Tress Stress – Pt. III (or “When you want what you don’t have”)

en·vy
/ˈenvē/
 noun
1. the feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.
2. someone or something that causes envy.

 

verb
1. to feel a desire to have what someone else has : to feel envy because of (someone or something).

hair envy
noun
1. the feeling of wanting to have hair like someone else.

 

We always want what we don’t have

Lavinia Lahrese

My fellow lawyer (and YouTube vlogger) Lavinia Lahrese and her beautiful fine natural hair! Check out her channel: www.youtube.com/lavinialahrese

Last week, I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine about Black hair, and she started sharing her experiences with tress stress with me, as a fellow naturalista:

My hair’s so thin! I wish it were thicker, like yours!

I wish my hair was longer! 

When I do my wash-and-go, it doesn’t look like yours!

I think my workmate has beautiful hair- a mane to be envied, even (pictured to the right)! In fact, her hair reminds me of my sister’s: it’s very fine; more curly than it is coily; and it has quite a bit of length too!  Ironically, while both of these ladies have expressed their frustrations to me about their fine natural hair, when I was younger, I remember having my own issues with hair envy- wishing that my hair was more like theirs because nobody ever really wanted to comb mine!

 

Why? Because I had (and still do have) a lot of hair.  They used to call me “Bush-Head”, actually, because it was so big.  And not only did (do) I have a lot of hair, in terms of density, but it’s also thick! My sister’s hair, on the other hand, was easier to manage- even when it got wet- and therefore was not a hassle.

 

Wash Day

Wash Day when I, “Bush-Head”, was a toddler (not much has changed since then!)

My sister, Sarah, in SK

My sister, Sarah, in SK

 

Sadly, hair envy is not uncommon. Whether due to external and/or internal influences, we always seem to want what we don’t have: people with curly hair wish they had straight hair; those with straight hair wish it was curly; people with thin hair wish it was thick; and those with thick hair wish it was thinner!

Over the years,  however, I’ve learned that it really doesn’t pay to envy what other people have– whether that’s hair or anything else, for that matter- because:

(a) It doesn’t change what you have, and

(b) It distracts you from recognizing and valuing what you do have!

All envying really does is cause you unnecessary grief!

The answer to hair envy is hair contentment: you have to get to the place where you are content with what you’ve been given!

 

So, when my workmate asked me, “how are you so comfortable now with your natural hair?”, I told her exactly that: “you just have to accept what you have, and then make the most of it!”

Big hair don't care

Accepting what’s mine, and making the most of it!

Overcoming hair envy with hair contentment

Having grown up natural, and dealing with my own experience with hair envy as a child, I get it: it’s hard sometimes to be content with what you have, when everything and everyone seems to be saying to you that your hair isn’t good enough!  

But if you want to reduce the type of stress caused by hair envy, and thus be happy with your own tresses, two things need to happen.  You need to recognize and accept that:
(a) Our hair, African hair, is uniquely ours; and
(b) Your hair, as an individual, is uniquely yours.

 

Uniquely Ours

African/textured hair is uniquely ours: no one has hair like we do!  So instead of focusing on what it supposedly can’t do, focus on what it CAN do– it’s all about perspective!

 

  • Our hair, in its purely natural state, supposedly CAN’T “move” or blow in the wind, BUT our hair CAN stay in place when you style it. (PS- in case you didn’t know, our hair CAN “move”, both when it’s curly or straightened, depending on how you manipulate it.)
  • Our hair supposedly CAN’T lie flat and it’s too frizzy, BUT our hair CAN be shaped and defined, often without the help of any implements. (PS- our hair CAN lie flat and smooth when it’s stretched or straightened, both with/without the help of gel or styling cream.)
  • Our hair supposedly CAN’T get to waist length at the drop of a dime, BUT our hair CAN go from short to long instantaneously- hello, shrinkage! (PS- our hair CAN get to waist length too, with the right amount of care.)
  • Our hair supposedly CAN’T be “managed” because it’s too tangly, BUT our hair CAN keep braids, rolls, and buns, etc without much assistance, for that very same reason! (PS- our hair CAN be “managed” using the right combs and detangling brushes, some water in a spray bottle, and/or a good moisturizer/conditioner to add some slip!)
Uniquely Yours
It’s also important to remember that your hair, as an individual, is uniquely yours! No one has hair exactly like YOU do! As I mentioned earlier, even my sister and I don’t have the same type of hair; and though your mane may be similar to someone else’s (like Sarah’s is to Lavinia’s), nobody’s is exactly like yours! That should make you excited because what it means is that there is at least one specific thing that your tresses can do that no one else’s can; and once you discover what that thing is, you should embrace it and celebrate it!
Sarah & Me

