As a young girl growing up in Tottenham, my mother used to ‘press’ my hair. Because it was unusually long (I’m quite dark skinned so it was considered an anomaly), it didn’t make me popular amongst my black peers and of course, to white girls I was still black. But my mother insisted that I should ‘straighten’ my hair because it was time consuming if it was kept natural, and because she wanted to show me off to her friends. And in those days you didn’t challenge your parents. I was supposed to be proud of being blessed in this way but I was not. It just left me miserable. The key thing is how we, black women, so much despised who we were and our looks and wanted so much to be white – I included, even though I was not exempt by having long hair. However I do remember teachers, and some white girls commending me that I had the ‘best looking hair that they have seen a black girl’ but ‘compliments’ could only take me so far.
And of course there are the practicalities of having long straightened black hair: running out of the rain or keeping away from anything that resembles water; retouching the virgin bits of hair every three months; hair gradually falling out due to chemical left on too long or the weight of the hair being too heavy (??); when they style that you’ve worked so hard to resemble (in those days it was Farah Fawcett-Majors just ends up looking too dry and sticking out, then the whole thing is defeated.
Some thirty years on, I constantly keep my hair in braids/extensions and really love my look (after all black skin does age well). But the fight now is to convince my daughter that she should keep her hair in braids but she wants to relax her hair and look like Raven! I guess it will always be a fight to make sure that black skin/hair is fairly presented along side with long flowing curls.