Dear 12-year-old Momo,
I know exactly where you are right now. You’re in the hair-care aisle at the CVS Uptown, because Uptown is the coolest, with your mother. You’re squatting on the ground, looking through the bottom ledge of hair products. You’ve been here for a lengthy 15 minutes, but this is familiar. Every six weeks or so you buy a new hair product, it fails, and you incessantly search for a new one, only to repeat the cycle.
By now, you’ve tried nearly everything, to no avail. Promises of sleek, frizzless, shiny hair have all been empty. To make matters worse, your recent cut has resulted in tighter, far more unruly curls. These are tough times indeed.
To contend with your woes, you chock your wrists full of hair ties, different colors and thicknesses. Unlike hair products, they all do the same exact job, and well. They tie up your hair, temporarily concealing your dishwater blonde kinks and making you more comfortable in your daily life.
As you struggle, you see white girls with long, bouncy hair cascading down their backs, quickly swipe products off shelves. They don’t have to read ingredient lists to avoid silicones or sulfates or mineral oils. They don’t have to buy ever-shifting combinations of serums and leave-in conditioners and gels in effort to tame their manes. You are jealous of these girls, but more specifically, their simpler predicaments.
What is your predicament? Well, that’s complicated. Your predicament is finally having to wander to another section of the store, the ethnic hair care aisle. Another aisle in which you will search, only to be left disappointed.
It is not your face you see on the boxes on the shelves of this corridor. You have light skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair. But the fact is, your blonde hair is thick and kinky due to the DNA of your biological and brown-skinned mother, who happens to be growing very impatient of the time it’s taking you to find a goddamned conditioner.
In the ethnic hair care aisle, all products are either oils far too insoluble to make your hair anything but greasy, or lye-based relaxers. You’ve heard on the internet that black people who put lye in their hair hate themselves. But you’re not really sure about that, because, basically, every black person you’ve ever seen on TV had unnaturally straight hair. In school, you learned about Madam C.J. Walker, who apparently made a million dollars self-hating. It seems your kin is on to something. They’ve discovered how much easier it is to navigate the world with straight hair! You agree. A few aisles over lie the simple solutions: Conair, Revlon, and Remington. Of course, your mother refuses.
12-year-old Simone, I know you really love Lady Gaga, and the song on her new album called “Hair.” Now, at this age, you probably only think you like this song because of who sings it, but from a wiser, older perspective, I can tell you that this song is slowly brainwashing you. As Gaga sings the refrain, “I am my hair,” you think to yourself, Mother Monster is her hair: bold, edgy, and colorful. And I am my hair: messy, weird, and trapped, forever choosing between two identities.
In many years, you’ll refine your taste and stop listening to Lady Gaga. But one night, you’ll feel a wave of nostalgia and Google the lyrics to your old favorite song, “Hair.” With heightened analytical skills, you will come to realize that you ignored the most important part of the song. In the hook, she sings, “I’ve had enough / This is my prayer / That I’ll die living just as free as my hair.” She continues, wailing “I’m as free as my hair.” And in this moment, you realize you’ve been wrong this whole time.
Lady Gaga was never her hair, she was Lady Gaga. She had no static identity. You need not have one either. Your hair is a mix of textures. This stems from the fact that you are black and you are white. But most importantly, you are Simone. And while it is true and unfair that our country often makes its citizens select a single self, it is equally unrealistic, especially for you.
No aisle of products will ever suit your needs. You don’t need one to. Yes, with a lack of adequate product, your hair is going to look wild when it’s humid or after you go swimming, but your hair is beautiful, and beautifully yours alone, with its waves of the Ivory Coast and its reddish hues of Ireland and Scotland. It is wild in the best way. It starts conversation, and garners compliments from trendy French women at the A&P. Be proud of it. Be proud of you.
Little me, I can’t promise that one day you’ll be entirely proud of your hair. But I can tell you that you will one day embrace it. A combination of bullying regarding the size of your forehead and your mother’s constant playing of Corrine Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” will result in you actually letting your hair down. Eventually, the hair ties on your wrists will serve as little more than accessories.
The journey will have its ups and downs. You’ll experience bouts of unabating straightening, and experiment with bleach. Ultimately, it will be for the best when you dye your locks back to their natural state upon comments comparing you to a young Justin Timberlake and ramen. It is in its most genuine state that you will find you like your hair best.
I promise that one day your time spent wandering the aisles of CVS will be significantly less woeful, and solely dedicated to wondering what diabetes socks are.
All the love,
17-year-old Momo ♦