Weaving Inspiration


 

Since my hair started thinning I became committed to letting it rest. I like braids through the summer, but when I can’t afford them, I’ll pull my hair back and clip on a bun or a ponytail.  I hoped my nine-year-old neighbor didn’t get the wrong idea and think she could cut her long, silky, Iranian-descent hair and still have it the next day. She has seen me go from a two-inch bush ball to a ten-inch wavy ponytail overnight. I hope her mother explained.

We read all kinds of motives into people’s choice of hairstyle, don’t we?  One of my first mentors, a TV producer who would go on to become an Emmy-award-winner and executive, told me 25 years ago why she wore her hair natural and cut short.

“It ain’t no political statement,” she said with laughter. “It’s convenient. That’s all.”

My long wavy clip-on pony tail may be mis-understood as some self-deprecating attempt to look white. It is not. It’s a way to have fun with a whimsical look just this side of sane. A recent conversation with one of my nephews got me thinking about all our analysis of hair. Books have been written about it, movies made, songs sold.

My nephew explained to me that his dreadlocks are an exercise in – and show of – his commitment. With all the ideas and on-going debates about our hair, I had not considered the commitment we make through our hair and to our hair – whether was my late grandmother’s commitment to go to the beauty parlor every two weeks, or young women’s standing weekly appointments these days.

My Grandmother once commented on my hairstyle and asked me how I got it. Before I could say “$29.99 at the beauty supply store,” Granddad piped in. “Baby you can see it’s not her hair! It’s too different kinds!” And I thought his eyesight was fading, ha! My husband shakes his head. “You ain’t even trying to fool nobody,” he says. I’m not.

I like variety, I like style. I like variety in style. I had white male co-workers who mis-read my frequent hairstyle changes as a show of inconsistency. What? But they will keep a hairstyle for a lifetime, and that’s their frame of reference.

I have paid $400 for a good weave, $14.99 for a good clip on, and $6.99 for a do-it-yourself-perm called “Africa’s Best” made in Savannah, Georgia.  I have sat for two hours for my sister to hook me up with straight-back braids or her signature zig-zags, and I have sat four hours as a mother-daughter team worked their magic installing micro-braids. I have sat six hours waiting my turns in hair salons and decided against my that a habit, although to many women it’s a necessary luxury. The right “do” builds self-confidence on several levels.

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Tattoos: A Walking, Talking Book

 

Stopped at a traffic light, I glanced over and noticed a young man sitting at the bus stop, leaning forward, clutching a bottle of Coca Cola. He was wearing a tank top and his body was full of tattoos.  He caught me staring.

“I bet you’ve got a whole story there, you’re like a whole book,” I yelled.  “Your tattoos. I bet each one is like a chapter.”

He smiled, looking down at his chest and arms.

“Yeah. You can take me home and read the whole thing,” he hollered back.

He thought I was flirting? Yuck! Get a job and a car! I was just admiring the artwork, reminded of an old African tradition I had learned about at a museum when I was a kid.

Whether or not he knew the cultural history of body art, he was a walking display of sorts.  I was appreciating the reminder that Africans, who from what I was taught, had been the mothers of civilization, had adorned their bodies in tattoos and framed their hair in elaborate styles. They used body art to express beauty and strength, and, yes, to tell stories.  It’s too bad that body art has become synonymous with social defiance in America – but by who’s definition?

The young man at the bus stop was apparently in his early 20s. I thought about the young men I’ve seen beaten down by family members for getting tattooed. Nobody will hire you with tattoos, they are told. And the young ladies are told that when you get older and their bodies fill out, those tattoos will look horrible. Is this an undeclared cultural war of sorts? When was it declared, and how long will it last? Body art has a history, I was reminded, a history rooted in African lands. Dissertations and books have been written about it. Websites explain it. I’m guessing that the young man at the bus stop has his reasons for getting them, cultural reasons and personal ones.

As the light turned green and I was on my way, inspired by an unwitting cultural reminder sitting there at the bus stop.