Sarah and me, celebrating our uniqueness (PS- nobody can wear a ‘fro like me!)

Do you struggle with hair envy? If not, how have you learned to be content with your tresses?

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Tress Stress – Pt. II (or “Can I Wear this Hair to Work?”)

pro·fes·sion·al

prəˈfeSH(ə)n(ə)l/

adjective

1. 
of, relating to, or connected with a profession.

2. (of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

noun

1. 
a person engaged or qualified in a profession.

 

cor·po·rate

ˈkôrp(ə)rət/

adjective

1. 
of or relating to a corporation, especially a large company or group.

noun

1. 
a corporate company or group.

 

As if being a professional isn’t already stressful enough!

Have you ever questioned whether your boss is going to like your new hair(do)? Or whether you should wear your hair like “this” to an interview? Or even pondered how you’re going to explain to your colleagues how your hair magically went from being so short to growing back so fast, all within a matter of days?

For the textured-haired professional, these sorts of considerations are often the norm. As such, hairstyle choices can be a source of great stress when working in a “professional” environment (as if being a professional isn’t already stressful enough!)

 

The corporate interview

While career sites encourage people to wear their hair in the way they feel most comfortable (as long as it’s clean and neat) for an interview, those with textured hair do not enjoy that same luxury.  I learned this lesson for the first time when I was in undergrad, while I was a part of an internship program called Inroads.  At Inroads, we, students of colour, were being groomed for successful careers in the corporate world.  During our Impression Management session, the facilitator spoke to us about our suits, our shoes, the colours that we should wear…and, of course, our hair.

Our facilitator specifically pointed out that the Black interns should avoid wearing braids or cornrows to their interviews. I stood up and asked her what were those of us with natural hair expected to do, since braided styles were often all we wore. She explained to me that we could wear our hair braided, as long as the braids were neat and pulled back. It was her recommendation, however, for us to avoid such hairstyles altogether, lest we forfeit a job opportunity simply because of our hairdo.

I was flabbergasted.

My McGill Law graduation photo. My go-to back then were single extension braids.

My McGill Law graduation photo. My go-to back then were single extension braids.

While I understood the rationale for pulling back your hair back from your face (to allow the interviewer to see you without distractions and to deter you from perhaps playing with your hair out of nervousness), what I did not understand was why, if my hair was clean, braided neatly, and pulled back, it would not be “professional” enough.  Boy, was I naïve to think that my résumé, transcripts, poise, and tidy appearance would be sufficient to land a job!  I thought that what was inside my head was much more important than what was on top of it.  Sadly, this is not the case: your hair matters!

 

 

 

My slicked-back interview bun

My slicked-back interview bun

These days, my day-to-day hairstyles are usually two-strand twists, a twist-out, or an Afro; and, on occasion, I’ll have my own hair cornrowed or braided with extensions.  However, when I go for interviews, my go-to style is usually a slicked-back bun.  I don’t risk the braids, twists, or wearing it out because I don’t want to ruin my chances of landing the job.  There have been times when I have said to myself, “Well, if they [prospective employer] don’t like my hair the way it is, then maybe I shouldn’t work there”.  But then I catch myself.  I figure, “maaaaybe it’s better for me to get the job first, and then ‘feel them out’ to see if they’re gonna be okay with my hair”, rather than have myself counted out of the running from the beginning—just because of my hairstyle choice.

