Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Hair Story

Yesterday I took my girl to the hair salon. It was our first trip together, and the man who ran the shop came recommended by another local adoptive mom. Ava is fairly tender-headed—though she's developed some real endurance over the last two years—and I wasn't sure how she'd hold up with a stranger taking hold of her tresses. So I really talked up our visit to Mr. Greg and how fun it was going to be and what a big girl she was and that I would pack not one but two lollipops in my shorts pocket.

Neither of us really knew what to expect. I think Ava imagined a delightful afternoon of lollipops and simply another person in her life cooing over her beauty. I assumed I'd act a little awkward and high-pitched while trying to gracefully turn down any and all suggestions of relaxing treatments. An hour would pass; we'd emerge back into the sunlight with Ava's hair perhaps done in a far better set of box braids than I could've managed in three times the amount of time. Hooray! Rite of passage, check.

Mr. Greg was awfully nice, a big booming type of a guy prone to loud claps. I liked him immediately. He got Ava up on a cushioned plank placed on the arms of a stylist chair and started feeling her hair. Her scalp looked great, he determined. Her hair was terrifically healthy. Well wasn't I feeling like the cock of the walk. Then he pronounced that her coil pattern is simply too tight to justify the length of her hair. Her hair would always be prone to matting and tangling and eventual dreading and we really should cut it. Cut it? But her magnificent puffs!

Cut it. It wasn't fair to me or to her, Mr. Greg said, not to choose a hairstyle that worked with her hair. She was not meant to have long hair. But, I stammered, you said her hair was healthy and my understanding is that in his (our?) culture black girls with short hair are frowned upon and wasn't this what I signed up for when I became Ava's mother? Her hair might be high maintenance but that was part of the deal. It was my job to spend time each morning detangling and conditioning. It's my job to spend a few hours on Sunday attempting a new style that will hold nicely for a few days. He told me to get a new job.

At this point I was really flummoxed and I could tell Mr. Greg was starting to tire of my hand-wringing. I hate it when people think I'm nuts. (And yet it happens so often!) He had me look at a bunch of pictures of black women with short hair (and I mean to the scalp short). Did I not think they were beautiful? Well of course I do, I said, but they're grown women who've made a style choice for themselves, not because their nervous white mama made them go short, and they've also chosen to pair their look with makeup and big jewelry. Well pierce her ears, said Mr. Greg. Pierced ears would cut down on people calling her a boy or teasing her or questioning her sexuality. At this point in the afternoon I may have been quivering as I watched Mr. Greg put two little marker dots on Ava's ears and take out his hydrogen peroxide and piercing kit. I stupidly telegraphed my discomfort by telling Ava that this was going to pinch. Well that really made Greg shake his head in disapproval. So now Greg was growing weary, Ava scared and I'm ashamed to admit that I was on the brink of tears.

"I really think I should talk to Ava's Dad about all this before I do anything," I said. He handed me the phone. I left poor Tim a message and sent him a text, hoping that he'd get a break on set in time to see my SOS. Just as Mr. Greg was about to shoot the gun into Ava's ear/my heart I managed to catch my breath and call cut.

Mr. Greg allowed himself a little groan of exasperation. It's just that I expected my job that day to be advocating for kind treatment of her beautiful, natural hair, I tried to explain. But somehow I found myself arguing the other position, while this black man was encouraging me to broaden my concept of beauty, culture be damned. Poor Mr. Greg, trying to do the right thing. I'm so grateful to him for disavowing relaxers and banning them from his salon. I'm so impressed by his determination to run a shop whose mission is to reteach a culture how to love and respect their natural beauty. He was tired of black women thinking of their hair as the enemy. When he stopped relaxing hair at his salon he said most of his clients were not just mad, they came to think of him as the AntiChrist. Now he specializes in Sisterlocks. Yes to all of this!

And yet what to do with my three year old girl? Girls have long hair. Black girls especially, or so was my impression. Shouldn't Ava have braids or twists or rows, no matter the cost or, I don't mean this, do I?, the demands put on her patience and pain threshold. And if I'm being brutally honest with myself, is my hesitation really just because I think A) she won't look as pretty with short hair and I get an inordinate amount of pleasure at the number of people who remark on her adorableness and B) black women will look disapprovingly at me for cutting her hair. Hmm, A and B aren't really about Ava at all, are they? I'm such a dick.

I paid my $25 consultation fee and promised Mr. Greg we'd be in touch again. I'm at such a loss of what to do.

Tim was so happy he didn't come home to his little girl with gold posts in her ears.

