Archive for the ‘hair’ Category

Photo of Ethel Stradford AdrineThis post is dedicated to my late great-aunt, Ethel Stradford Adrine, who loved to dress well and always looked FABULOUS. I’m sure that St. Peter will see the eagle carrying her fine spirit in the distance and open the gates of heaven in preparation. For heaven is being graced with a quiet, capable presence–probably rockin’ a dress that tells everyone a grand lady has arrived. Fare thee well, Aunt Ethel. Fare thee well.

There are plenty of times in everyone’s life when you feel as low as an ant’s belly, but for whatever reason, have to fake it ’til you make it. Maybe you were just kicked to the curb by your significant other; perhaps you’ve had a big argument with your best friend, or; sadly, there’s a death in the family and there’s no way you can skip the funeral. If you’re really unlucky, you’ve had all three at the same time. I did, in a sense. I was already quite depressed when I heard about my aunt’s death from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. While I wasn’t as close to her as I am to my other great aunt, also named Ethel, her passing was, in my eyes, one less Adrine in Cleveland. The only “good” thing is that she’ll be with her husband, my great-uncle Russell, who passed very suddenly from a stroke some years ago even though it seems almost like yesterday.

What to do? What to do? Honey, I’ll tell you: Throw open those closet doors; break out your best jewelry, borrow some more if need be; put some killer shoes on legs clad in stockings, pantyhose or tights; add an interesting belt, and; hold your head high. And, if you have a family like mine with several factions who are in the midst of simmering dispute on any given day, you tell them it’s time to come together and support each other or you’ll quietly kick some ass. But let’s get back to dressing to feel like a million.

I am an underwear slut. There is nothing that makes me feel better than to have on a bra and panties that are sexy and sensual. Therefore, I’d suggest putting on a really nice set of underwear. If you’re a full-figured woman like me, don’t forget to wear your very best bra for lift. As much as we don’t like it, the breasts get closer to the floor the older we get. In addition, if you’ve gained weight recently and haven’t gotten to the gym yet, (damn that knee replacement), a good bra is absolutely essential. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Go to Lane Bryant and check out their Cacique line of underwear and sleep wear.

Beige lace bra and lace tanga panties by Cacique

Beige lace bra and lace tanga panties by Cacique

I am very fussy about my bras. I insist on underwire and, until I found out about Cacique, hated padding. Now I have so many Cacique bras and panties that I’ve run out of room for them all! Yes, I know what Lane Bryant was like when you were growing up. It had mumus fit for little old ladies. However, this ain’t your mama’s Lane Bryant. The chain was purchased by Charming Shoppes, Inc. (CHRS), owners of Fashion Bug and, I would assume, Fashion Bug Plus, and Catherines. Their buyers get better every year.

Now for the outerwear.

Most people go to funerals in dark colors. I did the same before my cousin, Lisa, died in 2010 at the age of 42 or 43 years young. Oh, I went to the store with the intention of buying a suitable, dark, dress, but the only thing I heard as I drove through a sleet storm to get to the strip mall I frequent was her voice saying, “Live!” Lisa’s death both shook me up and spit me out. I was an absolute wreck. Were it not for her voice demanding that I live, I would have hidden under the covers until I had to drive 30+ miles to her memorial service. I’d seen her death before it happened, but didn’t know what I was seeing except her sitting under a rock overhang with legs crossed watching an eagle fly high in the sky. Lisa and I were very close, though we’d only known each other for a relatively short time. She was visiting her sister, Loretta, who works on the Arizona section of the Navajo Indian Reservation. It’s a two-hour drive to get from where Lisa and Loretta lived off the rez. As remote as it was, Lisa really, really needed to be there to understand herself and make peace with her spiritual beliefs. I envied her in a way because I’ve wanted to soak up the rich culture found there, but had other places I needed to be before I went to Arizona.

I went to Lane Bryant with the intention of buying something as dark as my mood for the memorial service. However, a brightly colored sheer tunic caught my eye. Again, I could hear Lisa’s voice telling me to live as opposed to locking myself away to mourn. I bought the tunic and some black tights to wear with it. That trend has continued with Aunt Ethel’s funeral. I chose a vermilion coat dress with black velvet collar that had been custom made 25-30 years ago for some occasion or another.

