An Accidental Student of Hair

Model Alek Wek

Model Alek Wek

I have become an accidental student of black women’s hair.

And let me tell you, there’s a lot to learn.

Unlike “white people” (everyone else on the planet), black people are either blessed or cursed with kinky hair.  Based on how much time and money devoted to hiding, straightening, and manipulating their natural hair, the consensus seems to be on the latter.  (Oddly enough, it’s acceptable for girls up to junior high school to wear their hair as men do.)

"Good Hair" movie poster

“Good Hair”

Good Hair“, Chris Rock’s documentary on black women’s hair in 2009, was my first introduction to weaves, hair relaxer, and the extent of black self-loathing.  Rock explores whether to encourage his young daughters to weave or not to weave. He interviews Nia Long, Eve, Salt-N-Pepa, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Al Sharpton looking for answers.

Nia Long

Nia Long

Key takeaways include:

  • Hair relaxer, aka sodium hydroxide, applied to the head, burns if not scalds
  • Don’t touch a woman’s weave
  • Weaves and water do not mix
  • Anyone seeking to date a black woman also must support her weave (habit)

Fast forward to January 2013 when I woke up one morning at my auntie’s house to see her being attended to by three women.  I prepared breakfast then went back to my room to surf the Internet and watch a movie.  A few hours later, I went back out for a glass of water.  Lo and behold she was still sitting there!

According to Wikipedia, hair extensions or weaves are “methods of lengthening one’s hair by incorporating artificial hair or natural hair collected from other individuals. These hair techniques are advanced and are used to change the hair drastically without looking unrealistic.”

After that episode, I began noticing the many salons and container shops devoted to manipulating women’s hair.  When I began employing my sales staff, I began to appreciate the variety of ways black women can “do” their hair.  A black woman can adorn herself with frizzy hair, long wavy curls, or long braids that touch her butt.  One day, our office manager came in with a very short “haircut”.  After peppering her with questions, she explained that it was a wig.  I hadn’t thought of that.

If you ever wonder if her hair is real, look out for a woman patting the top of her head.  I assume she cannot scratch an itch without ruining her hair.  I think it’s funny because you never see anyone patting their head except little kids who are asked to pat their head and rub their stomachs simultaneously.

Jokes aside, I disagree with Rock’s assertion that weaves and hair extensions are attempts by black women to look more “white”.  Sure, relaxers that chemically break the bonds that make black women’s hair kinky may have started as a desire to look less “African”; however, the use of hair extensions/wigs has become so commonplace that it seems more like a form of self-expression than self-loathing.


Whatever the answer, the weave/wig thing is big business.  Synthetic hair typically lasts for 3 weeks while real human hair can theoretically last indefinitely.  In reality, however, the thickness of the hair will thin as the real hair falls out through the normal course of wearing it.  Typically, a woman needs two to three 100 g hair bundles to implement a hair style.

Teresa explained that synthetic hair bundles can be purchased for as little as $5 (10 cedis).  At the upper end, here in Ghana, a look involving three 100 g bundles of South American human hair can cost 1,000 cedis ($500) or more.  Take that $500 and multiply it by the number of black women with means on the planet then multiply it by the number of times they want to change their look in a year.  You get a pretty big number that starts with the letter “b”.

If you want your woman to look good, you’re going to pay.  “Good Hair” explicitly warns men wanting to date/marry black women that they should be prepared to support their weave habit.  Even here in Ghana, a young woman who uses synthetic hair is going to spend 50-60 cedis for hair + labor.  Keep in mind that I pay my college educated staff around 500 cedis per month.  Someone is spending 10 percent of her salary for hair!  And that’s for lower quality hair.  The beautiful locks that some of these young ladies are walking around with could be several hundred cedis per month.

I can only offer the following advice to the uninitiated:

For men: black women who use weaves have (almost) no hair.  The woman you’re ogling is nearly bald.  It’s all an illusion.  She can change her hair style in a day.  If you date this girl, her monthly habit will become your problem.  It must be like a “Crying Game” moment for a man to realize his Jessica White-type girlfriend has no hair.

Model Jessica White

Model Jessica White. Now imagine her without hair. Still beautiful?  Ok, bad example.

For women: Commit to a look.  Either you are going to do the weave/wig thing or you go au naturel — you either go bald or you let it grow out.  The middle ground is the least attractive option.  It basically amounts to their natural hair pulled back and tied into a bun.

Bun Closure

What’s that thing on your head?

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