Thursday, July 23, 2009

Natural Women: Our Hair, Our Stories (Femi A.)

Natural Women: Our Hair, Our Stories
Femi A.'s Story

Background / I live in Memphis and I am the director of African American Studies at LeMoyne-Owen College.
Hairstyle / I wore dredlocks for 30 years. I just cut them off one month ago, and now wear a short natural. I have worn natural hair since I was 20.

Reason for wearing a "natural" hairstyle / I started wearing natural hair to challenge my own perceptions of what was pretty or ugly. I started wearing dredlocks to expand my interest in the versatility of hair. I remain natural today because to paraphrase a Langston Hughes poem--In an envelope marked personal, I wrote God a question of why my nappy hair was ugly. In an envelope marked personal, and from God, there was a golden dredlock.
Support of your natural look / I have never depended on or looked for support on decisions about my hair consciousness.

Negative reactions / The response to my short, natural hair in 1966, in Memphis was that I looked like a boy. When I started wearing dredlocks in the late 70s and early 80s--some called me "buckwheat," some asked how could I stand not to comb my hair.

Response to negative commentary / I say positive things about my hair texture and curl.

A woman/women with natural hair whose style you admire / When I was younger, Miriam Mekeba and Odetta because they dared to wear the natural. Now, I look past the physical admiration, but I do appreciate Epatha Merkerson and especially Toni Morrison's grey locks.

Advice for women considering a natural hairstyle / Don't depend on compliments.
Additional commentary / Well, "natural" and the "natural look" are contradictory terms in African American life, especially for the African female. I tired so long ago of hearing about managing hair and shiny hair. It was most depressing to see Jessie Jackson revealing the poverty of Sugar Ditch in Mississippi with pictures of permed and slick-haired sisters in shacks with newspaper wallpaper, roaches and no plumbing. It is depressing to see sisters on the continent today who have the straightest weaves I have ever seen, and in the Dakar neighborhoods, braid weave strands strewn at the edge of sandy streets with other garbage.

"Femi A.'s story" is part of an on-going series I created that focuses on African American women who wear their hair au naturel. Check the archives (see sidebar on the right) for past segments, features and profiles. If you'd like to participate in the series, please email me for details (go to my blog's profile page or visit my website for contact information).

Your feedback is always appreciated. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you might have about "Femi A.'s Story," the "Natural Women: Our Hair, Our Stories" series or Black hair in general, in the section below marked for comments.

Thank You!


Katrina Spencer said...

It's funny how hair has such an effect on ourselves and our community. Like it or not we judge others by their hair, and it's hurtful to see that something so natural and beautiful can be deemed ugly. Mind you the closest thing I've come to being natural is removing my weave for a week, as a former hairstylist I have come to love hair in all its forms. To me, hair is beautiful. I only wish other people felt that way.

pjazzypar said...

Hey Lori, This is good stuff! I see a book in the making here ;-) I can relate to Femi A. because it is so difficult to be first. I know in 1966 she had to be one of the first rockin' a natural, and I am sure she caught some major flack, especially from us Black folks. I am glad she hung in there, making it easier for me to adopt the hairstyle when I was in eighth grade.

Lori said...

Hey, Pjazzy you are not the first to make the "book" suggestion. Interesting. We'll see. (-: I'll have your story up soon . . .

Lori said...

Katrina, the emphasis we place on our hair is fascinating, isn't it?
The negativity that is often aimed at our natural hair, God-given hair is both silly and sad.

pjazzypar said...

Hey Lori, I will get a picture over to you that you can use.

Lori said...

Hey PJ,
Thanks! I'll be looking for the pic. The sooner, the better (-: