Behind the documentary – a producer’s commentary

12 Jan

(You can watch my journalistic documentary by going to my previous post.  It is an in-depth look at how the hair practices of African-American women have evolved, the issues behind straightening the hair and the current spike in natural hair journeys.)

Spoiler alert:  I set out to discover which ingredients and products work for women with my type of hair.  The thing is, after talking to the experts, I realized there was not one group of ingredients or products that are guaranteed to fix everyone’s problems.  It makes sense.  Once you look around and realize that everyone’s hair really is different, it’s easy to see why there may be slightly different solutions for each person.  So are natural oils better?  Not definitively.  Is there a miracle oil or moisturizer that will work for everyone.  Probably not.  Still, my documentary addresses the unique properties of Afro-textured hair and the problems that arise when “our” hair is coupled with “our” styling practices.

Here are a few more hair MYTHS I didn’t mention in my documentary, clarified by my scientific experts (Dr. Victoria Holloway Barbosa and Yash Kamath, Ph.D.)  :

  • Hair technically cannot be “healthy” since it is a dead cell.  Technically, it would be better to say the hair is in good or bad condition.
  • Scientists have not agreed on one single classification system for the types of “black” hair.   (Some people describe their hair as being “4a, 3a, etc.”, but there is no scientific basis to this system.)
  • Cutting the hair off at the ends does not make it grow faster.  (How many of us have been told this?)

As a final thought, my documentary might come off as biased to some.  It does focus a lot on the benefits of natural hair and the negatives of straightening processes.  However, one thing I got from my sources and from myself is that, hey, there’s no one size fits all.  Straight, natural, it can all be beautiful.   And on both sides it wouldn’t be fair to look at someone negatively because she chooses one or the other.  I know from experience that by simply looking at someone you’re not going to understand why she makes the decisions she does.  You may assume you know, when in fact you don’t fully understand why those decisions might be right for her.

I do think, however, that it is a positive thing to learn more about one’s natural hair texture.   I do think, it might be good for us to become more accepting of ourselves, in general. And personally, I’m beginning to enjoy my natural hair texture.  I like the feel of  it, especially now that I see my tiny curls can be defined and feel pretty smooth.  The most important part is I’m growing and learning to appreciate what God has given me.  I’m loving myself more, and I thank God for it. 

Of course, to put it all in perspective is key: at the end of the day life isn’t really about what you look like.  It’s more about how you live.


Hair Journey – the documentary

12 Jan

So, it’s been awhile.  I’ve been a little busy working on this documentary!  I think it turned out pretty well, too.  It addresses the history of “black” hair in this country.  It also addresses the issues behind chemical relaxing and focuses on the natural hair journeys women are embarking on today.  It raises a lot of issues about beauty standards in our country.  Check it out! 

I produced this documentary for my master’s project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I put the finishing touches on it just weeks ago, so the content is very current.  The documentary first aired on UI-7 (the cable channel of the College of Media at U of I) Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.  (It is up on UI-7’s  Vimeo channel:

Please post your feedback:

Was this documentary beneficial to the discussion of what is acceptable “black” hair?  What did you think?

I could prolly fill a trunk with my hair care junk … naturally

11 Sep

My current hair care products - Let the experimentation begin!

My recent and heightened awareness of hair products has pushed me into hair care junkie status.   See.

I am now spending tens and twenties of minutes standing in the isles of Sally and Walgreens, reading labels of “ethnic” hair products as if I’m at a grocery store.

(As an aside, I’m starting to read food labels a bit more too.  Gosh, everything has high fructose corn syrup!  Egh!  And every hair product, well not every, I’m exaggerating, but much of it has mineral oil, which is frowned upon in certain circles apparently.)

But once, I spent so much time reading hair product labels and then walked out with not a thing I intended to buy!  Part of it: the products I looked at only had parts of what I was looking for.  The other part: I wasn’t exactly sure what to look for.

Not sure it works well but this is wrap and set foam from Bioinfusion to add to my growing collection of Carol's Daughter and Wen products

Then, the other day I saw tons of products that seemed to have the ingredients everyone’s raving about these days: keratin, coconut oil, olive oil, egg protein, etc.  There went tens of dollars.  Well, just 20.

I’m believing these things are good for my hair, of course.  The thing is the journalist inside of me wants to know the whole story. Sure, it seems the natural styles and  ingredients are gaining momentum.  Still, I wanna know straight from the horse’s mouth – do these products work?!  And if they do, how come I didn’t know about it until now!  Maybe my recent heightened awareness plays a role.  Still, I never learned these things from the traditions of my family.

So why is it that it just isn’t clear what products are best for people with hair like mine?  Is it a universal issue?  I feel as though there’s a certain poignancy to the issue for those with the kinky hair genes.

So, if all goes according to plan, I will be talking with tons of experts soon and producing either a television or radio documentary about chemical relaxers, current hair research and best practices.

I want to find out straight from the scientists what the deal is.  Certainly I do know science can only go so far.  But, it’s clear that relaxers damage the hair.  And for some people, they are too abrasive.  And if someone is out there creating safer innovations that could make the hair a bit healthier, I plan to discover it!

