Bad hair days gone at last

November 10, 1994|By Kiah Stokes

AS A YOUNG African-American girl growing up in northeast Baltimore, I often thought of myself as the oddball when it came to hair.

Between the ages of 8 to 18, I felt that every day was a bad hair day for me because I had short hair that seemingly refused to grow. I envied the other girls -- including most of my African-American friends and relatives -- who had long locks. It didn't help that most of my female relatives have hair that grows like the sprouts on a Chia Pet.

I often heard, "Kiah, hair isn't everything you know." It was more important to be nice, intelligent, etc. Why couldn't they understand?

As I got older, I grew out of my hair-envy phase as I became more politically and racially aware. But back then, I would have done anything -- and did just about everything I could think of -- for some significant hair growth.

To show the extent of my past fascination with hair, I still can distinctly remember classmates' hairstyles -- even when I can't remember their names or much about them personally. For example, I was envious of my friend Tina, a girl of Arabic ancestry with waves of jet black hair that fell to her rear end. She always wore bright ribbons to complement her outfits. I didn't have enough hair for that many ribbons.

Another girl, I have forgotten her name, had gold, curly hair that was always pushed up on one side and secured with a barrette. When the wind blew, her hair would fly skyward. Then it would rebound to its original style when the wind ceased.

I lamented that mine wasn't long enough to blow in the wind.

For a while, I sported a ponytail. In the morning, my mother would pull my strands of hair into a rubber band and send me off to school. By noontime, the shorter strands would be sticking out, leaving me with an uncoiffed look.

To remedy what I saw as a problem, I set up a nightly routine that included scalp massages and 50 strokes of the hair brush on each side of my head -- that's what TV's Brady Bunch's mother told her daughters Marsha, Jan and Cindy to do. I even applied a "scalp conditioner" that smells like tar; the woman pictured on the jar's label has long, thick hair. I thought using it would give me a long mane just like her's. I was sadly mistaken.

As a pre-teen, I had shoulder-length extensions braided into my own hair for an Afrocentric look. My hair grew, but sitting still for six hours to get a hairdo proved to be too much.

As an adolescent, I got my first curly perm. It was too messy. Too time consuming.

As I got older, I realized that lots of people -- particularly my black women friends -- had issues about hair. Many were beginning to cut their hair short -- sporting afros and dreadlocks. For some, the new looks were simply fashionable, others aimed to make political statements.

For years, many black models who didn't have long hair were shown wearing long wigs almost exclusively, including such world-class beauties as Beverly Johnson and Iman. It was as if long hair made them more acceptable to the mass market.

Without knowing it, the media had conditioned my young mind to think that "you're only beautiful if you have long hair." I reasoned that if I wanted to be considered pretty, I had to grow some hair.

Now the media has begun to spotlight actress Halle Berry and singer Toni Braxton, both beautiful, young black women who sport smart, short styles that highlight black facial features.

At the age of 23, I now wear my hair short, which doesn't make me feel like a conformist, but rather an attractive young woman. That's a real breakthrough for me.

Kiah Stokes, who has a "Halle Berry" cut, is an editorial assistant in The Sun's sports department.

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