Monday, July 6, 2009

Making the Transition

Hi there Natural Beauties!

Thank you for all your interesting comments on The Coil Review Blog. It's always good to look at things from different perspectives on culture, politics and of course, hair and it's social implications. Thank you for your insight!

Before I run, I have some great news for you -unless you already know. The Coil Review has just relaunched its new website! New look, new feel and new features. Therefore, The Coil Review Blog is coming to a close. What can be done here, can be done right on, and much more. So head on over and check out What's New at The Coil Review. See you there!

P.S. When you get there, be sure to log in and post your fabulous photos in MyCoilaroids. Have fun!

Yardley Messeroux
The Coil Review - Founder & Editor in Chief

Monday, June 1, 2009

Memoirs of a White Man: Part II - By: Alex Barnett

The saga continues…

Phase I: The Bun-letteThe hair came off. She was able to get away with just cutting off the ends (this, I learned, was the weakest part of the straightened hair) and then pulling the remainder back into a very small bun -- what we termed the bun-lette.

The resultant change in her appearance and demeanor was dramatic. Suddenly she could see her ears and feel the back of her neck. She looked perkier, cuter, and reported to be feeling lighter and freer.

Everyone who saw her in these halcyon days remarked that she looked renewed and revitalized. She agreed wholeheartedly.

And, I stood there and smiled, knowing that I was the genius who had suggested this. I practically tore a rotator cuff--I was patting myself on the back so much. Oh, how pride goeth before the fall.

Phase II: I Look Like a BoySadly, though predictably, the eternal spring--those days of happiness, light and excitement, did not last. To this day, I still don't know what caused it. But, one day, my cute, springy, light-as-a-feather girlfriend woke up and decided that she looked like a boy.

I tried to assure her that she was wrong.ME: "I was in a fraternity. I played a lot of sports growing up. I've seen a lot of men. I'm even one myself. Believe me. You do not look like any boy I know. You don't have an Adam's apple." Why can't I just keep my stupid mouth shut some times?

After my ear stopped ringing from the head-slap she gave me, I apologized, and reassured her that she did not, in fact, look like a boy. And, honestly, she didn't. All kidding aside. She looked great. With the bun-lette she looked like a ballerina (with a great booty, I might add). But, no, she insisted, she looked like a boy.

"Why do you say this?" I asked, trying to understand.

HER: "My hair--it's so short."

And, that's when I learned the truth of women's hair. They love their hair more than we men do. At some level, it's an emblem of femininity. It's a way of saying "I am a woman." Any woman who has had long hair and then cuts it off is going against convention. And, that is disquieting to anyone, especially to a Black woman with a White boyfriend, who's too stupid to realize that this is a big deal and who -- she noted with a fair amount of anger--suggested cutting off the long hair in the first place.

ME: "Wait," I protested. "I wasn't the one who said you should cut off the hair, I only--"
She shot me a look and held up her hand--the universal sign for: "You are a man and, therefore, wrong. Even if logic, facts and a tape recording of the conversation would support your position, you are still wrong."The "I look like a boy" phase was a walk in the park compared to what came next.
Phase III: This Is Crazy!

As the natural curly hair began to grow and push the chemically straightened hairs out and away from her head, the bun-lette gave way. It could no longer contain the hybrid, partly-curly, partly-straight hair. Rather, what resulted was full-out gang warfare: the natural-curlies versus the bone-straights. It was the Sharks and the Jets going at it, full-bore. But, the natural-curlies weren't strong enough to fully assert themselves. And, the bone-straights, although they had lost their dominant position, were not ready to give up just yet.

The result: a strange line (a DMZ if you will) that ran across the top of my girlfriend's head and marked the place where the natural-curlies ended and the bone-straights began.

HER: "I can't believe I have a line on top of my head" , my girlfriend remarked many, many, many times during this phase. "And, what is it? Is it curly? Is it straight? This is crazy!"
What followed was a torrent, months worth of emotional lava that had been bubbling and percolating just below the surface of this generally happy, smiling, even-keeled woman.

HER: "You just don't get it. When I walk into a room now, everyone is looking at me."

