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We, as black women, are constantly bombarded with images of women with long flowing locks, and taught that they are beautiful. The majority of our role models sport hair of the long and/or straight variety. Many of us became acquainted with the idea that a “perm” and a “press” would equate to “good hair” at a very young age.  But really, what is good hair?  This question is at the center of an age-old debate that Chris Rock had decided to tackle in his documentary entitled, “Good Hair.” After  his 5 year old daughter raises the question, “Daddy how come i don’t have good hair?” Rock finds himself on a philosophic and physical journey to find an adequate and truthful answer.

Rock ventures into the guarded realm of black women’s hair, a topic often taboo in nature, and hardly discussed publicly. The result is witty informative discourse among a wide and varied group of people, ranging from famous weave-wearers like Nia Long and Lauren London, to industry experts like Atlanta hairstylist Derrick J.

In order to examine what is widely considered “good hair” Rock starts at the root, literally.  The general consensus is that such hair is straight, silky, and in all ways “nap-free.”  He looks at the process necessary to attain the relaxed look by venturing into a few beauty salons, where he is enlightened to  the chemical used to straighten black women’s hair.  Relaxer, also affectionately referred to as the “creamy-crack,” is applied to the root of the hair in order to eliminate kinks, curls and naps, leaving hair bone straight irregardless of its natural state.

The process is often painful, damaging and irreversible, though black women (and some black men) subject themselves to this treatment repeatedly in order to maintain the appearance of straight hair. Not only are women willing to endure pain and risk permanent damage, but they are willing to do so at the expense of their natural hair texture.  Accordingly, the film raises interesting discussion of whether black women are sending negative images to young black girls who are being raised to believe that beauty is only attainable via this process, not by maintaining and embracing our hair in its natural state.

The next step in the “good hair” process, as per the documentary, involves lengthening.  Yes, Chris Rock gets to the nitty gritty of weaves.  Rock playfully approaches the topic while remaining informative.  Ever wonder where the hair hanging neatly packaged in your local beauty supply comes from? Contrary to popular belief, its not from horses.  In fact, they are often imported, as was the case with the Indian-Remy variety that Rock explored.  At the crux of his wonderment was the fact that women are willing to pay thousands of dollars for hair that is shaved off of the heads of Indian women in the Hindu Temple where they offer it to their god in turn for prosperity.  From the temple it is transported to California, the weave capital of the world in terms of sales, to be sold in premiere salons at astronomical prices.  In essence, Rock’s survey of the weave process is to raise the question of why do black women go to such great lengths to mimic hair looks and lengths that seem contrived and inauthentic.

While “Good Hair” looks at many facets of the black hair industry, the central issue in the film remains focused on why our perception of good hair has strayed so far from the natural state of black hair.  Why do black women indulge in the “creamy-crack?” Why do we pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for Indian-hair weaves? Why do we relax our young daughters’ kinky curls? Is it to achieve an unattainable standard of media driven beauty, of are we simply seeking utilitarian methods of simplifying our hair care regimens? And further more, by calling our natural hair “hard to manage” are we simply telling the truth, or just putting ourselves down?

Perhaps the best thing about “Good Hair” is the fact that it was not made with an accusatory tone. I went to the screening and sat in the back row, waiting to be damned for my 16 inches of straightened luxurious hair, and chastised for not choosing to be nappy and happy. Instead, the film raised questions about why women make the hair-care choices that they do, without reproaching those of us who take the processed route.  It embraced all hair types and styles, giving each a place on the black hair spectrum without forcing any particular hair agenda down our throats.  “Good Hair” definitely provided a good look at black beauty culture that everyone should see.

Good Hair opens in theaters nation wide on October 23, 2009. Check out the trailer here:

Check out some photos of the “Good Hair “LA premiere here:

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