Laura de Medici-Bentley: A positively beautiful head of hair
In the documentary “Good Hair,” comedian Chris Rock takes a look at how far some African American women go for “good hair.” Some of the women admitted to using relaxers to straighten their hair from the time they were as young as 4 years old. Other women admitted to spending thousands of dollars a year on hair extensions. The question behind the documentary is “What is wrong with the hair you have?”
Growing up, my hair was the only thing that made me really feel “different.” My mom’s hair was straight, and my sister’s hair was curly but had a smooth texture. My hair was a little bit of everything. Some of it was coarse, some of it was very curly, and a few strands were straight. The color of my skin didn’t make me feel different from the rest of my family, but I wanted my hair to look like everyone else’s.
I’ve spoken to a few moms who have adopted brown babies, and one of their biggest challenges is hair care. However, they have an advantage over my mother: they have the Internet.
Nowadays, it’s easy to type “natural black hair care for children” into a search engine and find “how to” articles that include lists of helpful hair products. Before the days of Google, my mom learned everything she could about my hair by taking me to salons that specialized in my hair type. She was usually the only white woman in the salon. She asked lots of questions and observed different styling techniques. I always thought it was cool that my white mom could cornrow and give me extension braids that looked just as good as my black friends’. When we went to Antigua, my mom showed the local women how she braided my hair, and they said “Not bad for a white girl!” To this day she still considers it a huge compliment.
When I was in high school, I learned about extensions from one of my friends. We were in chorus class, and I saw her remove a weft of extension hair from her head. I was floored — I had no idea she hadn’t been wearing her natural hair! Suddenly, three or four of my other friends came over and showed me that they, too, were wearing what they called (hair) “tracks.” They told me they would get the extension hair from Sally’s Beauty Supply, buy “hair glue” to attach them and blend them with their natural hair. I felt like all of my hair problems were solved.
Unfortunately, the “glue method” caused a lot of damage to my hair over the next few years. It became fine and lost a lot of texture. I learned that if wanted my hair to look “good” (without it falling out), I would have to spend more money. A few years before we were married, Lamar introduced me to his friend, Shavawn, a well-known stylist in the D.C. area.
I began to see her every couple of months for a “sew-in weave” (a method in which extensions are attached by a needle and thread). I would shop online and spend hundreds of dollars on “virgin hair” extensions, and Shavawn would “install” them. It was a very expensive and addicting habit. I was always looking for “better hair,” and I didn’t care what it cost.
Livia changed all of this. When I found out I was expecting a daughter, I knew my whole attitude on hair would need to change. Not only was I raising a girl, I was raising a biracial girl, and I knew hair was going to be a hot topic that could have a big impact on her self-confidence. I couldn’t be a hypocrite, buying someone else’s hair but telling her “Your hair is beautiful just the way it is.” A week after Livia was born, I removed my extensions, and I haven’t bought any since.
Livia’s beautiful hair is completely different from mine — thick, curly and dense. I have done a lot of research on how to care for her hair type, and I’m still learning new things every day. Whether I am deep-conditioning it or putting it in pigtails, I tell her daily that her hair is beautiful and healthy. In caring and nurturing her hair, I have developed a positive attitude about my own hair.
Laura de Medici-Bentley, of Winchester Virginia, is a former early childhood educator who currently enjoys staying home with her [almost] 2-year-old daughter. She is an author of a personal blog, CiaoMommy.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org