How I do love that puff.


His Other Mother said...

Apparently that man does not understand that "I need to talk to my husband" does not mean "I need permission." It means "I'm feeling pressured and need a graceful way out of this situation."

Sheesh, men are so obtuse.

For what it's worth, I think you did the right thing walking out sans holey ears and scalped, um scalp. Obviously it's manageable (and adorable!) at the length it is. If it isn't manageable when it's longer, then keep it this length and if she decides she wants to cut it when she old enough then I'll happily be the first to give her a grrrl power bump.


Can you please shoot me an email today? Loved this post and your blog :)

Christine said...

I think you did the absolutely right thing. Mr. Greg does sound wonderful, but this is a little more complicated than he might imagine. And it was for you, you decided to cruise for a while and let your thoughts shake out. I love that.

Imogen said...
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Imogen said...


I just found your blog through "Curly Nikki." First off, I applaud you for not cutting your baby's hair or piercing her ears under pressure. That would have been horrible for the both of you. She may have even resented you for it(I know I would have resented my mom for cutting off my hair!)

Secondly, I'd like to give you some confidence: YOU are this little girl's Mommy and YOU know what's best for her. You are with her everyday, you mend her boo-boos, kiss her tears, and encourage her; if YOU have no problem taking time to work with her hair, then you go right ahead and keep lovingly styling it.

I think a lot of Black stylists put on the pressure so they can get customers; either by pushing relaxer or pushing a cut that they would have to maintain. (I've had a long time beautician do the same thing! Telling me that my CURLY hair had to have a relaxer or I'd just die from maintenance) And that guy had no business huffing and puffing at you for taking your time to decide. Girlie, you have the right to take a breather and think! He does NOT know better than you, because you are her mommy. It doesn't matter if you're white; YOU'RE THE MAMA. :)
(Plus he's a dude. He's never been a girl with short hair, so I wouldn't go back to him. I wouldn't have liked him pressuring me so hard)

Anyway, I'm glad you didn't cut your baby's hair. Just try to find styles that suit her hair and allow it to grow. I'm not a natural hair stylist, but if you need one, maybe you should find a strictly natural hair stylist; one that does dreads and braids regularly and does not do relaxers at all.

I think you did a great job. You handled yourself well. It's always hard when someone, who seems more knowledgeable, is pressuring you. But you should congratulate yourself for not giving in.

I'd say, just give your baby braids, twists, etc. A puff might not be the best idea since it can be a very drying style.

Check out these hair sites:
(love this site; and there are 2 girls showcased of different ethnicities and hair types)
(her heart is in the right place, but I personally don't like all of her hairstyles. She tries, but a lot of the times, the styles look a bit awkward to me...(like when she uses fake hair) but it seems like she may have gone through the same things since she's adopted a Brown baby)

You're a good mom and you can do it!
Huggs, Imogen~*~*~*

jmh said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story! I live in Austin and had him recommended to me also. I took my 7-year old to get a trim from him and got the SAME story!!! There is NO WAY she is going to be happy with short hair!!!!! couldn't believe he tried that. I would encourage you to try - another adoptive mother who regularly gets over a week out of her simple styles. Best wishes to your family!!!

oneordinaryday said...

Saw your story today on another blog and had to stop by. My daughter was adopted as well, and I learned how to braid, twist, etc. from a friend and from lots of trying. She's always been awesome about sitting for me to do her hair, though a little bribery never hurts. (root beer, scooby doo, or wii does the trick)

My friend taught me that the style is in the way I part her hair, not how well I braid it. It took a lot of stress out of it for me and I love the bonding time now.

(I buy her hair products from Carol's Daughter and have been really pleased with them. )

Glad you didn't let him cut her curls! :)

memi3259 said...

I think that you should check out

This mother also post about hairstyles she does on her daughter.

Fabiola said...

Hi! I read your blog thru CurlyNikki and I am appaulled at that so called 'stylist'! In any event, I'm soo happy you didn;t buckle under pressure. I used to participate in Big Brother Big Sister back in college and I had a little Sis who was of mixed race but also adopted. She had gorgeous hair (messy but gorge). In any event, lo and behold one day I show up and she now had a buzz cut! Her mom said she couldn't 'handle' it. This lady also couldn't handle cleaning a house from what I could see. I spoke about that experience when I did my reflection in class b/c it was just really upsetting that one would rather cut than to seek knowledge. I'm sooo happy that you didn't succumb to pressure, especially hearing it from a black person (an alleged professional natural hair connoisseur) you may have been prone to feel that he knew more than you.

