Chris-Tea Donaldson is a corporate attorney and author of Thank God I'm Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for and Maintaining Natural Hair. She ditched her straightened hair for the beauty of natural hair styling. Now she's prepping to launch a natural haircare line of her own.
YLW: With Chris Rock's doc Good Hair on screens it seems that everyone is talking about hair.
CD: Hair is the thing to talk about. It's tied to self esteem. It's a remarkable time especially with Chris Rock's movie to have these conversations, to talk about some of the damaging processes - not talking about relaxers and weave as a judgment, but rather talking about an unhealthy obsession with them. Sometimes it's fun to switch up your look, but when it's about hiding self consciousness about your own hair, that's a different issue. I did a TV show last night with a guy on WGN, he decided to devote a half hour on his show to talk about this issue. It's interesting that the men are taking such an issue. Maybe they're trying to tell us something.
YLW: I've had men tell me that they don't care about a woman's hair. They want it to look nice of course, but whether it's straight, curly, natural or weave . . . they could care less.
CD: Men are concerned about body. That's what Chris Rock said when they look at King, its all about ass. On the other hand, men might not know subconsciously what kind of emphasis they put on hair. Women do it for other women, not for the boys.
YLW: Why do you say that?
CD: When it comes to natural hair, one of the biggest myths is that it's unprofessional. I work for a company that is largely white and male and I've been fine. I often found that when it comes to natural hair, that the ones who make the most critical remarks are black women.
YLW: I wear my hair really big sometimes and when I do get criticism the issue isn't the hair style, it's the fact that I have the confidence to wear it and still look good. Almost as if to say how dare you wear your hair in a way that's supposed to be unattractive and still look cute.
CD: Exactly. It's more from a place of feeling uncomfortable. Like you're wearing big hair, what does that say about me? Why does she feel she can wear her hair like that? Or what does it say about me to be around someone who wears their hair like that.
It wasn't until we came to America that we started straightening our hair. These are practices we adopted to be a part of mainstream society. There are ads in my book from the early 20ith century for hair straightening serum. They'll say “achieve happiness marriage with straight hair.” Today, you'll see an ad for weave and the same sense of happiness is implied.
YLW: But hair is not purely an African American womens issue. Hair is an obsession with women in general. Weaves, coloring, straightening are popular in America among all cultures.
CD: Across cultures, long full hair is considered to a big asset. Jessica Simpson has a popular weave line.
YLW: Then why is their such a focus on what black women do with their hair?
CD: Black hair is more politicized.
YLW: What do you mean?
CD: If you wear your hair in your natural state you're being rebellious, militant. If you're a white person wearing a different style, it doesn't have the same political weight .Meaning the afro of the 70s was seen as a rejection of white beauty standards or seen as militancy, protest, rebellion. No other time in history will you see those labels for women who changed their hair.
YLW: What role does hair play in identity?
CD: I think hair plays a major role in identity. By the time you're 30 you get used to your hair. At a very young age in our community, by age 3, you know if you have what people consider good hair or bad hair. It's not always expressed verbally. But you know if you are the girl with the long silky hair that people fall over and if you're not. It creates a deep impression on black women throughout their lives, or at least the early part of their lives. The same goes for skin color. By the age of 3, you know what people consider attractive. That's why when they do the doll experiments black kids are still picking the white doll. They know from a very young age what people view as beautiful.
YLW: Why did you write this book?
CD: I think so many people have misconceptions about our hair in its natural state. They think you have to have hair like Mariah Carey or Alicia Keys to wear it natural. You can have kinky hair and wear it natural. It's not going to jeopardize your ability to navigate in the workplace and you won't be rejected by men because of it.
YLW: Then why do many women believe that approval in their work life and relationships depend in part on their hair being long and straight?
CD: Because you turn on movies and the videos and that's what you see. The woman with the natural is not the leading lady. The media is pushing the image down our throats. There are men who want weave. But I think men are naturally drawn to big hair. They love women with the confidence to wear it in it's natural state. You can wear hear down to your ass, but if you don't have confidence, it doesn't do anything for you. We're our harshest critics. My boss is worth millions of dollars and he doesn't care how I wear my hair. It's all about being comfortable. When we accept who we are for what we are, it goes a very long way.
For more info on Chris-Tea Donaldson go to www.ThankGodI'mNatural.com