While many, including me, celebrate the natural hair movement’s emphasis on self-discovery, I cannot help but wonder if something has also been lost with this cultural shift. For all the horrible things about hair straightening, the experiences associated with it have created a powerful thread that connects the vast majority of black women. Even if you have kinky hair now, you probably have memories of time spent with family and friends in kitchens getting your hair done by someone who loved you and who you trusted enough to wield a sizzling hot straightening comb next to your ear. You probably remember that first trip to the beauty shop where black women talked about grown folks’ business, and nearly every sentence began with the endearment, “girl.” It does not matter if your mother was a teacher or housekeeper, or if you were in New York or Alabama because these experiences crossed class and region. Hair straightening was a rite of passage, an entry into the world of black women.
I remember the days were I’d be sitting on a stool by the stove and my mom would straighten my hair with a straightening comb. You’d have to stay really still, and try not to slouch even though you really wanted to (because it took forever), and you had to brace yourself for the moments when you felt the heat from that comb come close to your ear. Yeah, the kitchen smelt a bit like burnt hair, but it was a time where my mom talked my ear off about things and we actually bonded through those moments.