ME: "No, they don't," I said, trying to reassure her.

HER: "Yes, they do," she said. "And everyone's wondering why you're with me."

ME: "That's, they're really not."

HER: "You just don't get it."

But, I was starting to "get it" that I didn't get it, because I was White (and, secondarily, because I was male) and didn't understand that what she was going through was nothing short of a transformation that challenged racial, gender and societal norms and expectations. This was as far away from my own experience as anything I could or can imagine.

If I go to the barber, and he screws up, the worst that happens is a buddy makes fun of me. Then, within a week or two, my hair grows back to more-or-less what it looked like, and no one cares or says anything. So when my girlfriend first started down this path, I had thought to myself: ‘It's only a hairstyle.' But, I was wrong. There was no only about it. No, she cuts off her hair and starts to grow an afro, and for her -I was learning– it was a big deal, seemingly a bigger deal than dating a White guy.

Going natural, it seems, is considered by some to be "unnatural." So by doing this, she was making a statement with her hair, a really big statement: a statement about parting with a hairstyle taught to her by her mother; a statement that she wasn't going to just go along with what other women or women's magazines said was "in" or "looked good,"; a statement that you don't need a luxurious weave (yes, I learned a little about those too) to be a good-looking woman. She was saying, for all the world to hear, that a woman doesn't have to have straightened hair to have "good" hair. And, for the moment, making this statement was taking its toll. It was (at least for the moment) leaving her feeling lost, confused, and upset.

As my grandmother frequently used to utter in times like this – "oy vey!"

So what do you think? Speak On It!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Memoirs of a White Man: Part I - By: Alex Barnett

There are love affairs and then there are relationships. As I’ve learned, though not without bumps along the way, Black women have a relationship with their hair. Sure, there’s love--but, sometimes there’s hate. There are tantrums and tears and sometimes loud angry fights. And like an insensitive husband, hair can be banished, literally cut off. And, at times, it is coddled. But, as with any relationship, if there’s love and a willingness to work and communicate, things work out in the end.

How do I know? I've been on the front lines. Like a war correspondent covering each day's events, I was there to witness it all, as one brave Black woman took the plunge, cut off her chemically straightened hair and grew an afro that even Angela Davis would be proud of. But, I wasn't just a witness, I was an active participant; a confidante, a coach and sometimes--the enemy.

It wasn't easy for either of us. For her, it was perhaps the scariest thing she had done in her life, because this woman had straightened her hair for more than 25 years, since the age of 10. As for me, well, the hardest part was just learning the basics. As the White boyfriend of a Black woman, there was a lot I needed to learn –and quick– if I was going to help her navigate this journey. And, as she so often reminded me, I better learn, because it was my dumb ass who suggested this in the first place. Oops!

This is our story. When we first met, she had silky, shoulder-length, straight-as-a-stick hair. It was very nice, but as a White guy, it never occurred to me that the hairstyle required much work. I have a sister and a mother, both of whom have curly hair and both of whom have at various points in their lives straightened their hair without what seemed like much effort. But as our dates increased in number and frequency, and as this woman grew more comfortable with me, I could tell she was troubled by something.

