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Good Hair

October 14, 2009

I can hardly wait to see the new film by Chris Rock, “Good Hair.”  If you are unfamiliar with the phrase, it is used within the African-American community to describe hair that is more manageable than the typical hair that most black people have naturally.  “Good hair” means hair that is not as kinky and coarse:  it is finer, silkier, and has more movement.  In essence, it means hair that is more like that of a white person (or Asian, or Indian, or Mexican: basically anything other than a black person).

As a child of a black father and white mother, I have had some hair issues all my life.  Apparently when I was born I had fine, loose curls.  My parents kept my hair mostly tied up in a ponytail high atop my head or in two puffballs on either side.  My mother had a drawer of yarns and strings to color-coordinate my every outfit with my hair.

Puffballs She would wake up every morning and attempt to subdue my frizzy mane into submission.   The older I got, the coarser, thicker, and curlier my hair became.  Wearing it down was rarely an option.  My hair was shoulder length but so wild and unruly that the only way to wear it down was to go to bed with wet hair and curlers the night before.  Even then, it was a big poufy mess that had to tamped down with barrettes.

Mirror I longed to have the flowing locks of the women on TV.  I would bobby pin a towel or small blanket onto my head in order to replicate the sensation of swinging my long tresses to and fro.  I knew what “good hair” was and I definitely did not have it.

My hair stayed in pony tails until about the 3rd grade.  By then I had started to style my hair myself.  With my jar of “Afro-Sheen” in one hand and a bottle of Johnson & Johnson detangling spray in the other, I tore through my mass of snarls and curls.  That worked for awhile.  Then I got lazy and tired of the daily efforts.  So I stopped.  My hair basically became two huge dreadlocks.  When it became clear to my mother I was not capable of taking care of my own hair, she got it all chopped off.  For the next year, my short afro had me often mistaken for a boy.


I think I was about 12 when I got my first chemical relaxer.  My tight, coarse curls were finally loosened.  For the first time I was able to wear my hair not tied, braided, or pinned up.  I rocked my feathered back mullet.  I proceeded to relax my hair for the next 25 years.  The relaxers never completely straightened my hair and I typically wore my hair long and wavy. LongHair Relaxing my hair was not fun and I suffered my share of scalp burns, but thankfully my hair never fell out like some women have experienced.  I rarely wore my hair straight.  Even with my relaxed hair, straightening still required a lot of time with a flat iron and no chance of rain.

Two years ago I decided to stop relaxing my hair.  I was tired of the reliance on this caustic chemical.  I was frustrated with the damage it was doing to my hair.  I was uncomfortable with the social implication that straighter hair equals “good hair.”  But what would happen if I resorted back to my natural state?  Would I be strutting around town with a huge afro?

After I stopped using a chemical relaxer on my hair I discovered that there were hairstylists that specialized in cutting curly hair.  Every other hair cut I had involved cutting it straight.  I didn’t wear my hair straight, so why were they cutting it straight?  Even the black stylists I patronized seemed confused when I told them I wore my hair wavy.  The first “Curly Girl” hair cut I had was transformative.  My hair was soft and bouncy and my ringlets spiraled in perfection.  It was the first truly good hair cut I had in my life.  It was the first time someone celebrated my curly hair instead of treating it like some sort of deficiency that needed to be overcome.

I still use a texturizer on my hair (much to the chagrin of my stylist who thinks all curly hair should be left in its natural state) to reduce some of the poufiness my hair, especially as it grows longer.  The texturizer is much less chemically damaging and doesn’t come close to straightening.  Perhaps some day I will forgo all chemicals and chop my curls off.  Until then, I will continue to advocate for curly girls everywhere in the belief that all hair is “good hair.”


17 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2009 12:30 am

    This post was beautiful, and so are you. I thought I had my issues with my hair ( a broken-hearted hairdresser who spent too much time telling me his woes & turned my hair orange 2 mos. before my wedding; a broken-footed hairdresser on too many pain meds who turned my head into a “candy cane”) but compared to what you’ve been through, I’ll be quiet now. Thanks for the hair-raising saga of Good Hair. Love the photos of you through the years, too.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 14, 2009 12:43 am

      Thank you, Kat! I suppose we women all have hair tales to tell (yours sound really interesting so don’t stop sharing them!). Our hair so defines us, for better or worse.

