Hair Can Be A Killer (Spoiler Alert)
Over the weekend, I was determined to do as little as possible and indulge in a good movie. So, I was excited to watch “Bad Hair” which released Friday on Hulu. A comedy-horror is always up my alley but this different. It had an embedded message: False beauty standards for Black women have a lasting effect.
In 1989 Los Angeles, “Bad Hair” follows Anna. She’s an ambitious, young Black woman working for a television channel and has dreams of being an on-air host, similar to MTV veejays back in the day. After her new boss – also a Black woman - badly criticizes her natural hair, Anna decides to take her rent money and get her first sew-in weave.
It was the most excruciating scene to watch! Anna goes through agonizing pain, and relives childhood trauma with a relaxer, just to be accepted. Her weave not only becomes a hungry killer that needs blood to thrive, but it also possesses Anna.
I’ve never had a weave, and haven’t worn my natural hair since I was 12. It was then I begged my mother for a relaxer. I had long, thick hair that I deemed as ugly. All the other girls in my class had relaxers and I wanted one too. No more ‘press and curl’, I wanted to move into the world of creamy crack. My mother finally gave in to my pleas. And on one Saturday morning, she applied a Gentle Treatment relaxer on my hair. Honestly, I think she was sad about it but gave in to make me happy. It was more than just getting a relaxer. It was about being accepted and fitting in. At 12 years old, I was concerned about how I was being perceived and what pretty actually looked like.
Black women are going to get their hair done, no matter what! We don’t feel complete, unless our hair is right. There used to be a time when natural hair was considered unkempt and ugly. Those who wore their hair natural couldn’t find products anywhere, and ultimately concocted their own. These days, there is an immeasurable embrace of natural hairstyles, and natural haircare products have taken over the shelves. I actually have a hard time finding products I need for my relaxed hair now.
There’s been a shift in how Black women perceive themselves in the mirror, as well as in society. It’s still an upward battle though. We read every day about hair being the driving force behind women, and Black people in general, from being judged, fired, or even arrested. Laws have been put in place to protect Black people from being treated unfairly, because of their hair.
As I watched the movie, I realized I was wildly distracted by the period styling. The costuming was outdated, of course, because of the year. Did we really look like that in 1989? Lena Waithe provides some funny lines throughout, and it was cool seeing Kelly Rowland as an 80’s pop star. Nevertheless, the movie is not meant to be a documentary. You’re not going to jump out of your skin and scream, as if watching a traditional horror movie. The “horror” comes in through combining body horror and tropes: needles digging into a tender-headed scalp and strands of hair having a mind of its own.
Who can forget “School Daze” and the brilliant way Spike Lee gave us the Wannabees and Jiggaboos hair showdown. It was really the first time the issues of light-skinned blacks, dark-skinned blacks, as well as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ hair were explored from a Black perspective. It was an accurate depiction of what was happening on college campuses, and gave us a view into HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) life. Every black teenager I knew wanted to attend an HBCU, after watching “School Daze.”
Black women are consistently asked to compromise their identities for White people. Anna believed that everything she wanted was rooted in looking the part; that somehow having ‘good’ hair would give her the life she desperately desired. The film managed to challenge social norms. Ideas of beauty have always been rooted in European looks. We don’t confront these ideas and talk about them enough in a real way. Even though “Bad Hair” is grounded in comedy, you still get the crucial message of colorism and the glaring stereotypes of how we define hair.