ME: "Is it me?"
HER: "No". "It's my hair."
ME: "What's wrong with your hair? Looks really nice to me."
HER: "It's full of chemicals. And it keeps breaking. See!" She said, as she pulled out strands of hair from her head.
ME: "Yuk, that's gross," I said, as only a man who knows nothing of the trials and tribulations of chemically-straightened hair might say. She shot me a look that spoke volumes. "Sorry."
HER: "You don't understand. I have to do something."
ME: "Well, how about stop the chemicals for starters," I said, a bit too sarcastically. She hit me so fast, I never saw her hands move. "I'm sorry. I think it's an excellent idea. You should go ahead and change your hair." She shot me another look. "What?" I asked, naively.
HER: "You don't get it. A Black woman can't just change her hair. I'd have to cut this off first."
ME: "Wait. Time out. You're gonna cut off your hair? You mean, you're gonna be bald? Surely you jest."
HER: "You've got a lot to learn," Obviously frustrated that my education had not included screenings of Beauty Shop. It was then explained that due to the straightening chemicals, in order for her to do anything different with her hair, she'd need to cut if off and start fresh. "I'm scared," she said. You're scared? What about me? I'm the one who's gonna be dating a bald chick. I thought this, but I did not say this because to do so would have been insensitive, and almost assuredly would've resulted in some real Ali versus Alan Dershowitz hitting this time.
ME: Instead, I said, "Okay. But, if you're gonna do it, do it right. Do something that shows the world you are a new woman with a new attitude and -if I could be so bold as to assume- with a new man in your life." I could see her thinking, taking it in.
ME: "Grow an afro," I urged. She wrinkled her face, as if she had sucked on a lemon.
HER: "Why?" She asked. What I wanted to say was: because nobody's hotter and more kick-ass than Pam Grier as Foxy Brown. Besides, when I was little, I always wished I had an afro like Dr. J. Not that it would've helped me play basketball, since the good doctor is a foot taller than me, but still. That's what I wanted to say, desperately. In fact, I almost said it, but somehow, deep down, I knew if I did, I'd be dead. So, what I said, was...
ME: "This is your birthright. Be bold. Let your hair enjoy its natural curliness that is your heritage as a beautiful woman of African descent." Pretty good, huh? She was apprehensive. But, then, I could see the notion had some appeal. I could see that she was imagining it. Really doing something bold. Flipping the script.
HER: "Okay, I'll do it."
ME: "Great!"
HER: "But..." she said, "...if I do this, and you leave me, I'll kill you."
ME: "Duly noted." I said. And she began the transition.

The saga continues…

What do you think about what's going on so far? Speak on it!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Natural Technicality - By: Lisa Johnson

Today, women of all races and ages enjoy the flexibility and uniqueness of being natural. For some, the meaning of having natural hair is skewed; in fact, it can mean different things to different people. Well, what I have done is explored the meaning and misconceptions behind ‘natural hair’. So let's see--has someone you know ever said something like this?

I used to wear my hair straight with a relaxer, but then I cut it all off. Now I wear full head weaves. I love my hair this way. With weaves, I can achieve a more desirable look.

Well, Miss Lady, cutting your hair off and wearing weaves on top of it is hardly being natural. Your real hair may be technically natural, but let’s face it, if you prefer the texture of hair in a bag over your own, there’s nothing natural going on. You’re covering a beautiful part of you and there are endless amounts of short hairstyles to choose from. So show off your natural tresses, girlfriend!

I wear micro-braids and enjoy the wet and wavy styles my hair dresser puts them in. I don’t perm my hair so no one can tell me I’m not natural.

Braids are considered a natural style, because of their cultural origin - and yes, you are technically natural since you don't use a relaxer. However, you’ve added hair to your head that isn’t even close to your texture, so this is one tough call. If you prefer the wet n’ wavy texture over your own texture, or wear the wet n’ wavy look approximately 365 days of the year as if it’s yours, the authenticity of your naturalness may be at stake. Definitely something to think about my dear.

I have a sensitive scalp so perming is not for me, but I love getting my hair blow dried straight. It makes me look professional, and just looks better.

By now, I think you’ve caught on to the pattern—this is an obvious one. Technically, this woman is natural, but seriously, is she really natural? I’ll let you decide. For those of you that may think the same as this woman: straightening your hair can be just as bad as getting a chemical treatment. It can cause the same or more damage to your hair, if done excessively. Hey, ever try a loose curl look? Consider a style that doesn’t include harsh thermal straightening methods, like the rod set look or a braid set. There are so many creative styles that don’t require much heat and will have you looking professional and oh so fabulous, too.

My hair looks better when the coils are loose, so I get a little help from this texturizer that my hairstylist puts in to loosen my curl pattern. Works every time!

Girlfriend, that little help that you get is a camouflaged perm. Using a texturizer is still considered a chemical process, just like a regular perm. If not properly treated, it can lead to extreme breakage. Why change the texture of your hair for a look you can achieve with the right products? If you would like to loosen your coil/curl pattern for a different look, try products like Miss Jessie’s, Mixed Chicks or CURLS.

