Straw Hair

It's Saturday night again. Wasn't I just here a week ago? Funny how it came back around so quickly.

I spent my day at a Los Angeles Unified School District parent leadership training. I'm now president of the School Site Council at my kids' school. I got myself elected to pretty much every other school committee as well.

That means that today I was supposed to be learning about how to be a member of all these committees. That happened somewhat, but what I really came away knowing for sure is that there are some VERY angry parents in this school district. Every time the facilitators presented some information, they'd ask if we had any questions. Without fail, a parent would stand up and launch into a tirade about all the illegal (or legal and wack) stuff some principal is trying to pull.

I get their issues. I truly do. But after two hours of this, I was mentally exhausted. After four hours, my goodie-goodie self was texting my sister and socializing with the lady sitting next to me. After six hours, I felt like bumming a cigarette off of someone and taking up smoking just so I'd have a reason to go outside.

This marvelous day was capped off with me winning a door prize that came wrapped in Star of David wrapping paper. It was a pair of 99 Cent Store candlesticks. Uh huh.

And now I'm home and determined that this will not, I repeat, NOT be another Saturday night of laughing at my email spam. Seriously, it can't be. Especially after I spent Friday night curling my hair up with straws.

Yes, I said straws.

This was yours truly at around 1 am last night.

Yeah, for the uninformed, that's called a "straw set". And I hope it's obvious it's called this because those are drinking straws up in my hair. 72 drinking straws to be exact.

It took me about an hour to put them all in. Then I sat around for eons waiting for my hair to dry. I watched two movies, wrote a friend and by 1:30 in the morning, it still wasn't all dry. The gifted-child in me figured I'd just prop a whole bunch of pillows up and sleep sitting up, like if I was on an airplane.

That worked for awhile. But by 3:30, I finally gave in and laid down on those straws. Ouch! The uncomfortable things we women do for beauty! Believe me, I was so grateful my hair was dry when I got up two hours later.

I'll confess, this straw thing was an impulsive, spur of the moment experiment but I really like it. It was interesting though how today while I was busy socializing during a session, the lady next to me was all, "Girl, your hair is too cute! Where'd you get it done?"

"Um, I did it myself," I replied.

"You did it yourself?" she asked in disbelief.

Her mouth fell open while I nodded proudly and replied, "Yeah, I learned from a YouTube video.

"What! You learned how to sew in some weave from a YouTube video?"

We had about 30 seconds of back and forth, with me saying, "No, really, it's not a weave! It's my hair!" and her saying, "Stop frontin'! That has got to be a weave!"

I thought I was gonna have to let her pull my hair to prove to her that it wasn't a weave, but she finally believed me.

This led to a discussion about hair and black women in general. I told her about my recent decision to not chemically straighten my hair anymore. You can read all about it in an article I wrote about a month ago for Anti-Racist Parent. But in a nutshell, it's because I no longer feel I can teach my kids to be proud of their blackness if I'm changing an inherent part of my black identity, my hair.

She shared how brave she thought I was for this and confessed, "'I can't stand when those naps start growing out of my head! They're so..." She paused and sighed, searching for the right word. And then it finally came.


She's not alone in feeling this way. Black women are trained to do battle with and hate their hair. Most black women in this country have no idea what the natural texture of their hair feels like. At least that's not the case for me because I've gone back and forth between straightening and not straightening for years.

If you're not black, no one cares if you decide you don't want to straighten your hair to within an inch of it's life, till it feels like straw. But if you are black, wearing your natural hair can become an ideological and political statement. And it's a fashion "don't" according to a (now former) Glamour magazine editor.

But, I'm really feeling my "don't" hair so I'm going to keep rolling with it. In fact, I think I'll sit here and pull on my springy curls while I watch the movie classic, "Network" on PBS. It's a very appropriate Saturday night choice since as far as the haterade on black women's hair, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."


Anonymous said…
I have no clue where you get the time. You must type very fast and sleep only on the weekends.

It's amazing that hair is still such a major part of black discourse. I've written about it myself, as have countless other writers/bloggers. I think we still talk about it for all the reasons you've mentioned, especially the part that too many of us find black hair to be "ugly." I don't get it, yet I do. We've been brainwashed. Beauty is not synonymous with straight hair.
Liz, your hair looks beautiful.

Have you ever checked a blog called It is fantastic. It is where I first heard about the Glamour craziness. I wrote a post about it and the editor of Glamour responded. Afrobella isn't just about hair but music, books etc.