 

At my Call to the Bar (Swearing-In) ceremony

At my Call to the Bar (Swearing-In) ceremony

Side view - Call to the Bar 'do

Side view – Call to the Bar ‘do

Back view - Call to the Bar 'do

Back view – Call to the Bar ‘do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the job

So, once you get the job, what happens next? You’re obviously expected to look “professional” on a day-to-day basis.  The problem is, by default, most “Black” hairstyles are considered to be unprofessional.

Although textured-haired professionals went to the same schools and work just as hard as their straight-haired counterparts, many times our capabilities and our corporate “fit” are questioned on the basis of our hairdos.  Why? Because braids, ‘locks, and other “ethnic” hairdos carry certain negative connotations: they are perceived to be political, threatening, or examples of “unkempt” hair.

And then there’s the double-standard…Unlike straightened hair, natural hair cannot be worn down- it’s worn out! While it is acceptable for a straight-haired woman to wear her hair down in the office, which is  equivalent to me wearing mine in an Afro, there are only certain corporate settings which would accept an Afro as a “professional” hairstyle.

Then, there’s the mystique of the “ever-changing hairdo”.  Black women are by no means the only ones to wear extensions or hairpieces, but somehow, we manage to baffle people every time we decide to change our ‘dos (I’m guessing it’s because of the frequency?)  I have tried to be patient with my responses to queries about the “dynamic” nature of my hair growth, using them as teaching moments; but I would be lying if I said that sometimes I don’t find it annoying, having to explain why my hair was short on Friday and then super-long on Monday!

 

How do you wear your hair to job interviews or to work? Have you ever experienced tress stress in the workplace? 

Tress Stress – Pt. I (or “Have You Ever Tried to Straighten a Slinky?”)

stress

/stres/

noun

  1. 
pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
  2. 
a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

 

tress stress

/tres stres/

noun

  1. Stress caused by one’s hair.

Tress stress is a condition that can be suffered by anyone whose hair does not meet the societal ideal, whether in texture, thickness, abundance, length or colour. The cause of this condition is two-fold: it is brought on by external factors putting pressure on you to wear your hair a certain way; and it also comes from within, from the internal pressure you put on yourself to try to meet those external demands.

For people with textured hair, tress stress can be chronic. This chronic stress is caused by constantly seeking to achieve a straight-haired or even wavy-haired norm for the sake of “beauty”, in conjunction with trying to loosen your curl patterns for the sake of “manageability”. In this series of posts, I’m going to discuss different forms of tress stress and how they can be alleviated.

 

 Have You Ever Tried to Straighten a Slinky?

This past Sunday was Easter, which is the one day of the year when churchgoers wear their “Sunday’s Best”, if at no other time. When my sister and I were younger, Easter Sunday’s Best meant that we would be getting our hair pressed (essentially, ironed with a hot comb) the night before.  This was an occasion that was always met with great anticipation because for the rest of the year, it was only braids and Afro puffs for us (how boring! we thought). Having our hair pressed meant that it would blow in the wind, it would look longer, and we would pretty much feel prettier; BUT it also meant that we couldn’t do anything– we’d have to make sure that our blankets weren’t too hot, that our shower wasn’t too steamy, and that we didn’t run around too hard at church—otherwise, that “pretty” press-and-curl would sweat right out—and our hair would turn back (curl up)!

The wonderful thing about straightened kinky (tightly curled) or curly hair is that when it’s exposed to moisture, it coils right back!  This phenomenon of turning back is the reason why many Black girls avoid jumping into the pool, even when it’s boiling hot outside—it’s not because they don’t like to swim—it’s because they know that once that water hits their hair, it will ruin their hairdos which probably took them a long time to get done (and will probably take even longer to re-do). Another reason for the hesitancy is usually because detangling extremely curly hair can be very time-consuming, especially if you don’t have the proper tools on hand or know the right techniques.

