20, 2009

Filed under: Barbie,Black dolls,children — R.D. @ 1:03 pm

stacey-mcbride-irby-barbie-425km100909-1255110578 Since I have two nieces I am excited about Mattel’s new line of Black Barbies, which are not simply browner versions of the original. This new line of dolls seems to capture the nuance of ‘Black’ with dolls of varying skin tones,”fuller lips, a wider nose and more pronounced cheekbones”. Unfortunately, this doll also reflects the details of our relationship with and to our hair.

While two of the dolls (Trichelle and Kianna) have curlier hair so that black girls can” see themselves within these dolls, and…know that black is beautiful”, the majority of the dolls have straight hair. I don’t really understand how Black barbies with long straight hair are supposed to help young black girls (and the larger Black community) with the issues that Chris Rock describes in his movie “Good Hair”. I would really like to see Kenneth Clark’s doll experiment done with these Black Barbies. I don’t think that the “So In Style” hairstyling kit, which would allow girls the option of straightening their doll’s hair, is going to help either.

Trichelle and Vanessa

Trichelle and Vanessa

Despite the outcry that these new Barbie’s have garnered, many are seeing this new line (Why is it called So in Style?) as a step in the right direction. These dolls are interested in math, science, volunteering and mentoring (each doll is paired with a younger sister) and do give young girls of color different options for their possible future selves. I just wish those options included an equal balance of processed and natural hairstyles. These dolls are successful at painting a portrait that is a much closer approximation of the varied Black community but we still have a long way to go. I would like a Barbie with locks.

Blackhairstorians what do you think?


Zahara and Black Women

zahara_paxThere has been a lot of buzz about the October 9th Newsweek article published by Allison Samuels. I am actually getting ready to grease my own hair and get ready to go to class but I had to add my voice to the discussion. From the comments posted to the article and the space devoted by many blogs to responding to the article, it is clear that many Black women feel that Jolie’s handling of Zahara’s hair is a sign of disregard for something that is so important to the Black community: hair. Contrary to what India.Arie believes, we are our hair. Our sense of self is inextricably linked with what we choose to do with our hair, how we talk about our hair and what we tell our daughters about their hair.

Some have said that Zahara may resent Jolie when she grows up, look back on her baby pictures with sadness and be made to feel the sting of her difference when she enters schools. But are we talking about Zahara or ourselves? Others have said that Zahara’s mom could take cues from the hair of Madonna’s newly adopted African daughter or Sasha and Malia because she is a little black girl being judged by “mainstream standards”. However, what are these mainstream standards? I don’t find many white Americans responding in anger to these blogs. Who is imposing and reifying standards of beauty for Black women? From the looks of the blogroll, it looks like we have so fully bought into “mainstream” standards of beauty that we cannot even begin to think of other ways that a little black girl might be–beautiful.

Allison Samuels finishes the article with this statement:

“But there will come a day when this beautiful little African girl will understand what it means to be an African-American woman in this society and realize unlike her younger sister, hers is not a wash-and-go world.”

I am not so sure anymore of where our definition of “what it means to be an African-American woman in this society” comes from. I do believe that there are many different ways to be black and beautiful and that we need to really think about what Zahara means for us and why her hair is making us so angry.

I have to go to class.


Black Hair in the New York Times September 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — R.D. @ 9:38 am


Tyra’s “Real” Hair

Filed under: celebrity,natural,natural hair care,weaves — R.D. @ 9:31 am

TyTy's Real Hair

This September 8th, Tyra Banks will be unveiling her “real” hair on her talk show. Her twitter posts show how she has been preparing for and thinking about her debut–the presentation of her natural hair to the world:

  • reminder: i’m savin the real tresses for sept 8th on my talk show. i can’t wait for u to see it! free at last!!!7:22 PM Aug 29th from web
  • tomorrow, i’m gonna be posting a sneak TEASE pic of my real hair on TWITTER!!! TyTy7:04 PM Aug 24th from web
  • – Here’s me rockin my REAL hair, had 2 blur it so its still a surprise on Sept 8! Who else is sportin their rea

I’m excited for Tyra–I really am– but her decision making process, as reflected on twitter is a testimony to the politics surrounding highly-textured black hair. The words that she uses in the first post from Aug 29th are most revealing. She says that she is “free at last!!!” However, while she is free, she is also bound by conventional standards of beauty, which will definitely factor into how audience members (regardless of skin color or hair texture) and viewers at home react and respond to her hair. When she does finally post a pic of her natural tresses on twitter, it is a blurred picture. While it is probably a simple picture from her phone that is doctored with some app on her computer, this picture speaks volumes about the relationship, or lack their of, that the world has with Black hair and  the relationship that many Black women have to their own hair. Our hair is often a grey and blurry area for many of us. How should we feel about it? Is it just hair? What is the big deal? Are we more beautiful if our hair is straight? Would we offend our co-workers less if we adhered to “corpororate” styles? Why doesn’t our hair fit into the ‘norm’ for corporate styles? In blurring her hair, Tyra unknowingly makes a powerful statement about the important role that our hair plays in our identity and how people perceive us. Many of us, with chemicals, have also been blurring and softening the curly tendrils on our head, only giving people sneak peaks when we feel comfortable. I have to disagree with India Arie. We are our hair and always will be.