After being in Toronto for two months I realized how brainwashed we are in this country. I have never seen so many sisters with natural hair (even reporters on the news!) I stopped with the chemicals 10 years ago and will never relax my hair again. Every black woman who worked on our movie wore their hair naturally. It actually shocked me to be in the majority for a change.

My hairdresser in L.A. just opened a salon for natural hair. It will be interesting to see how her business does.
DJ Black Adam said…
That hair style is very nice!
OH MY GOODNESS!!! I love your hair! WOW!

Since I'm about as white as a person can be? I don't know if I can say anything about to straighten or not straighten. I will say that I've never thought of my hair as an essential part of my culture, my history, my family or my race.

Never. I've permed it, curled it, pulled the curl out of it, screamed at it, shaved it all off, died it every color of the rainbow, but never thought of it as part of my culture or race. I wonder why it's so different for me.

What I think is important is that we are authentically ourselves. We are such incredibly beautiful beings inside. Why not let the outside fit your inner beauty?
Oh sorry, I read Keith's comment and wanted to add:

Straight or natural - what refects your beauty the best? To me, one is not better than another. It's all beautiful.
Mes Deux Cents said…

Your hair looks amazing!

The best thing about natural hair is that it's free! I can't believe women spend thousands of dollars a year on hair when they have hair growing out of their head.

I wonder how many people have gotten rich from selling hair? I know that in certains parts of a city near me there is store selling weave hair on almost every block.
Liz Dwyer said…
I do type pretty fast. That is true. But the insomnia has been VERY bad in the past couple of days so I've gotten a lot done. Oh, and I have a clone, but don't let the government know,okay?

Hair is such a huge part of our discourse. We are a seriously brainwashed group of people so we have to keep writing about it till our souls, minds and consciences are clear. But it's been nice that folks I'm around have been really complimentary about my hair over the past couple of days, even the people who usually only like me with the hardcore flat iron look.

Thank you so much for the compliment. I really didn't know how this was going to turn out so I'm so relieved it looks okay! I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that all the women working on the movie were wearing natural hair. What a positive shift. That's so different than here in the States. Man oh man, why did my family have to move back here from Montreal? :(

I have been to Afrobella a few times. I need to go over there more frequently. That's really great that the editor of Glamour responded to you. I'm glad they sat up and took notice.

Will you let me know more about your hairdresser? My old stylist just quit her salon to do hair out of her house and since she's working another job over at UCLA as well, her hours are really limited, she doens't do natural hair, and I wasn't crazy about her anyway so I'm looking for someone new.

Why thank you! I appreciate the compliment. You want me to hook you up with some straws too? LOL!

Open Grove Claudia,
Welcome and so glad you're visiting me! Thank you so much for the hair love! :)

Such a good question you ask regarding why this is different for you. I think because you haven't had it drilled into you that your hair is bad in its natural state. You can go to any salon and they can do your hair. They may not do a good job but they can do it. LOL! But for black women, we get told, "Oh, we don't have anybody here who does black hair."

I also think both straight and natural can be beautiful, but it's our motivation behind it that I wonder about. Sometimes we aren't even aware of the legacy behind why we're making the decisions we are. For most black women, the decision to straighten is made for them at young ages.

Girls as young as three or four get chemicals put on their hair so they grow up never knowing what's really growing out of their head. All they know is that it's gotta be changed. That when it starts to grow out, someone they know is going to say, "Girl, you need to get your hair done!" And the cycle just keeps going. Such an interesting question, sorry to write a novel! ;)

Thank you SO much. It means a whole lot and I'm glad to have so much positive support as I'm making this journey.

I think about the money thing as well. I'd go to the salon every 6 weeks for a trim and I'd only get a relaxer every three or four months because I didn't want to pay all that money. Last time I went, I got charged from extra long hair and I was like, come on, my hair isn't even that long! Yes, hair is such big business. And we don't own most of the beauty supply stores or factories making the stuff we use on our hair.

I recently heard that weave hair is coming from children in other parts of the world. Little girls in other parts of the world getting their heads shaved so we can live out some Barbie fantasy.
M said…
Your hair looks amazing, but I am even more impressed by your willingness to sleep on straws to get it that way. Tell me you'll get at least a couple of days out if before you have to put in the straws again!

When I was (much) younger I was all about that crimped look that was so big in the eighties - but I didn't have a crimping iron, so every night I would put in like fifty little braids, and then every morning I would undo them - and voila - crazy crimped hair! The things we do for beauty!

You look beautiful - going natural is the way to go for sure.
You look gorgeous, Liz. You always do, straight or curly.

