Your "Hairitage," or a Little History of Nonstraight Hair
It is only in the past thirty years that hair that is other than straight has been admired by America's mainstream culture. Even so, women with nonstraight hair, i.e., women of color, Jewish women, and women of mixed ancestry, still retain negative beliefs about their hair. Among the most prevalent of these beliefs is one that says straight hair is inherently better than kinky, curly, or wavy hair. In other words, straight hair is "good" and other textures are "bad." We continue to think of silky, straight hair as easy to comb, volumeless, and requiring little or no maintenance. (The grass is always greener . . .) Just in case you fast-forwarded past the Introduction, I'll repeat myself here: There is really no such thing as good hair or bad hair. It doesn't matter what kind of hair you have. If I were to make any distinction, after years as a professional stylist, it would be that of between a healthy head of hair and an unhealthy head of hair. In my practice, that is what really determines good or bad hair. And healthy hair trumps all textures and types!
In the early 1970s, women of all races gloried in their natural hair texture. Self-pride flourished during that liberating, self-expressive time. By the late 1970s, however, the hair and cosmetic companies, having lost money, began an assault on the psyches of women and embarked on extensive advertising campaigns lionizing conservative, straight-haired styles. Their success, a return to the primacy of straightened hair, was accompanied by an even more disturbing trend: workplace discrimination against women of color who wore naturals or braids. Not surprisingly, the right to wear one's clean, coiffed hair in an attractive, non-Eurocentric fashion had to be fought for all the way to the Supreme Court.
In any battle there are casualties, as there were for the victors of hairstyle choice. Many ambitious professional women remained convinced that their career mobility would be eclipsed if they didn't conform to European standards of hair beauty. To this day, when women in high-profile positions go into a meeting with straight, styled hair, it may be because they feel more put together and secure that they'll be taken seriously by their male counterparts. I'll be the first to admit that there is truth to that: Straight hair can convey a stern, no-nonsense, dare I say "I-can-be-a-bitch-if-I-have-to" look. The same reservations about career mobility hold true for black women and braids in the workplace. It has only been since the 1990s that professional women of color have sported braids.
With this second wave of liberation, I thought it was high time for Hair Rules! My mission is simple: to advise and encourage all women with nonstraight hair to strive to attain beauty, whatever their ethnicity, and whatever their tastes.
With the tide turning toward more inclusiveness and variety, the beauty and cosmetics industry has done an about-face and developed some highly innovative, chemically altering products that are much safer and less damaging than ever before. Despite these advances, for those of you who are victims of hair hatred, there's no telling what you'll do if it were left up to you! One of the most important things you can do is to recognize why it is you want to change your hair. Once you've deduced that, and it's on a positive tip-"I want a more professional look," or "I've changed," or "I know I'll look better with longer hair"-then the sky's the limit.
Knowing your own hair texture and the current state of your hair is the next step in realizing what styling options you have. The texture and condition of your hair should determine the boundaries of what you can do. Before your shoulders slump, hang on! The boundaries are wider and far more exciting than you would imagine. For now, put away the fashion and hair magazines. Get honest with yourself and the hair that's on your head. All of our society's misconceptions and the media's mixed-message images (not to mention those of self-interested stylists) that trickle down to you will only frustrate and confuse you. It's time you knew your true "hairitage."
Your Texture, Your Type
Okay, I've stopped preaching (for now)! Let's get down to business. Nonstraight hair ranges from kinky, the curliest, to wavy, which is slightly less curly, and everything in between. For humans as a species, there are few actual differences among people. Hair is one of them. Most people who populate the Earth have the kinds of kinky, curly, or wavy hair I'm writing about. So, you're part of a big club.
All hair, whether straight, wavy, curly, or kinky, is comprised of two essential parts: the root, which is the structure beneath the skin surface, and the hair shaft (or stem), which extends above the skin surface. The hair shaft itself is made of three parts-the medulla, the cortex, and the cuticle. If you cut one of your own hairs and placed it under a microscope, its cross-section would reveal distinctive cellular "sleeves" that make up your hair. The innermost core of the shaft, the medulla, contains melanin granules, which determine our God-given hair color. The next "sleeve" is the cortex, which is actually the thickest part of the shaft. It is the cortex that determines hair's strength, resilience, and moisture content.
The cuticle is what we see and think of as our hair. It is made up of overlapping keratin (protein) cells that lie closely on the shaft like fish scales. Cuticles have between seven to ten layers. (The number of layers determines the diameter of an individual hair.) Healthy hair is defined by a person's having an intact cuticle. On the other hand, damaged hair, whether the damage comes from heat, brushing, or chemical processing, is defined as hair having a cuticle whose "scales" have lifted, separated, or broken away from the shaft. Once a hair's cortex and medulla are exposed, the hair is susceptible to breakage.
While it is the hair shaft that most of us are concerned about (and are willing to spend big bucks on), the fact is that it is the humble, invisible root that is connected to a blood supply and oil glands. (This is my way of telling you that your health directly affects your hair.) The truth is that, while I don't want to bore you with the anatomy of hair, I do want you to remember that though the hair shaft doesn't have nerve endings (which is why getting a haircut isn't classified as major surgery, no matter what you think), it is attached to the root. What happens to your roots (connected as they are to blood vessels and oil glands) has much to do with the condition of each and every hair shaft.