  2. October 14, 2009 1:08 am

    Can’t say that I can relate to the hair, but it’s always good to get honest perspective. I can, however, relate to finding a stylist that will work WITH you rather than against! No matter how you choose to wear your gorgeous locks, you’re stunning!!


    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 14, 2009 9:45 pm

      Why thank you, Miss Miragi!

  3. Margie permalink
    October 14, 2009 2:27 am

    Awesome Maija!! Your hair is gorgeous the way it is right now. I love it. Loved all the pictures of you too when you were little.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 14, 2009 9:43 pm

      Thank you so much, Margie.

  4. October 14, 2009 4:52 pm

    Your hair looks best in the last picture, so you must be doing something right, Maija. I love that quilt-like shirt you had on in the “boy” photo. =)

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 14, 2009 9:43 pm

      Yes, I was quite the fashionista. I think it was an African dashiki knock off (made in China). Thanks, Daddy to Babito!

  5. October 15, 2009 12:21 pm

    Maija, this is a great post! Great pics, great hair story! Because of your inner beauty, and that great smile of yours, you could wear the largest afro (one that would knock you over in a breeze), be as bald as Telly Savales or Howie Mandell, or wear any style in between and you would still be beautiful! Love you, girl! And, please, keep writing!

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 15, 2009 1:07 pm

      Aren’t you the sweetest, Cindy? Thank you so much for your kind words!

  6. Dheja permalink
    October 15, 2009 3:04 pm

    Great post! I too am a “naturally curly haired girl” and I’ve had my share of hair issues as well. For 23 years I dealt with my unruly mane in its natural state, although there were many benefits to having natural hair… When I was accepted into law school, I decided to start getting my hair chemically treated. Like you, my hair is never really “straight,” maintenance requires hot objects near my face, ears & neck, it can be costly and time consuming. I’m hesitant to see “Good Hair” as I am still deciding whether it has all been worth it…

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 15, 2009 11:53 pm

      Yes, much time, money, and often pain is required to maintain Black hair, no matter how one chooses to wear it. I completely understand why you may not want to see the film, Dheja. Good for you for keeping your hair natural for so long. I support everyone’s personal choices, and certainly there are social and professional implications for wearing it natural. I have a male friend who is an attorney and who wears his hair in very well kept shoulder-length dreadlocks. One juror commented that they thought he looked “unprofessional” because of his hair. He kept his dreads nonetheless, but I’m sure he will continue to be judged by some. Thanks for your comment!

  7. October 16, 2009 3:13 am

    So many things to be said here.

    I guess all I can say is…

    I hear ya.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 16, 2009 4:03 pm

      LOLOLOL! Ooh, poor Elliott! Who did that to your hair and has the statute of limitations expired on suing them?

  8. October 16, 2009 4:13 pm

    One of my dads friends kids.

    He said “I don’t know how to cut white people hair.”


    We had another guy who used to do all the crazy lines & patterns back in the 80’s/90’s, but he went to jail for hiring a hit on his girlfriend!

    That’s Milwaukee for you…

  9. October 22, 2009 8:10 pm

    Are you doing anything special to get it to look like that?
    I just started the Curly Girl Method and am no longer using shampoo; I’m doing a day to day blog on my findings and what it does to my curls.

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 22, 2009 10:09 pm

      I do wash my hair once or twice a week and condition daily. For styling I use the Deva Care Arc AnGell and Deva Curl Angell products as well as Momo moisturizing curl enhancing serum (best anti-frizz product around!). In the last photo I did use a curling iron to add a few spiral curls around my face because I was still growing out my relaxed hair. Now I just add the product to my towel dried hair, scrunch and go! So glad to hear that you are a new curly girl! Wishing you the best as I go to check out your blog!

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