Black leather flats by Clarks

Black leather flats by Clarks

Although coat dresses fall into the category of “classic style,” it needed an update. I found a thin black belt with gold fixtures that allowed me to ever so slightly blousson the top, thereby making the wider hips I have now fit better. In addition, the belt showed my waistline, though it, too, is larger. The dress’ the small to medium shoulder pads gave me a balanced look. When I added black pantyhose and shoes, I effectively got blocked colors.

Now, for my face and neck.

The skin on my face is very sensitive. I can’t even wash it twice a day with very mild soap (Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar) without getting red marks on my cheeks and forehead. Oil of Olay? Ha! It is not hypo-allergenic where I am concerned. It breaks me out faster than if I’d had six cans of pop and slathered my face in oil. Speaking of oil, it’s oily in some areas and dry in others. I think the only reason it looks half-way decent most days is that I tend to go au naturelle most of the time. When I’m feeling particularly good and sexy, yes, I’ll put on the make-up, but I’ll put on as little as possible.

My complexion is caramel colored with red and yellow undertones. Finding a foundation is very challenging, even in the Fashion Fair line, a beautiful make-up collection for all women of color. Rarely have I found the right blend of brown, yellow and red. Borghese once made a shade that was perfect for me, however, it seems that it is no longer in their line, at least if one looks at their web site. Fortunately, I have enough to get me through the spring, at least. Someone really should write to them about the lack of shades for brown women. I like looking as though I barely have any make-up on during the day. I want to look fresh and my eyes to be highlighted just a tiny bit. Once the foundation goes on, then I begin applying a pencil liner to both the top and bottom lids. I’ve found that pencil liners give me more control than liquid. What color shadow I wear depends on the mood I want to set and, again, whether I want a look that makes people ask whether I’m wearing make-up. For shadows and blushes, I use Lancôme for the most part. This time, I wore a chocolate color called “Chocolat brûlé” on the lid and another called “Nosegay” in the crease and on the brow. Then, I used ordinary Cover Girl mascara to lengthen lashes that are already fairly long. I don’t use eyebrow pencil, although I probably will one day. I apply blush just a tad under the cheek bones with a brush at each temple as well. Again, all is applied very lightly. I really don’t care about lipstick manufacturers, although I must admit to having a high percentage of Lancôme here as well. Before I do my lips, I put on a coating of lip balm because my lips tend toward being chapped all year. The balm provides filler and added softness. The unfortunate aspect is that my lipstick will come off more easily. Hey, we all have to make compromises at times.

Green glass earrings

One-of-a-kind green glass earrings

I have lots of earrings even though I don’t wear jewelry very often. I chose a pair of green glass teardrop earrings with gold fixtures made from a glass blower’s scraps. I love the different shades of green running through each one, with just a smidge of almost-white and a hint of blue that’s barely there.

I should probably say a word or two about my hair. My hair doesn’t know what texture it wants to be. I inherited it from my father’s side of the family tree. He got his from his grandmother who I remember as this very interesting woman who chewed snuff and had a braid that went straight down her back. It was only much later in life that I learned she was Cherokee and married a black man. I wish I’d known her when I was in my teens, but she died before I hit double digits. I don’t remember when her husband died. At any rate, my hair will stand in a crew cut naturally if I don’t tell the barber to cut it so that it lays flat when combed from the swirl. I have a widow’s peak of which I’m very fond, but barbers always want to shave off. I’m just different that way. It’s been about a week since my last cut, not long enough for the hair to start curling yet, but it will by week’s end. That gives me a much softer look that I like just as much as the shorter, close-cropped style. Unless I’ve allowed my hair to grow for a couple of months, I can get in the shower, shampoo, moisturize if time permits, apply body lotion, some hair oil and clothing. That’s it. I don’t have to comb it or brush it if I don’t want to, although I could train it to wave if I had the patience. After several attempts, I’ve given up.

Black beaded rope necklace with gold teardrop

Black beaded rope necklace with gold teardrop

The Winchester collar on my dress cried out for a necklace, but I’m very short on those. Therefore, I raided Mom’s stash. She’s got enough jewelry to open her own store and, believe me, it’s just as much fun going through her collection as it is shopping for my own. She had the absolutely perfect piece. It has at least 20 separate ropes of small, black beads held together by a short, gold chain. On the end is a gold teardrop.