And that’s that!  Soon I hope to find the answers to some of my most tangled questions.  In the meantime, I’m keeping hope alive as the fate of my hair hangs in the balance.

I’m thinking of doing some product reviews in the near future.  Have you found  a product that really helps your hair grow?  Have you found a product that does what it’s supposed to do?  Any weird/natural hair care remedies you’ve found that work?  (A friend told me to try using real eggs on the hair, which I have tried a couple times!)

Toxic Hairmerica

2 Jun

I just got done watching Sanjay Gupta’s “Toxic America” show on CNN.  Yikes!  This particular segment was a documentary highlighting the possible deadly effects of the emissions and substances of chemical industrial plants on the residents in one U.S. city. 

A "box perm" you can buy in the store, with the professional Mizani relaxer next to it.

All this toxic talk got me thinking about the toxins some of us expose our scalps to, usually every six to eight weeks.  That’s right, chemical relaxers!  Some of us with coarse or kinky hair use relaxers to get our hair straight.  For many of us with that kind of hair, we have been getting our hair pressed or relaxed since we were younger in order to obtain shiny, smooth and sleek strands.

But there are costs to such a beauty ideal.  Let’s go straight the source.  On the outside of a container of professional relaxer (Mizani Butter Blend) I counted at least 25 safety warnings/guidelines for “professional” stylists.  I use the term “professional” loosely, because I’m not quite sure that all professional hair stylists can be trusted.  Anyway, here are a few of the guidelines under the heading “What you should know before relaxing your client’s hair:”

1.  Read and follow directions and warnings completely.  Failure to follow directions or warnings, or other misuse of the product, can cause serious injury to eyes or skin, and can damage hair or result in permanent hair loss.
2.  Keep out of reach of children.
3.  Contains alkali.
4.  Keep relaxer off scalp and other skin areas. Contact with scalp or other skin areas can cause serious skin irritations or burns.
5.   If irritation occurs during relaxing, rinse thoroughly and use Mizani balance hair bath neutralizing and shampoo immediately.  If irritation persists, consult a physician (doctor).
6.  Avoid contact with the eyes.  Can cause blindness.

Permanent hair loss?  Blindness?  Really?  Now that’s toxic America for ya! 

So why do we do it?  Us kinky-headed folk say relaxers make our hair more manageable.  Neal Lester, English professor at Arizona State University, says it is the advertisements that tout relaxers as making kinky, hard-to-comb hair more manageable.  Clearly, these advertisers have sold many of us.  

Lester says he has observed his daughter who said she likes straight hair for its manageability.  However, when his daughter relaxed her hair regularly, it was not in good shape.

“When you straightened your hair, it was falling out,” Lester said as if he was speaking to his daughter.  “It was getting weak.  So you tell me what’s more manageable.”

Still, I think it’s not just about manageability, rather beauty, desirability and conformity.

How many of you women perceive kinky hair as a negative thing?  I must say, I am one of them.  Lester, who has researched the effects of racial beauty ideals and their effects on little girls, says that the terminology we use is all wrong.  Lester says we use phrases like “getting our hair done” or “getting our hair fixed” which suggests something is wrong with our hair in its natural state.  

Not exactly my hair's natural texture. No, not at all.

I know that I have grown up thinking there is something bad about my hair when it is “nappy” or natural.  And that’s something I am trying to break myself of.  Still, others around me have influenced me into believing I’d better beware if my hair “goes natural” too long without a chemical retouch.  People have suggested to me that my head looks bad and is not desirable if it is not straight right down to the root.  That’s kind of deep.  However true these subjective assessments are, one thing is for certain: chemical relaxers are dangerous, and I believe they have proved detrimental to the health of my hair.  And that’s a problem.  Who should be held accountable?  I’ve got a few ideas.In the  meantime, if your hair professional is about to relax your hair with a Mizani relaxer, or probably any relaxer for that matter, make sure you and they are following the guidelines you may or may not be aware of:

Safety warnings
When you should not relax your client’s hair
1.  If your client has an irritated or damaged scalp.
2.  If hair is fragile or damaged – for example, due to frequent coloring or other chemical processes – or has been bleached or highlighted, processed with a thio (perm) product, or treated with henna or metallic salts, hair breakage and/or hair loss could occur.
3.  If your client has applied permanent or semi-permanent hair color in the 14 days (2 weeks) before relaxing.
4.  If hot combs or other heat appliances have been used on your client’s hair before the relaxer process.
5.  If hair has been wet or shampooed in the 3 days prior to relaxing.
6.  If hair has been braided or extensions have been put in during the 14 days (2 weeks) before relaxing.
7.  If braids or extensions have just been removed, deep condition and wait 14 days (2 weeks) before relaxing.
8.  If scalp has been scratched with a comb, brush or fingernails in the 3 days prior to relaxing.
9.  If your client has used an anti-dandruff product in the 14 days (2 weeks) prior to relaxing hair.
10.  Not for use on children.

