Good Hair?

Last night, my family sat down to watch Chris Rock’s Good Hair. The movie has been getting major buzz and has been sparking debates all over the Internet. The film focuses on black women and the lengths they go through to straighten their hair and fit in to the dominant standards of beauty. The ways they do this, by relaxers and weaves, are highlighted. Chris Rock is the narrator and is seen in the movie so it takes a humorous tone. Oprah loved it and dedicated an entire episode of her show to it. My mother and sister were excited to watch it. Obviously we could relate since we are all black women, but I had problems with it. The film had it’s good parts and it’s bad, but it was an interesting topic to do an entire film about. I had a long discussion with my family after watching it.

The term “good hair” refers to hair that is straight and long. Kinky, or nappy hair is not considered good hair. The film made it seem like it’s every black woman’s quest to achieve this good hair, even if it’s not her own. This self hatred of black hair dates back to slave days. It’s the eurocentirc image of beauty that causes black women to change their hair in order to be seen as beautiful and conform. It is not to “look white” as was stated in the movie, it’s to fit in to society.

What I liked about the film the most was black female celebrities like Nia Long, Raven Symone, Melissa Ford (who was featured in the film A LOT for some reason) and Lauren London talking about their own hair experiences. They admitted that they wore weaves, spoke about the first time they got their hair relaxed and how they felt beautiful afterward (I could definitely relate to that) and the crazy amounts of money they spend on weaves. It was a woman’s perspective of the work that goes in to black hair and it was something that I could relate to. I also liked when Chris Rock traveled to India and found out where the hair for weaves comes from. I had never thought of it because I’ve never worn a weave made of real hair so it was eye opening to see the mountains of hair, how it’s cleaned and then sewn together and shipped to L.A. One major theme in the movie is how big of a business black hair is. A lot of people are making money off of weaves and relaxers and as the film pointed out, it’s not black people.

There were also a lot of things that bugged me about the film. One thing I noticed at the beginning as the credits rolled, not one woman was involved in the making of this film. It was a movie about black woman’s hair made by men. Which is why hearing the black actresses talk about their experiences was the best part of the movie because the rest of it is an outsider looking in. Sometimes the movie even takes the tone as “why are they doing this to themselves?” Which was pointed out by an audience member on Oprah. She thought the film was making fun of black women. She was worried that non black co workers would approach her and ask if her hair was real. I found that tone in the film as well. For example when discussing relaxers, Rock speaks to a scientist and they look at how damaging the chemical that is in relaxers could be on the skin and the body. Cut to a little black girl getting her hair relaxed. Yes, I agree that young girls shouldn’t get their hair relaxed, but people do it and it seemed like the film showed it in an insensitive light.

As was the discussion about weaves. Weaves were portrayed as this evil thing. It was implied that women will spend thousands of dollars on a weave instead of paying her bills or feeding her kids, she will force her man to pay for her weave and will spend hours in the beauty salon getting it done. It was kind of ridiculous. Sure, there are probably women like that out there but the movie made it seem like it’s what all women do.

Another point that was missing in the film, that Oprah highlighted on her show, is that women of all races alter and change their hair. The film made it seem like it’s just a black girl thing, when its not. All women aspire to unrealistic standards of beauty and it’s just harder for black women because we do not have the naturally straight hair and have to work a bit harder to achieve it.

It hit a nerve with me, because I have struggled with hair as well. I got my hair relaxed for the first time when I was ten and my sister was six. I did feel beautiful when I got it done. Since then I’ve gone from relaxing it, to braids, to wearing a weave, to cutting it all off and wearing it in a short fro. I don’t think too much about my hair, it’s not something I stress about. I do notice when I have longer hair I get more compliments from people. Right now I’m seriously considering cutting it all off again and making a completely different statement. But everyone is telling me not to. I wonder why.

I think Good Hair created a great dialogue for people to have. The movie could have gone so much deeper, but I understand that it was a comedy and was lighthearted. I just wish it could have looked at the reasons why black women feel they have to change their hair and the historical impact. It was brave of Chris Rock to attempt to tackle such a sensitive topic and it will continue to be debated.

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