By Ashley Reese of TheGloss
“Wow, I…didn’t know your hair was that long.”
These were the first words out of my boyfriend’s mouth when he saw me with my waist-length box braids, a big transition from the gravity defying afro I’ve rocked since our first OK Cupid date. My middle school and high school days of bone straight, pressed hair are long gone. For about five years now, I’ve let my naturally curly hair do its thing, so it was a big deal when I decided to put my hair into braids for a few months last year, a move I hadn’t made since I was a little kid. It was fun while it lasted, but more than anything it prompted a lot of wonky conversations with my boyfriend about my hair.
So I stared at him for a moment, assuming he was being sarcastic before realizing that he was being completely sincere.
“Oh, um,” I started, trying (and failing) to hold back my laughter. “It’s…it’s not my real hair. They’re extensions.”
“Oh!” he said, looking slightly embarrassed. Before anyone characterizes this incredibly intelligent dude as an idiot, I want to set the record straight: He’s not dense, he’s just really white.
I’m not trying to treat him like a special white unicorn or fetishize our differences; tons of white people, whether I’m making out with them on a regular basis or not, are beyond clueless about my hair. Thanks to magazines, cheesy Pinterest tutorials, and just being near a whole lot of white people, I definitely know my fair share about non-Afro hair. The fact that whiteness is our society’s default helps, I guess. But vice versa? Nope. People don’t know anything about black hair beyond the existence of weaves.
That said, since I’m in an actual relationship with someone who doesn’t know how a very important part of my identity functions, there’s no point in just laughing off the cluelessness. Nope, it’s time for his crash course in shrinkage and coconut oil. Here are eight things that I have to tell my white boyfriend about black hair. Sit back and make sure your baby hairs are laid.
1. My hair shrinks.
So, shrinkage. Shrinkage is a phenomenon with black hair in which our hair appears shorter than it really is. This is thanks to curl pattern and a lack of manipulation. For example, if I braid my hair or put it up into bantu knots over night, my hair appears longer and fuller due to the stretching involved with those styles. If I don’t do that and just, I don’t know, get out of bed, throw in some leave-in conditioner and call it a day, my curls don’t have a chance to stretch or loosen up. That’s why my hair can appear several inches shorter from one day to another, which leads to several (white) people asking me if I got a haircut (no). My boyfriend has asked the same question, leading me to give the quick and dirty explanation: “Nah, my hair just looks shorter than it really is sometimes. It’s complicated.”
2. Fuck shampoo, but I’m gonna take all of your conditioner, thanks.
I use shampoo, like, once a month. Most are full of sulfates that strip my hair of its natural oils, making it dry and harder to deal with. So I explained to my boyfriend that I perform a co-wash instead, meaning that I use conditioner to wash my hair. So I quickly depleted whatever bit of conditioner he had left in his shower. I’m almost sorry about that.
3. No, my hair doesn’t look “fine.”
Never trust a white dude to tell you that your hair is suitable to be seen in public when you know it looks a damn mess. My hair might be naturally wild–I like it that way–but that doesn’t mean that it can’t look like it’s been done. He might not see the difference between my bed head hair and last night’s (rare) twist out, but every black person on the subway will. I can’t let these strangers think that I wasn’t raised right, I can’t. Plus, I have to stay on point in case I run into any fellow fly black girls with dope hair.
For those of you in interracial relationships, what are some hair-related things you’ve had to explain to your significant other?
Ashley Reese is a writer for TheGloss. Read more articles from her Accidental Virgin series here.