When we use terms like straight, wavy, curly, and kinky, we are talking about the configuration, or shape, of each hair. Let's call that shape hair type. Hair type is determined by the follicle, the scalp indentation that houses the root. Thanks to genetics, follicles vary in size, shape, and thickness. Whatever size, shape, and thickness your follicles are determine your hair shape and, hence, type. All hair types come in three major textures-coarse, medium, and fine. (Incidentally, you can have a combination of all three on different parts of your head. Hair grows at a rate of approximately a quarter to a half inch per month, and this new growth can arrive in any texture.) In addition to texture, we tend to classify hair's volume using terms like thick and thin, or fine. It can be somewhat confusing because it's not the individual diameter of each hair that determines whether you have thick or fine hair, it's the number of shafts per square inch. So, you may very well have coarse hair, but not a lot of it, and be classified as having fine hair-just as you can have fine hair and tons of it, yet be classified as having thick hair. See how easily one can get mixed up?
As you can see, hair itself is complex and amazing. Whole chapters could be written on the various classifications. For you, though, it's your type and texture that determine your styling options, and how you can best care for your hair. Let me explain the major types of hair:
*Coiled-kinky hair, which most of you know as kinky hair, is related to curly hair in that it is very tightly coiled and curled together. (Despite the way many of you mistreat your kinky hair, this stuff is extremely fragile! Remember, the more coiled the hair shaft, the more fragile the hair.) Contrary to the popular belief that all kinky hair is coarse, it, too, can be fine-or medium-textured. Regardless of texture, kinky hair has lots and lots of densely packed thin strands. Kinky hair is distinguished by its lack of shine, but it is capable of having a beautiful luster and sheen if it's healthy.
There is really no such thing as good hair or bad hair. Healthy hair trumps all textures and types.
*Curly hair has a looped S-pattern, a coil, because the cuticle layers don't lie down as flat as those of wavy hair. Curly hair, too, can be fine, medium, or coarse textured. It has less shine than wavy hair does, and a considerable amount of luster. The curlier your natural hair is, the less the cuticles lie down. In order to straighten curly hair, you have to smooth down and flatten the cuticle with heat. The smoother the surface, the shinier the surface.Most people who populate the Earth have the kinds of kinky, curly, or wavy hair I'm writing about.
So, you're part of a big club.
*Wavy hair has a definite S-pattern to it. Its cuticle lies almost flat, giving the hair some shine. Wavy hair can be fine, medium, or coarse textured. Nonstraight hair ranges from kinky, the curliest, to wavy, which is slightly less curly, and everything in between.
Although there isn't a hard-and-fast relationship between type and glossiness, a rule of thumb would be that straight hair shines, and as the hair progresses on a continuum through wavy all the way to kinky it obtains a characteristic we call luster.
Living in a nation that has the northern European model as its standard of hair beauty, many African-American women have legitimate issues about their hair. Yet, they are not alone, which is why this book was written for all women with nonstraight hair. Many women of European ancestry also have extremely wavy, curly, or kinky hair, and have parallel issues about theirs. It's a big and complex world: I've met Japanese women with kinky hair. Meeting them shattered my own assumption about genetically "pure" Asians having bone-straight hair.
Too many women are walking around so ambivalent about their hair that they neglect it. They are cheating themselves of their beauty. Bad as that is, there are other women who out-and-out hate their nonstraight hair. What they've done to it (and themselves) for the sake of straight hair . . . well, if those strands could talk, they'd be crying, "Have mercy!"
All throughout Hair Rules! I will refute those myths that ignorance, ambivalence, and hair hatred have spawned.
Choosing a Good Stylist
A woman can pick a good stylist anywhere if she has sufficient knowledge about her own hair. This is important for today's woman, who has as much going on as any man, yet must still be concerned about her appearance. My advice and suggestions make it possible for a busy, multitasking person such as yourself to feel confident choosing a good stylist at home and away. In today's fast-paced world, the maintenance required to look your best is quite a commitment. Finding a stylist to help maintain your hair is an important first step. Convenience; a nice, clean atmosphere; and someone who is as concerned about your hair as you are and respects your time are some of the things you should look for when choosing a hairstylist.
Consider the way you think about eating out. If you are a good cook, when you eat out you want a place that serves the food you love, prepared by a chef who is as good a cook as you are, if not better. Not only that, if you have told your waiter that you don't eat shellfish, why would you pay good money when he brings you a plate of unwashed, undercooked mussels drowned in reconstituted lemon juice? It's really not much different when choosing a hairstylist. This is someone in whom you should feel absolute confidence that she or he can do things for and to your hair that are as good as or better than you can do yourself. Now that you are armed with knowledge about hair anatomy, type, and texture, does it make any sense to set aside time in your schedule for someone who can't "take your order" based on your preferences, tastes, and educated knowledge about your hair, as well as your lifestyle and age?
Your instincts are going to direct you to someone whose work you've seen and liked. Providing she or he is available, the next thing you need to find out is whether or not the stylist really listens to what you're asking for. That, of course, doesn't mean what you want is what you'll get, given your hair's condition, its texture, your lifestyle and age, but a good stylist will try to accommodate your wishes while he or she uses her professional expertise to maximize your looks. Please be honest with yourself before you walk into that salon and get some hairstylist to believe all your drama! You might walk out looking like Ms. Whodunit!
Any good stylist will tell you word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising. If you find yourself complimenting someone's cut or style, then, by all means, ask for the source. Once you've identified a particular stylist, call and find out if an appointment is necessary for an initial consultation. Even if an appointment isn't necessary, don't settle for a phone conversation. No reputable stylist will consult over the phone about a head of hair he or she can't see! There's usually no charge for a consultation, but keep your questions to a minimum. Time is money, and courtesy dictates that you not take more than ten or fifteen minutes of the stylist's time.
If you live in or near a large city, another excellent way of finding a stylist is by browsing through beauty and fashion magazines. (Remember, I said put them away, not throw them away!) A lot of the magazines have credits that list hairstylists who work both for the magazine and in a nearby salon.