More Than My Hair: One Woman’s Response to the Length Obsession

August 7, 2012  |  

Some of the things that people obsess about completely go over my head.  One of those things is hair, not just how we wear it, what we do to it, but even the amount on people’s heads can be a topic of discussion for hours.  For some reason it seems like this obsession is even larger in the black community.  Do you mind if we discuss this?

I was born with a lot of hair on my head, and with that hair came a lot of length.  Being a child in Mobile, Alabama, I went to school with white students who also had long hair, so I didn’t think my hair was anything out of place.  It wasn’t until my family moved to East St. Louis that I found out how large of an issue it was in the black community.  My first day in the predominantly black school the secretary took me my teacher, and right after I introduced myself the secretary turned me around to show my first grade teacher my ponytail that reached my butt.  Before I knew it, I was taken to (and this is not an exaggeration) every single classroom in that building.  After I said my name and where I was from (“that southern accent is so cute!”) I was immediately turned around to show not just the teacher, but the entire classroom how long my hair was (Umm… are we going to learn something today?)

I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.  It was just hair.  The same stuff that I try to avoid having drop into my food while I ate, or what my mother took hours to press before I got a relaxer.  Then it began to define me, it felt like it was all I was known for.  I remember in high school having a frienemy (the same one who told everyone about me being commando) say:  “I can’t wait ’til prom, me and my sister are getting weaves and all the guys are going to stare at us.  Because honestly, that’s the only reason why guys like you.  You’re not that pretty, it’s just because of your hair.”  I can’t believe that friendship didn’t last.

But she wasn’t the only one with that mindset.  Once a girl got a fresh weave, they would literally go to me, fling it in the air and say:  “You’re not the only one with long hair now!”  Then grab a brush out of their bag and start brushing it extra hard.  I was always thrown off (“Soo… you don’t have the answers to the trigonometry homework…?”)  If I wasn’t in competition with these girls, they thought I was in competition with other girls with long hair.  I remember people having a full blown discussion on whose hair was longer, and I would get so frustrated.  “Who cares?!  It’s just hair!!”

But the madness continued even after I left the school’s halls.  Even now if I’m walking in a store, it’s not uncommon for someone to just stick their hands in my head and fill around for tracks and when I turn around say:  “Oh, I just wanted to know if it was real.”  As if that’s supposed to excuse them from violating my personal space.  Or the endless unwanted hair advice I get from people who have less hair under their armpits.  “See, if you dip your hair in chocolate and rinse it out after ten minutes, it’ll grow like crazy!  See, I did that, but my hair got too long and I couldn’t handle it, so I cut it!  That’s why it’s short now!”

Even though I’m in my twenties and have gotten used to the craziness over the protein follicles that grow out of my head, it’s a new adventure to see people react when they see my 19 month old’s hair.  After my c-section the first thing that my doctor said wasn’t that my baby was fine, or that she had ten fingers or ten toes, it was:  “Oh my goodness!  This baby has so much hair!”  And he invited other nurses to come and see while my insides were laying on the table.  “Umm… could someone please bring my baby to me?!”

Even a week ago, taking my daughter to the mall with a twist out we were stopped constantly so people could ask about her hair, touch her hair, and this woman while I was in the bathroom wouldn’t leave me alone until I promised to put two afro puffs at the top of her head (Lady, why does it matter?  Unless you’re going to start stalking me, you’re not going to see it…)

Now, I’m not trying to play the part of “Oh woe is me, I have all this long hair and don’t know what to do.”  I’m not going to lie, I feel blessed that I have the hair on my head, and the fact that while some people spend the same amount of money on a luxury car payment a month all I have to do is unwrap my hair and only spend $6 on olive oil.  I know that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, but that’s it.  A person’s hair shouldn’t overcast the person underneath it, or what she has accomplished.

It hurts me to think that my daughter will have the same struggles of meeting her future boyfriend’s parents and hearing:  “Don’t ever cut your hair, it’s the best part about you,” or having her great grandmother cry if she decides to cut her hair in a bob (which is what happened with my grandmother), or have people she thinks are friends use underhanded comments to say that all she is is her hair.

But really, that’s all it is.  It’s just hair, and if you can attain it by growing it yourself, going natural, relaxing it, weaving it up, that’s fine, but don’t just reduce a person to that; because honestly, it’s just the lowest common denominator of a someone’s personality.

Not only does Kendra Koger have hair, she also has a twitter account.  Tweet her @kkoger.

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