About good hair

March 5, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More

Tonight, the parents of my children’s school were given a chance to view and discuss the 2009 Chris Rock movie: “Good Hair.” As you can see from the following YouTube trailer, the film is characterized as a “comedy,” and there were certainly many lighthearted moments throughout the film. On the other hand, the subject of the film is also tragic, in that it is the story of millions of African-American women who have been convinced that their natural hair is not beautiful. Chris Rock documents the extreme lengths that many African-American women go to to cover up their African-American hair.

The story starts when one of Rock’s young daughters asked him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?”

What can an African-American woman do when she wants to have “good hair”?  The options include the use of highly caustic sodium hydroxide for straightening the hair (with its potential for painfully scalding the skin). I knew about that particular practice, but I had no idea that so many African-American women have actually covered up their own hair with “weaves,” straight dark human hair grown by women from other cultures. Rock traces some of the most sought-after weave hair to India. Many Indian women periodically give up their hair (having their heads shaved completely bald) in religious ceremonies called “tonsure.” From those temple rituals, that hair somehow ends up in the United States, where it is purchased by African-American women at prices ranging from $1,000 on up. It’s even more amazing to consider that so many women of modest means work so hard to cover up their hair with weaves. Several of the women stated that an African-American woman simply cannot succeed in the business world without hair that has been straightened or covered with a weave. Many of the women featured in the film indicated that taking care of a weave is extraordinarily difficult–no swimming for these women, and many of them wouldn’t dream of ever letting a man touch their delicate fake hair, even their lover.

I had no idea that so many women would go to such extraordinary lengths to have “proper” hair, or that so many women consider it to be more “natural” to display hair that is not their own natural hair.

Watching this film was a wonderful anthropological journey for me; this story is thoroughly about people and in the lengths to which they will go to display themselves in what they see to be culturally appropriate ways; it’s not just about hair. I truly enjoyed viewing the delightful interviews of the many people Chris Rock artfully stirred into his vivid mosaic.

The broader lesson is not about hair, or even about African-Americans. It seems to be about consumerism and the deep need of humans to display their traits to each other in expensive ways.


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Category: American Culture, Communication, Consumerism, Current Events, Psychology Cognition, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    Erich, some African American women have these weaves maintained so tightly bound to their hair(glues are "nappy") that they suffer from "traction alopecia" literally, "pulled out baldness."

    I had a client whose hair was so mismanaged by her hairdresser that she nearly balded the client's entire head and it was going to cost nearly $20,000.00 to fix. We sued the hairdresser, settled for $60,000.00.

    My client is a beautiful, powerful woman who makes a difference in her world but, still feels the need for weaves to have "good hair."

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