Good underwear: check. Black pantyhose: check. Black shoes: check. Make-up: check. Green earrings: check. Black rope necklace: check. All that I needed to do was put on my dress. As I’d hoped, the color was blocked and the dress didn’t look bad at all given it’s age. If it had larger shoulder pads, then there’d be a bit of a problem. The medium sized pads worked perfectly to balance me out. Coupled with the belt, I was A-OK.

A front view of The Wicked Woman in her green funeral ensemble

A front view of the final green coat dress ensemble

The Wicked Woman in Her Green Funeral Ensemble

A side view of the final green dress ensemble

I previewed a six-segment series of articles about what it means to be a beautiful black woman in my April 26, 2007 post The Beauty of Imus: Talking About Sex & Race. All of us are bombarded with standards of beauty that could make any woman of color feel as though she is almost irreparably defective, dreamed up by advertising agencies in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and Tokyo. Although many of these cities are not in Europe, it is a European standard they purvey. The women are tall, skinny to the point of anorexia, lighter-skinned and often blonde, even in those countries where blonde is anything but a natural hair color. What message does this send to those of us who don’t fit the European mode? Certainly, it is nothing healthy.

The relaxer and the afro: a natural dilemma

By Aulelia

The relaxed look and the afro are two elements of the female black hair experience that need no introduction. I have been asked many times whether I am going to relax my hair or whether my afro needs to be “coifed” (ie. relaxed) when I am with my family in Kenya or roaming the streets of Paris. Perhaps people are curious yet I believe that my natural hair spurred on these questions. Some women believe that when the coils return, their hair needs “fixing” yet others argue that sisters with relaxed hair are succumbing to the “creamy crack.” My question is: Why are relaxers and afros so symbolic?

The models for Just For Me relaxers, with their permanently-fixed smiles I was convinced were due to their midnight-hued, relaxed strands, captivated my imagination when I was younger. In retrospect, I know they enthralled me not because I wanted to look white but because I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I was certain that having long, relaxed hair would be my first-class ticket into the world of acceptance and admiration from none other than my peers–other black girls. Luckily, my feelings on this subject have changed. My choice to be a natural is to embrace what I have instead of trying to hide it. That is not to say that girls with relaxers are hiding, but more that I was hiding. My personal experience is an example of how hair choices–natural or relaxed–can cripple us instead of empowering us if we do not try to understand how our choices will affect our emotional well-being.

The afro is an example of a hair choice that labels those who wear them with stereotypical stickers. For example, if anyone remembers the cringe-inducing movie Austin Powers in Goldmember, Beyoncé’s blonde afro was a dominant image. Yet, instead of implying strength, it was made to look like an archaic relic from the much-cariactured Blaxploitation archive–a piece of 70s history to be mocked and laughed at. I do not find it funny.

At university, I once saw a white girl on my hall floor wearing an afro-wig for a fancy dress party. This offended me–making me feel uncomfortable–and I have realised why. It is a piece of history about which we have been made to feel bad and almost embarrassed. Yet, we shouldn’t. The afro is still relevant and can be applied today. For example, its circular shape can represent the harmony that black female bloggers are pursuing, its curls and coils symbolise the twists and turns that black girls have had to suffer yet ultimately survived.

For someone to try and mock that proves that our hair is now an endangered species, like the gorillas of Zaire. However, unlike the latter, we can change this: we need to start by eradicating discrimination. The only people that can do this is us–the members of the African diaspora.

Look for other thought-provoking commentary from Aulelia at her blog, Charcoal Ink.

Anorexia is a growing problem among black American women. According to the article Dying to be Thin: Minority Women: The Untold Story on NOVA Online, “Much research is now focused on identifying factors that affect the onset of eating disorders among African-American women. It seems that eating disorders may relate to the degree to which African-American women have assimilated into the dominant American social milieu — that is, how much they have adopted the values and behaviors of the prevailing culture.” NOVA Online is the Internet outlet for the outstanding NOVA series aired on public broadcasting stations around the U.S. If authors Marian Fitzgibbon and Melinda Stolley are correct, it is reasonable to assume that this adaptation of prevailing culture is hurting our girls and young women in other ways as well.

