Life: Good Hair, Bad Hair


Long, luxurious locks, bone straight and down my back…and when it gets wet it curls up into tight crisp ringlets that grow into soft cloud-like curls without the use of rollers or an iron.

I guess that’s good hair. But I never called it that. That’s my hair. I didn’t learn the term good hair until the first grade.

Standing in size order waiting to walk into class on the first day of school the girl behind me kept staring at me. I kept looking around and looking down at my uniform thinking that there was something wrong until finally she spoke: “Can I touch your hair?”

I was never asked that before. Growing up and playing with dolls, they all had hair like me. My mom had hair like me and so did my grandma. I never thought of my hair as something special or unique. Actually, since I was tender headed, most of the time I thought of it as a pain. My grandmother used to tell me, “if you look at your hair too hard it will tangle up.” And it was true, with naturally curly thick hair getting a comb through it was almost impossible without putting in at least three hours of work. Doing my hair was an all day affair. I longed to just be able to wear it straight like my mommy and have it swish and blow in the wind. But, it was a fleeting thought. I never thought my hair was bad, it was just annoying.

And so while walking up the stairs on the first day of class I was shocked, more than anything, that this little girl just wanted to touch my hair. I wanted to ask her why, but I was new to the school so I just said okay. And she took one of my pig tails and twisted it around like a jump rope. It was a little awkward and I did not know what to do.  As I was standing there and I looked I her I noticed for the first time that her hair did not hang from her barrettes like mine. It did not look like mine either, it looked like if I touched it, it would be coarse. I guess that was bad hair, but I only knew it after she said, “I wish my hair was long like yours.” I wanted to say why again, but I didn’t.

After a while I got used to it. People saying things like: “never cut your hair” and “is that all yours?” The next question is always: “What are you?” I was never fully black to them. My hair could not just be from me but had to be the result of some exotic mix. Black girls were not supposed to have hair like me, and so I could not be just black.

And so growing up my hair defined me. I was never the loud girl, or the bad girl, or the funny girl. I was the nice girl with nice hair and good grades. I wasn’t even described darkskin girl or the brownskin girl, as kids often use in their descriptions, until much later. But for a while it seemed like my hair excused even the color of my skin, until we got older and more people had hair like mine, or at least appeared to.

Entering college all this changed, and again I asked myself: why? I attend a school where I am typically the only black girl in the classroom. Amongst a sea of blondes and brunettes my hair is usually the darkest, most textured, and most of the time still the longest. But no one looks at me twice or even makes a comment about my hair. I was not used to this happening and it made me think about it even more. Whenever I entered a new class or a new school I was always bombarded with questions about my background and “where my hair comes from.” But not here, not in this small college town where the thing that stands out the most is the color of my skin, not my hair. Actually, the only time I am ever asked about my hair in college is by other black students.

So, is this good hair, bad hair philosophy created by the black community? Maybe we did not create it but it is definitely sustained by us. We portray ourselves to be such victims of society and its ideals of beauty that prey down upon us but why do we make hair to be such a big thing? And why do we label it? A person of another race never told me I had nice hair, it was always another black girl.

Sure, I could answer my own question, I read “The Bluest Eye” and heard the stories my mom and grandma told about only being able to play with white dolls that did not look like them. Yet, I used to always wonder why they wanted to look like them. I played with dolls that looked like me, had hair like me, and I did not realize the significance.

To be honest, I never compared my hair to others, or thought my hair was better than others, or wished it to be like someone else’s until I started going to school and people made me feel like I was some type of spectacle because my hair was passed my shoulders.

This weekend two sororities on my campus are having an event about this very topic, and Chris Rock just debuted a documentary with the title “Good Hair.” So, I am looking forward to hearing about other people’s stories, struggles, and opinions on the issue.

What do you all think about it?


  • Andr3a720

    I could really relate to you, ever since i started middle school girls would alaways ask me ” oooh is that your hair?” or “You got some good hair”. I’m not African American i’m Honduran and also dark skinned, but many confuse me for black and always consider me as the girl with the “good hair”.But i also never thought of it as a big deal until people started talking about it. It may be flattering but very annoying…and I can’t wait to see The Chris Rock documentary and i know is going to be very interesting

    Thanx Nesha for putting this up because i taught i was like the only one whose going through this

    February 5, 2009
  • Anonymous

    I am part dominican but I look black. The same thing used 2 happen 2 me too. I used to feel so weird!!!!!

    February 5, 2009
  • Anonymous

    I def cannot wait to see this doc. Thats dope they went to where the weaves come from

    February 7, 2009
  • EyeNi

    I could definetely relate but it’s disturbing to me well when i first cut all of my hair off alot of people said oh you know you have nice hair etc what are you this one girl asked me whats your background i told her st. lucian and haitian and she said its something you putting in your hair to make it like as if i have to be mixed with something to have “good hair” people can be so ignorant so when im asked whats my nationality i never say much just black

    February 10, 2009
  • Naties Dad.

    Guys go thru this too. You do not know the white boy comments I got when I was a child.
    To this day people come up to me and talk Spanish to me because of how my hair looks. I am not hispanic.
    A lot of West Indians are caught up in this whole good hair thing too. To some of them it makes you some sort of upper class citizen. I never understood it growing up, but realize it is all because of their low self esteems.

