Hair pressing was a ritual of black women’s culture of intimacy. It was an exclusive moment when black women (even those who did not know one another well) might meet at home or in the beauty parlor to talk with one another, to listen to the talk. It was as important a world as that of the male barber shop—mysterious, secret. It was a world where the images constructed as barriers between one’s self and the world were briefly let go, before they were made again. It was a moment of creativity, a moment of change.
I wanted this change even though I had been told all my life that I was one of the “lucky” ones because I had been born with “good hair”—hair that was fine, almost straight—not good enough, but still good. Hair that had no nappy edges, no “kitchen,” that area close to the neck that the hot comb could not reach. This “good hair” meant nothing to me when it stood as a barrier to my entering this secret black woman world. I was overjoyed when mama finally agreed that I could join the Saturday ritual, no longer looking on but patiently waiting my turn. I have written of this ritual: “For each of us getting our hair pressed is an important ritual. It is not a sign of our longing to be white. There are no white people in our intimate world. It is a sign of our desire to be women. It is a gesture that says we are approaching womanhood…. Before we reach the appropriate age we wear braids, plaits that are symbols of our innocence, our youth, our childhood. Then we are comforted by the parting hands that comb and braid, comforted by the intimacy and bliss. There is a deeper intimacy in the kitchen on Saturdays when hair is pressed, when fish is fried, when sodas are passed around, when soul music drifts over the talk. It is a time without men. It is a time when we work as women to meet each other’s needs, to make each other feel good inside, a time of laughter and outrageous talk.”
“straightening our hair” - bell hooks
Very glad I came across this piece this morning. Its hard explaining the complex intricacies that go into black women straightening their hair. You have to understand that for black girls growing up, straightening your hair isn’t necessarily seen as an act of complying with eurocentric beauty standards or looking like a white girl, getting your hair straightened for the first time is very much a coming of age moment for young black girls. I feel that this is lost among non-black people who feel “sad” when they see black women with straightened hair. In some circles act as though natural hair is the new litmus test for “true blackness” how fast we forget that straightening hair and hair salons have been a black ritual since FOREVER.
When it comes to the politics of black hair, there is a significant difference between the institutional structure of eurocentric beauty standards and how cultural rituals are formed on a micro level…