Real Life True Tales From Everyday Living

Family dynamics can get a little hairy

November 18, 2007|By Michelle Deal-Zimmerman | Michelle Deal-Zimmerman,sun reporter

I am not my hair.

India.Arie wrote the song. Well, here's my story, a similar tune.

I am not my hair.

I am not its dark, curly, stubborn, gray-hair hiding consciousness. I am not my hair style. I am not a ponytail or a chignon or a blow-out or a curler set.

I am definitely not a weave.

I am simply someone who happens to have hair -- nice hair. "Good hair," as it is sometimes called by people in the black culture. But not that good.

Not as good as blond hair, which my life experiences have shown me would actually be the best hair -- at least, in this country.

But not kinky or nappy hair, which -- according to some -- is the worst kind of hair and the worst kind of insult. Just ask Don Imus.

My mother has good hair with good style and bounce -- it sits beautifully upon her head, nary a hair ever daring to protest. My great-grandmother also had good hair -- a long, girlish, swingy graying braid that hung all the way down her back. I don't think she ever cut her hair. But she was completely gray by 50, and I'm told she's the reason I can't win the fight with my own gray strands.

My grandmother's hair is not so good, and she would rather we didn't talk about it. But I can tell you this -- she's 81 and has less gray than I do.

"Hair is your crowning glory," she says, even bringing the Bible in to provide definitive evidence. Remember what happened to Samson?

My grandmother tells stories about my mother's hair, which is said to have brought many a hairdresser to tears. (Between us, I think it was probably my grandmother's hard stare when any dared to suggest the smallest trim or cut.)

As a young girl, my mother's hair was legendary in her 1950s black neighborhood. It was too thick, too wavy, too long, too much for a skinny black girl in the South. That much hair would get a girl into trouble. It was dangerous.

Apparently, my grandmother didn't think so. She was known for standing watch as a weary hairdresser used a hot comb to smooth and straighten my mother's lengthy locks for hours.

After all that attention, it's no wonder that my mother is her hair. Well, she's many things including a schoolteacher and a paralegal. But her hair plays a role in her life script, and she's comfortable with that. She is always primping her hair. She washes it nearly every day, experiments with new styles and is still a fan of the hot comb. She is not afraid to add a little burgundy or copper color when she's bored.

I, however, have not experimented with color. But I am not my hair. A roll of the genetic dice and hence, I have good hair, too. But I rarely notice. Friends will comment that my hair looks nice every so often, but it will be difficult for me to recall what I did to make it so. After all, I spend scant minutes each day harassing my hair into a style, most often a ponytail.

The less attention I pay it, the more difficult it becomes.

I think it's possible my hair tattles to my mother. When she sees me she will often say -- to others in the room -- "Michelle thinks the hair on her head was made to do nothing more than keep her head warm."

I love my mother. But I am not my hair. Although I realize I would miss it if it were gone.

The thing is that over time, my good hair is no longer that special. Anyone can have so-called "good hair" nowadays -- tracks or weaves or extensions have given black hair a makeover. It's shiny, swingy and beautiful. And you see it everywhere.

Which makes my curly, frizzy black mop seem like something closer to bad hair.

But I am not my hair.

Well, maybe I am.

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