Every black woman born after 1900 knows that the one physical characteristic that causes us the greatest stress is our hair. A black woman will spend eight hours or more in a beauty parlor at least one Saturday of every month so that she can feel as though she looks fabulous. For many of us, a weekly visit to our favorite stylist is a must. Our grandmothers did it, our mothers did it, we do it and we’ve bullied our daughters into doing the same thing. Our goal is to emerge from that place of pain, sweat and tears with bone-straight, appropriately curled or waved hair by any means necessary.

An article in the September 2006 issue of Black Enterprise Magazine states that one black-owned Fantastic Sam’s franchise in Matteson, Illinois expected revenues of $450,000 by the end of that year. Johnny Williams, the franchisee, said, “The typical African American female gets her hair done weekly . . . Weekly clients generate a lot of revenue for a hair salon.” It would seem so. Black Enterprise estimates total industry sales at $55 billion and that figure is expected to grow, “driven by both the youth market, with its disposable income, and image-conscious baby boomers wanting to keep their look current,” Williams adds.

This habit is further fueled by magazines like Sophisticate’s Black Hair Styles and Care Guide, Hype Hair, Black Beauty & Hair, the British magazine BlackHair and the Dutch-language publication Black Expressions.

The Internet has entered the game on a very strong footing as well. In addition to online sites for print media, there are also sites with no tactile complement. These include Jazma.com, Internet presence of one of the world’s best black salons, Jazma Hair, Inc. in Toronto, Canada; a very robust section on black hair care at iVillage.com; famed Florida stylist Dwayne Pressley; the black hair care catch-all-and-everything site, BlackHairMedia.com, and; two sections on About.com about black hair care–one for whites who adopt black and mixed-race children and another for black women.

Both black hair care magazines and web sites promote an image of black women who have long, straight hair, even if that means gluing synthetic or human hair strands to their own, shorter, hair. A case in point is the May 2007 23rd Anniversary issue of Sophisticate’s Black Hair Styles where the editors have chosen “The 10 Best Styled Women of 2007.” The winner is singer Mary J. Blige who sports long, light brown hair with blonde tinting. Fellow singers Beyoncé and Kellis, one of only two in the list with short hair, round out the top three. Also making the list are the usual suspects: actress Gabrielle Union; media mogul Oprah Winfrey; talk show host/former supermodel Tyra Banks, and; Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry. Singer/actress/American Idol winner Fantasia is the only other woman with short hair. With the exception of Oprah, none of the women could be considered what we in American black culture like to call “thick” or “heavy.” Where is Oscar-winner/American Idol loser Jennifer Hudson’s “Effy” to Beyoncé’s “Deena,” their respective characters from the 2006 Oscar-winning movie Dreamgirls? If ever there was a real woman’s “It” girl, Hudson is the one!

Jennifer Hudson as Effy in DreamgirlsThere is a very small glimmer of hope for those of us who choose to wear short and/or natural hair. Almost all black hair care magazines and web sites have a small section for us. They are usually pretty thin on content, but at least they are there. The exception is the web site Nappturality.com geared specifically toward women who wear their hair naturally and love it–or are learning to. According to the home page, “Here you will find photos of all natural styles, comb coils, two-strand twists, afro puffs, afros, dredlocks (dreadlocks), locs and many other natural styles. Styled by napptural-haired women on their own hair. . . Nappturality is all about embracing your NAPPtural, natural hair. Many, many thousands of African American women and women of African descent all over the world have stopped relaxing their hair and are wearing their natural hair proudly. All have different reasons for doing it — damage, scalp problems, illness, hair loss, finances, curiosity or maybe simply being tired of wasting all day Saturday waiting in a salon. Others saw someone on the train wearing a fierce set of locs, coils or twists and started to rethink their choices.” Members write of their journeys to natural hair, there are hair maintenance tips, product suggestions and, yes, lots of photos, particularly in the forums. Most of all, this is a site where women can get affirmation for their decision to go natural. In a world choking with long-haired, straight-haired blondes of African-descent, Nappturality.com is a breath of very fresh air.

