Monday, June 06, 2011

'The Help' highlights a familiar hair battle

At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up a book that a white lady wrote about black maids. I had reservations about reading it -- I tend to havea bias against white writers using black characters -- but I enjoyed the book. The book is set in the 1960s, so there's lots of talk about the civil rights movment, the power struggle between blacks and whites, black domestics battling against their white employers, etc etc etc. All that is fine and good, but the thing that struck me was The Hair.

One of the main characters is a woman named Skeeter and she often battles her mother over her clothes and hairstyles. Apparently, her hair is too frizzy for her mother's tastes, so she always sends her to the salon or fusses at her when it's not done right. At one point, Skeeter goes through some kind of excessive hair regimen -- It was foreign to me, so I can't offer details -- that temporarily gives her the hair her mother desires. Sounded a bit like a relaxer for white people. But here is how Skeeter sums up her looks:

My own mother is looking at me as if I completely baffle her mind with my looks, my height, my hair. To say I have frizzy hair is an understatement. It is kinky, more pubic than cranial, and whitish blond, breaking off easily, like hay. (Pg. 65-66)

Her hair struggle is one that speaks volumes to me. I've been natural for about five years, so that has meant that I also baffle my mother with my looks -- this thick head of kinky hair in particular. I often get compliments on my locks, twists, 'fro, etc, but Mom has never been on the natural hair team. She hasn't been as vocal as Skeeter's mother, yet she has made it clear that she would like me to have a relaxer. It's become a bit of a joke in the family. I'll ask if I can borrow something, she'll joke that I can, only if I have a relaxer. She nearly had a heart attack the few times she saw my 'fro. Of course, she had nothing to say when I pointed out that I look eerily similar to her high school graduation picture, the one where she could barely fit her cap over her huge 'fro.

We laugh about it, and I'm still hoping Mom will come around. (I've given up on some other members of my family) I found this online and I know I'm not alone in the mother-daughter hair conflict. Maybe we can all start a support group, and invite Skeeter.

Photo from


Hey. I'm L. said...

It's really sad that mothers and daughters have such an irrelevant struggle. I mean, it's just HAIR, right? I remember the disdain from my mother and grandmother when I started my dreads eleven years ago. It wasn't until they started getting long that these lovely ladies suddenly decided that my hair is now beautiful.
SMH. Dumb.

Strength/Courage/Wisdom said...

Yeah, it is sad. So many people can relate to our experiences though. Perhaps it is a generational divide? Shrug

Tbyrd said...

Oh mommy Strength, please come around.
When I went natural, I caught more flack from my father who is definitely one of those long straight hair-loving Black men. It seems like once afros were no longer "cool", our parents quickly forgot how beautiful natural hair is.
"You're leaving the house with your hair like that?" "What are you going to do with your hair?" etc. etc. I got this all the time from him, despite the fact he's always been educated about our history and culture.
You just have to ignore them or educate them on their brainwashed ways every time they open their mouths to say something negative. I have a colleague who always had something to say about my natural hair styles. I just directed her to lecoil one day. She hasn't bothered me since.
There are only so many times, people want to hear "You're just brainwashed!" Trust, they will leave you alone.
Anyway, it's been 14 years now so my father (and anyone else bothered by my hair) was pretty much forced to accept it.

Strength/Courage/Wisdom said...

Yeah, it's troubling. I do hope my mother comes around. I've given up on some other members of the family.