We all have preferences that fit our personality and our vision of beauty, but let’s be real; if we hide or alter our coils and curls, is that really natural? At the end of the day, it’s all about being in tune with how you really look, how you really feel, and how you really are. Now that, my friends, is really natural.
But, what do YOU think? Speak on it!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Harajuku, Hip Hop and Hair - By: Stephanie Taylor

"Kawaii!", she said in an excited expression. I looked inquisitively at the petite Japanese girl before me, hopefully conveying my utter lack of understanding at what she just said. She seemed to get it, for her next words were an endearing attempt at English; "Berry Pretty!" At that moment, she pointed to my curls, which I had decided to let free for the night. I smiled to let her know I appreciated the compliment, yet, she did not stop pointing. In fact, her finger inched closer to my hair. Before I could stop her, she pulled on a rogue curl and giggled. The oddness of this incident was only enhanced by the fact that we were in the bathroom of a Hip Hop club in Tokyo, Japan. My smile faded a bit. I guess being made to feel like a cute zoo animal tends to do that. But I had to remind myself that this interaction was the result of her enthrallment with Hip Hop and ultimately the African-American culture. Didn't someone once say "imitation is the sincerest of flattery?" However, even this thought couldn't rid me completely of my discomfort.

Cultures around the world harbor a fascination with Hip Hop and Black culture in general, and they fall in love with, copy and often times attempt to make it their own. Many in Japan have taken this to another level and have tried to physically appear like their Hip Hop heroes from America, who are in most cases African-American. In addition to getting their skin darkened, some attempt to create afros, locs and braids out of their naturally bone straight hair. One can even find special salons in Tokyo that cater to these desires of the coily-impaired.

Tokyo is a haven for weird and random things, and even with this knowledge, I was still taken aback by dreaded boys in comically sagging jeans and young giggling girls with unnaturally tanned skin. Going to the predominantly Japanese Hip Hop clubs further disoriented me as gyrating bodies flung braids and afros around. Yet, I was amazed at their passion for Hip Hop. They loved it so much, they were willing to look different, believing that this would somehow bring them closer to the spirit of this music-based culture. I did find myself slightly disturbed by their complete surrender to this world, for the one thing I have learned about being natural is loving myself exactly as I was born. Perhaps they will find a happy medium by continuing to have fun with the culture of Hip Hop without having to mask their own natural beauty.
What do you think? SPEAK ON IT!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Say It Loud.

For this year's Black History Month issue of, I wanted to be sure that we didn't use all of the same common images in every magazine or TV special that pay homage to figures in Black History. Some images are custom staples that shouldn't be messed with such as Maya Angelou and Angela Davis, so they were a must. However, I wanted a wide array of women that have had a hand in shaping Black History through their innovative work, from activism to entertainment, and through their distinctive hair styles, from locs to buzz cuts.

So there I was, clicking through my hard drive, perusing a large collection of images of Black women, some well known and some not known at all. As I explored image after image, enjoying the tour, it hit me—the evolution of Black hairstyles throughout several eras is really extraordinary! Women of Black History have either set hair trends or got hip to one, remixed it and made a statement that was all their own.

The Supreme's diva bouffant, Grace Jones' androgenous high-top fade, Whoopi Goldberg's smart alec locs, Salt n' Pepa's rebellious asymmetric bangs, Janet Jackson's poetic justice box braids--I can seriously go on infinitely. In every generation, women of color, and let's not forget men of color too, have made statements through many different vehicles, and one of them is most definitely through their hair. Black hair in ways has almost been personified as it has expressed thoughts, personalities and feelings, and has also affected other's thoughts, personalities and feelings too. There hasn't been a period in time where black hair hasn't either made people smile, turn heads, cause a raucous, or even grit their teeth in disdain, fear or jealousy.

Hair can be a powerful channel of expression, and one generation that comes to mind that used this channel to express love and recognition for their heritage, was the people of the Civil Rights Movement. Using their afros and picks-with-black-fists said, "I’m Black and I'm Proud" very clearly and quite loudly. Thinking of that era just makes me eager to see how our generation will go down in history. Are we saying anything loud?