A site of interest for those of us curious about the meanings and origins of our fascination with all things hair can be found at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. The American Mosaic Project–a field study research program in American multicultural studies–hosts “a collection of verbal and visual representations of African American women’s styles” under the banner Sunday Morning Celebration. The representations include articles about church; hats and fashion; music, and, of particular interest; hair.

“African American women’s search for societal acceptance often encompasses struggle between natural and socially constructed ideas of beauty. As an essential component in traditional African societies, cosmetic modification is ritualized to emphasize natural features of blackness. Defined by social occasion such as childhood development to maturity, indicators of marital status or the group to which you belong, beautification of the hair and body play an essential role. In our racially conscious society, presenting a physical image and being accepted is a complex negotiation between two different worlds,” begins the section about black hair.

It seems evident that black women are searching–longing–for acceptance, but from whom? The majority European-descendant population in the U.S. and Europe have a distinct need to see themselves even if that “self” has a black face. DiversityInc.com suggests that it may be very necessary for future and current employees to adopt straight hair in order to get and keep a job in some instances in the succinctly-titled article “Your Hair or Your Job?.”

“Many black people have grown more comfortable with embracing hairstyles that emphasize the characteristics of their hair, and corporate America increasingly is more accepting of braids and short afros. But traditionally conservative industries such as banking and law still may turn you down if you don’t look like what they perceive as executive material. Wearing braids or dreadlocks could be the deciding factor in whether you get the job—and, if you do get hired, getting promoted,” says the article. That is racism.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a new Compliance Manual in April 2006 based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under the new rules, Section 15 defines racial discrimination to encompass: ancestry; physical characteristics; race-linked illness; culture (emphasis added); perception; association; subgroup or “race plus” (see the link for a definition), and; reverse.

Furthermore, the Manual states that appearance and grooming standards “generally must be neutral, adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons, consistently applied to persons of all racial and ethnic groups, and, if the standard has a disparate impact, it must be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” In elucidating this requirement, the Manual specifically mentions hair.

“Employers can impose neutral hairstyle rules – e.g., that hair be neat, clean, and well-groomed–as long as the rules respect racial differences in hair textures and are applied evenhandedly. For example, Title VII prohibits employers from preventing African American women from wearing their hair in a natural, unpermed “afro” style that complies with the neutral hairstyle rule. Title VII also prohibits employers from applying neutral hairstyle rules more restrictively to hairstyles worn by African Americans.” (EEOC Compliance Manual, April 19, 2006. Viewed 05/14/2007.)

An article about the new rules on a web site belonging to defendants’ law firm Ford & Harrison, LLC analyzes the rules and reminds its clients, “[W]hile employers may establish policies regulating hairstyles, such policies must be equitably enforced and should acknowledge differences in hair textures.” In other words, companies cannot refuse to hire black folks because they don’t like hair worn naturally and expect no repercussions.

The reasons for choosing to wear one’s hair in a particular style are complex. Many of us have been brainwashed to believe that anything that resembles whites must be the way toward all good things in life. Others enjoy their masochistic journeys into beauty salon hell every week and don’t mind the burning, dry, itchy scalp and damaged hair they will inevitably suffer as a result of chemical straighteners. Where else can we get someone to pamper us for hours on end, even if we do have to sit and wait and wait and wait until our favorite operator finishes gabbing with her quadruple-booked other favorite client to get to us? I have abandonment issues, balance problems and a short fuse. For me, the entire lonely and unsure obstacle course of hair dryers, hydraulic lift chairs, sinks, curling irons, hair rollers and the like would be like watching paint dry on a beige wall. Therefore, like Aulelia, our guest columnist, I wear my hair in a natural, although very short, style that is more indicative of who I am.

To those who choose to have their hair straightened so that they hatch from their salon incubators looking like somewhat more curvy white women, have at it. Add to the revenues of a black business owner! But, for goodness sakes, think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you’d like your style to convey about you. Everyone’s style is, ultimately, unique and you don’t have to justify your actions or apologize to anyone. Nevertheless, before you commit to a signature look, maybe it’s best to decide for yourself if black beauty is kinky or straight.

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