    February 11, 2009
  • cookie

    I’s been told that I have “nice” hair for a black girl on numerous occasions. Even when I try out a new hair salon, they give me the prices to do perform their services as if I have a weave, before they realize they will be working on my real hair. The length of my hair can be attributed to my mothers West Indian/ Asian background.
    Growing up with “nice” hair, may not have been so nice if you went to a public school like mine. I can remember many times where other black girls just had the urge to touch my hair, and I was suddenly a mannequin to practice cornrowing on. Nice hair is nice, unless you are being attacked with a comb and some gel, by those who are not quite labeled as having “nice” hair.

    February 11, 2009
  • ariwonder

    This is definitely something that I can relate to. Its a little frustrating… I always tell people that ask me that question, “What really is good hair?” They always seem to think that mine is better than theirs and that a kinkier texture is just plain wrong… Ignorance is what it is… Sucks but its true… Blinded, these people are.

    February 11, 2009
  • Angela

    I am a high school teacher. When I first began working there I had a short hair cut. I decided to let my hair grow. When we returned the following September my hair was almost to my shoulders. One of the girls came behind me and put her fingers through my hair. I asked her why she did that and she said that she thought that my hair was a weave. She couldn’t believe that my hair could have grown that much in a few months. She then told me that I have “good hair”. I am African American but I am often mistaken for a dominican.

    February 26, 2009
  • Anonymous

    First off I want to say that nesh your an inspiration to me thank you for just being you. I am a black female age 19, and I wear weave. Growing up I was one of the girls who looked at other girls with the “so-called good hair” I also wanted to touch and play with any girls hair who was long and soft. Now that I have matured I understand how much of a self-esteem issue this is for young black women, although I am very sure of myself and my beauty I wear weave because personally I believe it is more managable than my own hair. I also would like to say that another reason so black women feel as if they have “bad hair” is defintely because of the media, hippop is a very big part of our culture and when we look at videos and black men have latino women or women of mixed descent in their videos it poses a problem it defenitely can make a girl feel inadequate.

    April 11, 2009
  • Monique

    BOY can i relate to many aspects of this post..I grew up in Toronto Canada as a dark skinned life was hell …with continual torment and name calling by black people only. White people never seemed to notice that I was darker…I decided…I did not want this to happen to any child of mine..So I carefully date only biracial guys.. Hence my daughter is Native American, Irish, portugese, British, Jamaican, Nigerian and born in Canada.
    She actually came out as my dream child…light skin…gorgeous hair, cute pinched nose, almond shaped eyes…intelligent beyond belief..She told me that she had never been made fun of before at 9 years old..I was shocked!!! But we moved to a predominantly South Asian neighbourhood…and her hair stayed long but got thicker as she grew older… so now these Indian kids are telling her that her hair is not as nice as theirs(of course due to the hip hop culture)Everyday..she came home complaining about her much she hates it…wow..when we were in the black area…other kids use to cut her hair..and bother her about having good hair…now she is in an asian area and absolutely started getting depressed over her hair..So she is 11 now..I decided to perm her long thick hair..The results were amazing…everyone immediately wanted to know..where I purchased such a weave for an 11 year old..Now these Indian girls..are jealous of all the things her hair can do…that theirs cannot easily do..the single braids, cornrows..etc.. So now my child loves her hair again.. But really I feel guilty for changing the texture of her hair to please other people…I myself cut off my hair and keep it short…it is beautiful to me…my daughters hair is beautiful…it is a shame I had to perm it for her to realize it.. Thanks for this topic. Bless all!!!

    May 12, 2009
  • Anonymous

    i am now 50 yrs old and still receive comments that “you have that good hair”. i have never like the term. my ancestry includes cherokee indian, causian, and afro-american.i tell people that blacks are blessed with different types of hair as we are blessed with different color hues.our race have been led to believe that we are not to have the “good hair”,nice homes, and etc.i truly wish that we could learn to get away from the stigmas.
    a year ago,i noticed that my granddaughter (3yr at that time)had already developed the concept of good/bad hair.her hair is more coarse than her cousin.she would make comments such as ” grandma i wish i could get my hair like yours and kaylin”. kaylin is the cousin that has the “fine wavy hair”. we must be careful not to instill such thoughts into our young.i always make an effort to tell her that her hair is just as nice and pretty.during a year’s time; i have noticed that i hear less about the “good hair” from her.let’s teach our people to accept our blessings; especially the young.

    May 13, 2009
  • Anonymous

    I have a question, why do most African American women think that your hair has to be
    long, fine, and/or curly to be consider “good hair”? What they call “happy” I think
    is just as beautiful as the “good hair”. My hair is some what in the middle, I don’t
    need perms but my hair still needs to be washed and flat ironed in order to be straight.
    I almost wish it would of just came out extremely course or extremely fine because this
    in the middle hair don’t know what it wants to do. I love the natural look and if more
    Black women knew how beautiful it is, I’m sure it’ll help stop that good hair bad hair

    May 20, 2009
  • Anonymous

    To Andr3a720,and Ms. "I am part dominican but I look black"

    I would really like to know what makes you think that you are not black. Being black dose not stop with decendents of African American Slaves.The term black people usually refers to a racial group of humans with skin colors that range from light brown to nearly black. It is also used to categorize a number of diverse populations together based on historical and prehistorical ancestral relationships. Since the two of you seem to be confused about who you are I suggest that you trace your roots. I'm sure that your roots are as African as mine. You may just be a little watered down but you are still black with a different texture of hair. Black people are all over this world. Be proud of who you are and stop trying to find ways to deny being black.

    November 30, 2009

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