How many of you or your hair care professionals have followed these guidelines when relaxing your hair? I know I haven’t!  Who can go three days without scratching at all???  Why do we go through this painful process numerous times throughout the year when it is not always healthy for our hair?

Guess whose birthday it is?

13 May

You can't tell me that doesn't look like a candle!

Happy birthday to me.

Today I’m 23!

Happy birthday dear me-ee.

I’m a ripe ‘ole 23!

Yayy!  Today my left ear is plugged, and I can only chew on one side (don’t ask), but I thank God for allowing me to see another year!

Oh, and check out this blogger who has the same birthday as me!  We both agree that Facebook birthdays are awesomeness!

Oh, and why is it that’s one of the awesome features of Facebook?  Does Facebook/technology really bring us closer with our friends, or, really, just distance us more?  I suppose some of those people could’ve called, right?! I’m honestly not complaining. I just want to know what you think!

Hurting for good, healthy hair

12 May

I feel guilty.  I shouldn’t have done it.  Whyyyy did I do it??

What did I do?

Me with straight, fine hair

I got a perm – an unhealthy and powerful, damaging, straightening, smoothing, shining, make-me-feel-better chemical relaxer.

Yup, that’s me with my relaxed head plopped in front of my computer doing healthy hair research, again.  I’m currently interested in finding out what would be best for me: to stay permed or “go natural”? Decisions, decisions.  And I made one last week.  I was holding on so strong, but I caved.  It’s just, I want to be happy with the hair God has given me, but I also feel that even though it burns, is unhealthy and can cause breakage – straight, manageable, shiny hair is just better.  Hm.

Tyra Banks talked about this very notion on one of her shows.  She asked the question: what does it mean to have “good” hair?  Here’s one part of her “good hair” show:

Anyway, I’m also trying to figure out which products I can use to keep my hair in tip top healthy shape!  I guess you could say, I’m on a healthy hair journey … yeah, that’s getting a little played out; google “healthy hair journey” and see what you get.  But, it must mean something if all these black women feel the need to be on healthy hair journeys, right?


And I am learning from these Web chronicles.  Tomorrow I will be 23, so I guess now is a great time to really really start figuring out how to prevent my hair from chronically breaking.  Yeah, that’s a problem with me.  Also, I hope to learn how to get my hair to grow to a length that doesn’t always stop above the shoulders! 

So, this is the beginning of something big.  I am going to write about my hair escapades and do some research. And I will want to hear from you:  are you in the same boat?  Have you figured out a routine that works for your hair?  What are your most shocking and even funny hair stories?  (By the way, I think this topic will last for much longer than a week!)

Also, I hope to answer more questions: why do black women have a hard time with this hair thing?  Why is hair just a universal self-defining feature for all women?  How can women maintain beautiful, healthy hair from the outside and from the inside? 

Well, I am assuming healthy hair starts from within.  I’m assuming that by believing you can achieve something, you will.  So then, let’s get started!  This time next year I hope to have amazing, beautiful, long, healthy hair.  (Wow, that was really scary to say and believe, but let’s go with it!)

Remember your memory – Part 2

8 May

Be conscious of where you leave your keys!

Psychologists say it’s not about how good or bad our memory is; it’s about how we use it!  Are you prone to losing your keys?  The first step is to be conscious about where you put them.  And Ph.D. researcher Scott Fraundorf suggests practical methods to remembering where you put your keys:  put them in the same place everyday!  Or, put them on a new lanyard so they stand out.

He also says there are strategies you can use when trying to remember things in general: you should form a mental image of the memory or connect it to something you already know.  That’s right, pneumonic devices come in handy! 

For example, Fraundorf said when he goes into the grocery store and has to remember the bar code for produce, (he’s a self-checkout guy) his strategy is to connect the number to a year.  If the number 83 is a part of the bar code sequence, Fraundorf will remember that as the year he was born.  Connecting the image or item to something he knows gives him a place to start from when it’s time to retrieve that memory.  Fraundorf says people who are known for having a good memory aren’t that way on purpose; they have a strategy that works for them!

Also, psych graduate researcher Jason Finley says that there are numerous other external resources at our disposal: “calendars, automatic e-mails to remind you of appointments, shopping lists, address books, weekly pill boxes/organizers, etc.”

And you can offload the burden of memory onto your environment, Finley says.  That means, if you want to remember to take your umbrella before heading off, place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up before you leave!

In all reality, the experts say we don’t give our memory enough credit.  “We don’t realize that every day, we remember tons and tons of information without incident (e.g., who we are, how to tie shoes, the meanings of 1,000s of words, the identity of most people we interact with, how to navigate our surroundings, the content of books and music and videos …,” Finley said. 

And Fraundorf says when we get older our memories can be just as functional.  In fact, Fraundorf says older people stereotype their memories.  “If you’re worried about your memory, that can make your memory worse,” Fraundorf said. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy!

Anyway, here is a recap of practical things you can do to remember better:

  • Be conscious about where you put things
  • Form a visual image; connect the memory to something you know
  • Use external memory aids
  • Use a strategy that works for you
  • Don’t worry about your memory

Remember, your memory is best when you use it effectively!