The uniqueness of “African” hair

Due to the unique texture and properties of “African” hair, Black hair care methods are generally different from that of most other ethnic groups.  Though there is no such thing as “African” hair (since the continent of Africa is populated by many diverse ethnic groups from different climates, each having its own hair texture), what we tend to call “African” hair is the type that is found in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is kinky and frizzy. Ethnic groups have various traits, like skin colour and hair texture, partly because of the climates of the environments where their ancestors lived. People with Sub-Saharan African ancestry tend to have coily hair, which provides insulation from the sun to keep one’s head cool,  but it is also prone to getting tangled, and tends to be drier and duller than other types of hair.

A source of frustration

Though my sister and I only experienced our specially pressed hair but once a year, for many other Black girls, straightened hair was the norm (and for many, it still is). Our friends’ mothers would relax (chemically-straighten), press or flat-iron their hair on a regular basis, in order to make it straight, sleeker, and more manageable.  These processes were supposed to make life easier.

But as my brother observed, “Black women straightening their hair is like trying to straighten a slinky.” Have you ever tried to straighten a slinky? No matter how hard you tried, you wouldn’t be able to get all the kinks out, and it would either revert to its original state or just end up completely destroyed. The same idea applies to trying to smooth down frizzy hair. It’s like playing a game of Whac-a-Mole– those curls will just keep popping up! So what does all of this mean for the kinky- and curly-haired people of the world? It means frustration!

 

frus·tra·tion

frəˈstrāSH(ə)n/

noun

the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something.

  • an event or circumstance that causes one to have a feeling of frustration.
  • the prevention of the progress, success, or fulfillment of something.

I think a lot of the frustration we experience comes from us trying to make our hair do what it’s not supposed to do. In the name of “beauty”, we spend so much of our time trying to make our hair do things that are contrary to its very nature: we try to make our hair look sleek, straight, or wavy, when it all it wants to be is curly, puffy, and fuzzy. In the name of “manageability”, we alter our curls, whether through heat or by chemical means to make it “easier” to comb and style. But all of these efforts only serve to frustrate us.  In the same vein, it’s no coincidence that the origin of the word “frustration” is the Latin word frustrare which means “to disappoint”. As long as we continue to try to achieve straight styles and to manipulate our hair using the same methods intended for straight hair, we will only be disappointed.

So what’s the cure for this kind of tress stress?

cure

kyo͝or/

noun

1. 
a substance or treatment that cures a disease or condition.

  • restoration to health.
  • a solution to a problem.

To relieve this condition, rather than frustrating ourselves with trying to make our hair do what it doesn’t want to do, I think we should try to “lean in” to our curls, by:

  • Accepting and making the most of our texture or length, no matter how kinky or short our hair may be.
  • Changing our definition of what looking “good” means for our tresses.  We need to stop trying to compare apples to oranges—it will never work.
  • Gaining an understanding of the properties of our hair and adopting new methods and techniques for maintaining it. For instance, on a basic level, curly hair cannot (and in some cases should not) be combed in the same way as straight hair—the curlier your hair, the wider your comb teeth should be. And sometimes it’s even better to use your fingers instead!
  • Figuring out what your hair does well, and doing that!  Find out what styles work for your hair, and then wear them like nobody else! For some people, that might mean keeping their hair short. For others, it might mean having their hair braided. Whatever you choose, do you!
  • Keeping in mind that Black hair itself is unique by nature, so it cannot do the same things that straight hair can do; but what that also means is that it can do things that straight hair cannot do! For example, it can stand on end! It can also be formed into designs that keep their shape. We need to start harnessing and celebrating these qualities of textured hair!
  • Remembering that your hair is unique to you, and it will never look like exactly like anyone else’s.  So, instead of trying to get what someone else has, learn to appreciate your own.

The more we begin to embrace our hair for what it is, and start letting go of our unrealistic expectations, I believe the less stress we’ll feel.

 

Do you suffer from tress stress? How do you try to alleviate it?