Why Michelle Obama’s Hair Matters

Filed under: celebrity,fashion,natural hair care,Obamas — R.D. @ 8:57 am
By JENEE DESMOND-HARRIS Jenee Desmond-harris Wed Sep 2, 5:15 pm ET

When the First Lady attended a country-music event in July without a single strand of hair falling below her jawline, the blogosphere exploded with outbursts ranging from adoration to vitriol. Things settled down only when her deputy press secretary clarified that there had been no First Haircut. In the aftermath, a didactic post on proclaimed that anyone “familiar with the amazing versatility of black hair” would have known that the new summer look was simply “pinned up.” (See pictures of Michelle Obama’s hairstyles.)

Many Americans have dismissed this hair hubbub as simply more media-driven noise – like the chatter about Michelle Obama’s sleeveless dresses, J. Crew cardigans, stocking-free legs or, for that matter, recent (shocking!) decision to wear shorts in the Arizona heat. But for African-American women like me, hair is something else altogether – singular in its capacity to command interest and carry cultural baggage. The obsession with Michelle’s hair took hold long before Inaugural Ball gowns were imagined, private-school choices scrutinized or organic gardens harvested. It’s not that she’s done anything outrageous. The new updo wasn’t really all that dramatic a departure from variations we’ve seen on her before (the “flip-out,” the “flip-under,” the long-ago abandoned “helmet”). Still, her hair is the catalyst for a conversation that begins with style but quickly transcends outward appearance and ultimately transcends Michelle herself – a symbol for African-American women’s status in terms of beauty, acceptance and power. (See pictures of Michelle Obama’s style evolution.)

The hair buzz heated up right after the Democratic National Convention. Websites dedicated to black hair posted and reposted a Philadelphia Inquirer article addressing what was presented as an urgent question: Were the silky strands that moved so gracefully with each tip of her head during her Denver speech straightened with chemicals or with heat alone? How exactly did she metamorphose what we know was once tightly coiled hair?

The choice many black women make to alter their hair’s natural texture has undeniable historical and psychological underpinnings. It has been attributed to everything from a history of oppression and assimilation to media-influenced notions of beauty and simple personal aesthetics. But one thing is certain. For the many who wear straightened styles like Michelle’s, the decision is deliberate, and the maintenance is significant. A stylist hypothesized in the Inquirer article about the steps taken to attain her look, and a firestorm of online comments followed, including these two:

“Chemicals, hot comb, round brush and dryer … same effect, different methods. I could see it being a big deal or inspirational if she were natural and wore it in natural styles.”

“Girl, ain’t no braids, twists, afros, etc. getting into the White House just yet … LOL.”

This could have been read as a lighthearted exchange about beauty and style. But it actually reflects a serious and clamorous debate. A growing community on sites like urges black women to reject curl-relaxing methods, calling them “taking the easy road” and “conforming” to white aesthetics. Meanwhile, talk-show host Tyra Banks just announced via Twitter that she will abandon her weave and don “no fake hair at all!” for her show’s season premiere. Mixed in with the supportive response to the former supermodel’s decision was skepticism about whether she could be attractive with what she describes as her “out and free” look.

See pictures of Michelle Obama’s Jason Wu dress.

See pictures of Sasha and Malia Obama at the Inauguration.

For black women, hair has classification power (witness the connection Don Imus made between hair and sexual promiscuity when he referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos”). Just as blond has implicit associations with sex appeal and smarts (or lack thereof), black-hair descriptors convey thick layers of meaning but are even more loaded. From long and straight to short and kinky – and, of course, good and bad – these terms become shorthand for desirability, worthiness and even worldview. (See pictures of Michelle Obama’s fashion diplomacy.)

The notion of natural black hair as being subversive or threatening is not new. When the New Yorker set out last summer to satirize Michelle as a militant, country-hating black radical, it was no coincidence that the illustrator portrayed her with an Afro. The cartoon was calling attention to all the ridiculous pre-election fearmongering. But the stereotypes it drew from may be one reason that 56% of respondents to a poll on say the U.S. is not ready for a “First Lady with kinky hair.”