I think it's terribly sad that little girls are told they have "bad hair" if it's curly. How can hair be bad? And how can little girls be anything but beautiful?

When people insist upon being their authentic selves, they are truly at their most beautiful.
none said…
I could never be in those school commitees. I get infuriated at the ridiculous politics and back patting I see going on in my kid's school.

As for being proud of one's heritage, that can be a can of worms. In my own I see Mexicans trying to be either black or white. Whites cannot be proud without being called racists. Blacks seem to be under extreme pressure to hold onto a culture that is still relatively undefined.

Maybe I read too much into it. But I think people should be able to do whatever they want with their hair, mannerisms, etc.. without having to worry about percieved cultural expectations.

I hope this comment isn't too offensive. I've found myself stuck in the middle between two cultures myself and I've thrown up my hands with the whole mess.
1969 said…
Liz...your hair is gorgeous. I can't believe you had the patience to straw set it. Wow.

I applaud you for going natural and I urge you to check out afrobella's blog. It's great!
I'm completely fascinated. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.

And it's one of those things. We can legislate against racism and work to push racist thoughts out of our heads and lives.

But how do we change the "we don't have any one who is willing to work with you". (My interpretation of "we don't do black hair.")

(shaking my head)

I wish it was different.
Jameil said…
"Most black women in this country have no idea what the natural texture of their hair feels like." exactly. & i started getting pissed about that about a year before i cut it all off. and that so many of us think the hair God gave us is ugly. uber frustrating. people are always amazed i do my own hair (when i 1st finish it anyway).
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for saying it looks amazing. :) Sleeping on straws wasn't too bad because it was more of a cat nap anyway. It's holding up pretty well. I've just been tying it up with a pretty scarf at night so it's not too frizzy in the morning. I think I'll redo it on Wednesday or Thursday since I'm going to NYC on Friday.

Thanks, Heart! I like both straight and curly which is probably why I've flip flopped between the two over the years. I agree with you though that the more authentic you are, the better.

Oh yes, there is ALOT of back patting and politicking going on. It's a little ridiculous and I'm determined to avoid it and just get to what's good for kids.

You know, heritage can be a can of worms depending on how it's used. I had a ton of students from Mexico who were browner than me and they would tell me they were white. Oh, okay. I'm not one to tell anybody what they are or are not, but I always found that really interesting. I think there are definite experiences that black Americans share. Like lots of folks grew up eating greens, singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and doing Soul Train lines at parties, but if you didn't, that doesn't mean you're not black. Sometimes people make the mistake of equating rap music with black culture. There's overlap, but it's not the same. I agree that people should not be bound to some particular way of behaving just because it's their culture. I'm listening to Rush right now...if someone said I shouldn't because that's not being black, well that's just stupid. I think one of the beautiful things about the world is that we can make our own identity. And you are not offending me at all. You are all good.

Thank you! You all are so complimentary that I might have the patience to straw set it again! LOL!

I was reading afrobella for a while last night. Love it. It's interesting to me how so many black female bloggers seem to be wearing natural hair. Interesting. Or maybe it's just the ones I like, like you! :)

Yep, the legal aspect of racism doesn't necessarily change our hearts. It just makes us aware of what we need to do in order to avoid getting sued. I wish it was different as well. We just have to keep all doing our part. Things are going to change. There are too many people out there working for change for nothing to happen.

Good for you for being a Glamour "don't" too! How long's it been for you since you first went natural? I've been talking about it for a little while now and I just said, you know what, enoughs, enough. I have to be about it, not just talk about it, you know!
Shai said…
Cute hair. I cringe at how black very curly (nappy) hair is ridiculed. What they don't understand they criticize. Why do anglos think everyone is supposed to look like them or that they should understand folks and if they are different something is wrong. SMH.
Ian Lidster said…
That sounds so labor intensive. It looks fabulous, though, and I always wondered how it's done. Thank you, my friend.
I love love love the straw look. Your hair is beautiful!
Liz Dwyer said…
Of course someone from Glamour will say it's a "don't" because they haven't got a clue. But, we have really internalized that kind of mess to the point that we are trained to say it ourselves to each other without any prompting.

Thanks for the very nice compliment! It wasn't too bad, especially when I think about the amount of time I've sometimes had to stay in salons. And it was only $1.99, the cost of the straws! . I think I may redo it on Wednesday or Thursday sometime. I'll have to see. :)

Thank you! It's very kind of you to say so. I am really enjoying it as well. I'm so glad I decided to do this little experiment.
DJ Black Adam said…
Why thank you! I appreciate the compliment. You want me to hook you up with some straws too? LOL!"

lol. No hair, no need for straws

Sundry said…
Love your hair! Truly beautiful enough to frame your gorgeous smile.

