Fears of Nappy Hair in the Outdoors

Scuba diving in St. Croix, UVA


“Don’t get my hair wet!” I’ve blurted many times in a breathless panic anytime water came dangerously close to my heat straightened locks. I always joked that water near a black woman’s hair is like kryptonite near Superman – and in some cases, it’s actually true. Real tears have been shed for hairstyles unexpectedly ruined from contact with water folks!
I was raised to be afraid of what water could do to my hair. As a young girl, the only places permissible to get my hair wet, were either at a beauty salon, or in the kitchen sink under the frenzied hands of my older sister. And an immediate straightening, braiding, or twisting followed the wash to make me presentable for public consumption.
If I had just had my hair “did”, water activities, like swimming or even a short stroll in the rain, were completely off the table unless I wanted to get in trouble with mom. If I did get in the water, I had to “protect” my hair with two rubber swim caps and a Holly Hobby-like bonnet. But the swim caps were never successful. The inevitable water leak would begin around the cap’s edges and shortly after, my hair would rebel from its straightening and revert to its native happy nappy.
Some people like to catalog the black woman’s hair obsession as a form of self hatred – “be natural” say some, but I’m not there – yet. And as a mother myself now, I get that my mom’s fussiness (and later my own) sometimes had to do with time and maintenance management. I cringe now as I recall the thick plumes of hair my poor mom had to corral on my head, wet or dry. So when she sent me to get a new “do” at the salon, she was also trying to buy herself a little break.
I remain a press-n-curl black girl from Oakland, but the difference is now I have learned to balance my hair styles with my outdoor thrills. I just work it in cycles. When I am in a mode for water activities, I keep my hair in braids or wait until my press is on its last legs. I have to admit, I envy the black women who have gotten off the hair obsession train and instead rock tight short fades or natural locks full-time. I don’t know if I will ever get there with those sisters, but never again will hair be a reason for me to miss out on a good swim.
Wow, reading this article today, I realize how I am so over it! I can’t tell you how grateful I am to enjoy my own natural hair and the freedom it has allowed me to take carefree pleasure in a wide-range of outdoor and nature experiences.
Also since the time of this writing, there has been an explosion of a “Natural Hair” movement that has elevated the discussion in beauty parlors and the blogisphere about natural hair care and its sustainable techniques to new highs. So now, I am proud to know and understand how to enjoy my native hair texture AND the outdoors.
What about you?