Some black women note that Michelle’s choice to wear her hair straightened affirms unfair expectations about what looks professional. On a reader empathized with Michelle’s playing it safe in the White House and outlined her own approach: “Whenever I start a new job I always wear my hair straight for the first three months until I get health care. Then gradually the curly-do comes out.” Another echoed the practice: “I wait about four to six months before I put the [mousse] in and wear it curly … I have to pace myself because it usually turns into a big to-do in the office.” (See the 50 best websites of 2009.)

The amount of money black women spend on hair will be explored in Chris Rock‘s upcoming comedic documentary Good Hair. “Their hair costs more than anything they wear,” he said. Which helps explain the recent news out of Indiana University that black women often sacrifice workouts to maintain their hairstyles.

One might think having a black First Lady who is widely praised as sophisticated and stylish would represent a happy ending to the story of black female beauty and acceptance. Alas, our hair still simultaneously bonds and divides us. “There is no hair choice you can make that is simple,” says Melissa Harris Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton. “Any choice carries tremendous personal and political valence.”

Even though I’m biracial and should theoretically have half a share of hair angst, I’ve sacrificed endless Saturdays to the salon. It is unfathomable that I might ever leave my apartment with my hair in its truly natural state, unmoderated by heat or products. I once broke down at the airport when my gel was confiscated for exceeding the 3-oz. limit. (See 50 essential travel tips.)

I’m neither high maintenance nor superficial: I’m a black woman. My focus on hair feels like a birthright. It is my membership in an exclusive, historical club, with privileges, responsibilities, infighting and bylaws that are rewritten every decade.

Not once when I’ve seen an image of our First Lady has it been lost on me that she is also a member. I don’t see just an easy, bouncy do. I see the fruits of a time-consuming effort to convey a carefully calculated image. In the next-day ponytail, I see a familiar defeat.

A black family at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue signifies a shattered political barrier, but our reactions to Michelle are evidence that it takes more than an election to untangle some of the unique dilemmas black women face. Thanks to her, our issues are front and center. It feels a lot like when nonblack friends and colleagues ask those dreaded questions that force us to reflect and explain: whether we can comb through our hair, if we wash our braids or locks and the most complicated of all – why it all has to be such a big deal.


Challenging Hair August 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — R.D. @ 6:07 pm

From the NY Times:

ANTHONY DICKEY’S much anticipated salon, Hair Rules New York — an earthy-industrial space with high ceilings and oversize windows — opened last month in Hell’s Kitchen. The salon, which Mr. Dickey operates with his business partner, Kara Young Georgiopoulos, specializes in curly, frizzy and otherwise texture-challenged hair. It is the kind of hair Mr. Dickey, whose client list has included Sarah Jessica Parker and Rihanna, is quite familiar with.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Dickey — who himself grew up with a bright red afro — discussed the relatively recent entry of professional techniques for styling African-American hair.

“We’re talking about an industry that was segregated,” said Mr. Dickey, speaking of the late 1980s, when he was working as a stylist in the fashion world. “The popular black models of the day — like Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell — mostly were given weaves so stylists wouldn’t have to struggle to figure out how to work with their natural hair.”

Mr. Dickey noticed a shift in the mid-1990’s when celebrities like the singer India Arie began posing for fashion magazines. “With hip-hop and R&B having such unique individual style, it forced the fashion industry to include ethnic hair stylists,” he said.

Ms. Georgiopoulos, a former model, and Mr. Dickey have been in cahoots ever since he helped her with her own high-maintenance curls.

Their Hair Rules product line, which came out last year, includes a sulfate-free shampoo, which, according to Dailey Greene, an assistant Hair Rules stylist, “doesn’t have the usual stripping agents that make my hair lock up.”

Haircuts at Hair Rules, 828 Ninth Avenue, (212) 315-2929, start at $65 for men and $100 for women.

The Buzz will stick with the dreads around the corner.


The Princess and The Frog August 12, 2009

Filed under: children,hair oil,hair products,natural,natural hair care — R.D. @ 5:14 pm


To celebrate the release of Disney’s latest film, The Princess and The Frog, Carol’s daughter has launched a line of hair products that are aimed at young African American princesses. The film, which will feature Disney’s first African American princess-Princess Tiana- boasts a casts that includes the voices of Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey. The line of products, which are adorned with scenes from the movie, includes shampoo, conditioner, detangler and bubble bath. Keeping with the company’s commitment to natural ingredients, the products include ingredients such as aloe leaf juice, cranberry extract, sunflower seed oil and olive oil. While the products will be launched in October, the film is slated for release on December 11th!