In any event, check out these ppl on youtube, they are awesome and have beautiful little girls (just liek your princess) and they'll be a great help! Sdestra, BlessedMomof3 and Katelynylyn. PLEASE check out Katelynylyn she's also an adoptive mom of 2 little girls from Africa and she has tutorials of how she learned to style their hair with cornrows and all kinds of designs! It's beutiful...all three of these ladies will definitely be an asset to at least give you idea of the hundreds of styles that are achievable with afro textured hair.

Wish you all th best of luck!!! Now if only we can get Angelina on this bandwagon for Zahara :)

Nora said...

Zoiks! Glad you stuck to your guns. Miss Ava is lovely, especially with her puff and her intact earlobes.

Claudia said...

OH MY! That really puts my salon experience in the shade.

So, so glad you didn't get her hair snipped. That dude is a dude - like another commenter said, he has NOT been a girl with short hair! She looks absolutely beautiful and her hair is gorgeous - so glad she's going to be keeping it :)

Loved this - I was absolutely on the edge of my seat the whole way through.

(and um, yeah, glad you didn't go for the piercing either).

Anonymous said...

Ok, 2 things to add to all of the smart comments to your smart post! My mom chopped my hair when I was little so she didn't have to deal with my curls (which are actually very manageable). She also pierced my ears so all the little old ladies would stop asking "what's his name". It didn't work! I looked like a boy until 6th grade when I begged and begged. And really, all it did was make me rude to old people who couldn't tell!

I always promised I would let my pretty little girls - white, black, bio or adopted - have long hair. Yes, it's a total pain to do Sophie's - for both of us, but it's also gorgeous hair!

Secondly, when we were thinking about Ethiopian adoption I had a LONG conversation with the only AA girl that I knew growing up that was adopted by white parents. Do you know that the ONLY negative she could come up with (despite living in an all white town and some other obstacles) was that she really wished her mom hadn't forced her to have short hair the whole time? No one ever knew when they met her what her gender was even through high school. She's really pretty, but her features were just such that people weren't 100%.

There you have it. My 2 cents. I think she's beautiful and I think you're one smart momma.

foxyr said...

Please do not listen to this freak who calls himself a hair stylist! He is talking utter non-sense. I'm African-American and I had hair to my behind when I was a little girl. I never had super-short hair, until I big chopped and cut off all of the relaxer that was in my hair so I could be completely natural again. If you want "your" little girl to keep all of her hair, keep doing what you're doing and it will grow! Honestly, some Black people no little to nothing about their own people's natural hair texture, which is a shame! Please don't let anyone pressure you into cutting your child's hair, unless that is is your intention. Good luck and don't be afraid to stand your ground in the future!

foxyr said...
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Mama Dog said...

Hi everyone--I'm extraordinarily grateful for all the feedback, here and on the fabulous Curly Nikki site. I do think it's worth repeating that I think the stylist had only good intentions and that the core of his message was not just sound but admirable. I'm forgiving of my own dithering too, as this was my first trip to a professional expert and I went in looking to be educated. That said, I'm proud of myself for having enough wits about me to finally make what felt like the right call at the time.

I do hope it's clear that my agenda going in was not to rid myself of some supposed burden. My mission, as the stylist asked of me from the get-go, was "to ensure that my child's hair was healthy and that I was living up to its beauty." I'm a work in progress, just like the rest of us.

A few final thoughts from my end:
1) People really don't care much for short hair on girls.
2) Ava is my child and I'm her mother. That's not in "quotes," that's not in question. Even if her mama is occasionally "wishy washy" or still getting her hair chops up to speed, we remain bound to one another in the most beautiful, clear way.
3) Off now to the snapaholics website to order myself some chunky beads!

Semi-feral Mama said...

I had SHORT hair as a young (white) girl. I also loved my jean jacket and hiking boots (I think I wanted to be a hippie, or John Denver, or something.) People always thought I was a boy. I didn't care then and I still find it funny today.
I just cut my Ethiopian son's hair. My desire was for it to be longer, his desire was for me to NEVER brush or pick it regardless of how much detangler I used. With a two and a three year old, I simply can not fight with either of them about hair.
I am glad you slowed the whole thing down and left before making a temporary (hair-cut) or permanent (piercing) decision you might regret later.
I am really starting to hate all the crazy politics and implications surrounding the styling of African hair. Hair SHOULD be just hair. I know it isn't. I know it is white-privilege that allowed me to be so naive about this for so many years. But oh how I wish it was.