Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Natural Obsession- Health Care or Hair Care?

"So I hear Black women's hair makes up about 40 percent of your being" joked a male friend who remains bewildered by black women's obsession with hair. His comment struck a cord with how much time, conversation, money and mental energy we place on the worship and obsession over our hair.

I've sat through hours of endless conversations about hair length, texture, products, youtube videos and hair salons. On the other hand, I have friends who are completely satisfied with their hair but operate on the fringes of collective black feminine beauty ideals. I sought out to explore this "Natural Obsession" with hair and learn how we connect our hair care with our health care.

Is the natural hair-care obsession a cultural norm or a side effect of distorted health priorities and unrealistic beauty standards?
What does  your hair mean for  your health?
You would think that the natural hair movement would change our irrational preoccupation with hair. Instead, we've become better consumers buying up all the shea butter, exotic oils, aloe vera and food products to capture the fleeting ultimate natural hairstyle. But what does this have to do with our health? Are we more concerned about the oil in our hair than the oil in our food?

Here is what you told me about your hair, health and self-esteem:

Janine, 31, Education Professional
I am absolutely infatuated with my hair right now.
For 31 and a half years I operated under those same tired beliefs about my hair: unruly, hardly manageable and difficult to grow. I’ve been natural for 11 years and have donned almost every natural hair style under the sun from little afro to locks, twists and braids. In the six months since I’ve begun practicing healthier hair habits and remaining mindful of my hair when making everyday choices, I’ve seen my hair become healthier and have been able to retain my growth and mitigate breakage. I take a holistic approach to hair care. The same time and intention I take with regard to my body I also give to my hair.  I am very active and work up a good sweat on average four days per week. I never think twice about the intensity of my workout because of my hair.

Veronica, 34, Business Owner 
My hair is me. The health of my hair  is an extension of my well-being.
The body is designed to protect itself so if my hair is dry, brittle and/or shedding, it means my body isn't getting the nutrients that it needs.  My hair goal is to grow it as long as possible.  I do my best to wear protective styles, eat the right foods so it gets to nutrients that it needs, drink plenty of water to keep my body properly hydrated, and rest so my body can repair itself.

Helina Metafaria, Yogini and Owner of The Meta Experience
I find black women hair stories to be a little cliche, and I've outgrown the hair talk.
It makes me feel like "why we still thinking about hair, black people, get yourself on to the next one!"  I have found black women's obsession with appearance redundant and I feel much more relaxed in my skin. I do get a little confused when I attend an event where everyone is in the hair /clothes/nails competition. Black women spend entirely too much time and money on hair products and material things than most other ethnic groups. Although I do care about how I look and how I feel, I could care less about the fashion shows and runways in daily life.  Before a yogi does his or her yoga practice, one traditionally washes the face, dresses appropriately, and takes care of the physical as a sign of inner worship and respect. I feel free.  

Ambi, 35, Mother of two 
Why am I wearing some Chinese girl's hair in my head?
I recently asked a girl to put tracks in my hair and ended up taking it out that night.  I want to be over hair but I'm not really yet. But it always takes this expensive, delusional temporary psychosis for me to once again realize that I really have to accept who I am and what I look like. I obsess about my "hair" esteem and it's definitely connected to my whole sense of self and self image.  American culture foments this hysteria over beauty and the idea that part of a woman's beauty is wrapped in her hair.  White women feel pressure to conform to standards of beauty as well, but the difference is that their rolling-out-of bed look is the acceptable norm whether they wash, comb, brush or even touch their hair. I realize that I have to just appreciate myself but I don't consistently do it yet. Instead of having a fly hairstyle and be overweight or unhealthy or have bad skin, I have no hairstyle and I have low cholesterol, low blood pressure and good flexibility, strength, and energy levels.

CJ, 37, Attorney 
I used to be so anal about keeping my hair just so. Always super straight. Always "perfect." 
I lamented about "bad" hair days.  However, around the time I became serious about the yoga stuff, I stopped caring.   I no longer apologize for my hair when it's not straight.  I know that others aren't on the same page as me just yet.  So, some folks offer comments. I won't lie -- the comments sometimes hurt.  We all want to feel attractive, yes?  While negative comments sting, my former vanity hasn't returned.  I prefer to meet guys who meet me when my hair isn't super straight.  This is the me that I am most days.  If all they want is the straight haired girl who's perfectly waxed, wearing the latest cute clothes and make up (this is still me occasionally), then we won't work.

Thank you to the ladies for honestly sharing their hair journeys. If you would like to share your thoughts on hair and health connections, email

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