God, how exhausting for every damn thing to be a potential political statement. I hope you read that in the way it's intended, that it's just this added extra layer of social complexity that I don't envy you.

Wouldn't it-- Won't it--I hope!--be wonderful when you can do what you please and no one will call you out for being inauthentic.

When I dyed my hair orangey red in the early eighties no one accused me of trying to go all Irish (though my Grandma Quinn might not have mattered). When I dyed it blonde no one accused me of trying to look Aryan. When I kinked it within an inch of it's life, when I braided it and loosed it into a gigantic mane, when I punked it out, when I rolled in in Swiss-girl loops on the sides of my head...all just fun things I could do.

I'm really sorry that it can't just be fun for you whatever you want to do.

But you are balanced and wise and if you change your mind later and have straight hair for a while, I certainly won't be challenging your authenticity. You are a vastly more interesting person than anything you do with your hair, no matter how flattering (like this straw do!) it is.
Liz Dwyer said…
I know exactly what you mean. My hair is fun for me, and I definitely enjoy it. My friend Suzy said to me last night that she thinks it's cool that I can do whatever style I want to with it. Straight, curly, whatever. But, I see the way hair weaves are just worshiped and I see the way straight hair is looked on by my sons. It just makes me sick and I feel like they need to see that something else can be beautiful as well. Who knows, I might go back to straight hair eventually, but I need a curly break.
Anonymous said…
Some people like it curly other like it straight. I just love doin my hair according to my mood , today it's curly, tomorrow my be straight, who knows I may even go for the bold look...there is no such thing as bad or good hair
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for visiting and thanks for commenting. I agree that there is no good or bad hair, just like I believe there is no black race or white race, only one human family. But, the way this plays out is that if I'm black, I have "bad" hair, or at least hair that is seen as less beautiful, less desirable according to the power structures we have set up in this world. I have hope that all of this will change as more people become aware and start making conscious decisions instead of just going along with what's what.
Tafari said…
You rocked that straw set boo! next time save yourself some time & get a hood dryer.

Happy to hear about your decisions to go natural!
Liz Dwyer said…
Thank you! I'm feeling really good about the decision. I'm sure I'll go through lots of changes with this so when I need some support, I'm gonna come over there and bug you!
Tafari said…
cool with me, you know my url. LOL!!!
Lydia said…
Of course I am having to go back and read all your previous posts since I hav been out of commission for a few weeks.

I looooove this post. I know you were contemplating letting it go natural during the summer. It looks beautiful. Big props for being so patient with the straw set!
Anonymous said…
I've been away so I'm reading this late, but I just wanted to comment anyway. At my knitting group a while back two black girls with natural hair were discussing the different things they tried and all us white chicks just listened, enthralled. Some of the words we didn't even understand. I hadn't ever thought so much about it before. It was fascinating.

Also, I love the straw set. I was always jealous of the black girls in my class who wore the braids with the barettes.
Liz Dwyer said…
Thanks for the encouragement! Now I'm just trying to determine how long I want to keep this going before I chop it off. I haven't decided yet. Also, the hair product thing is OVERWHELMING! Carol's Daughter, Miss Jessies, Kinky Curly...whew, I like options but jeepers, this mess ain't that inexpensive for experimenting. You know?

Glad you shared your comment even if I posted this a bit ago. It's funny how we don't know how we do each other's hair. I think some black women think white women just roll out of bed and go...and that's just not the case. If that were true, L'oreal and Garnier would be out of business. LOL!

I liked those little barrettes a whole lot when I was little. I miss those.
kat said…
I live in a Caribbean neighborhood in NY but grew up in Europe.
Always wanted to try that style but my girl was like "Heu honey, you are a white chick with dang straight hair, so for you to look like it, you will need a weave":)

still decided as I was googling straw setting for white chicks: haha
doesnt lead to lots of options beside the weave for me:)

Re. some comments:
Today I was reading a story about a little girl who was refused at school because she was wearing dread locks (her dad owns a barber shop) in Tulsa. Seriously, hairdo is more important than her grades as per the teachers...??? the weird part is that this school has a large number of African American students and staff! Why can't they embrace the style the student is happy and comfortable with!

All of us have our own beauty, even if different: thank God for that, otherwise this place, the world, would be a too boring place for me to live in.
Let's embrace every style, as long as this is the style you love yourself in! I am all for equality but I embrace difference, as it is life's beauty!

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