Big Freaky Hair | My Hair Odyssey

I Love Hair!

Creating a unique hairstyle allows you to enhance your individual beauty and establish a personal style. It’s important for a woman to experiment with her hair, to know what styles look best with her hair type and face shape. Trying out various hairstyles is a fun way for a young girl to build confidence and foster self-acceptance.

My Hair Odyssey

Mother Naomi Sims US Vogue February 1970I’ve worn various hairstyles over the years and loved them all, even my high school senior year mullet. I greatly appreciate my mother buying me fashion magazines, and allowing me to experiment with hairstyles and fashion looks during my youth. Also, my mother’s clothing, jewelry and home decor choices informed my strong desire for high style, top quality and expert craftsmanship. Mother Vogue, 1968Experiencing my mother’s fashion sense, watching her choose clothing and shoes led me to develop a strong sense of personal style as a youth. Mother was a fashionable conservative, who taught me to ensemble dress. She typically bought matching designer outfits including a coat, jacket, skirt, dress and pants. Even though she didn’t work, Mother dressed like a corporate professional. Otherwise, she looked as though she were on vacation in color coordinated resort wear or long colorful caftans.

Mother Colorful Caftan, Vogue 1967At the beginning of my mother’s second marriage, I was a skinny adolescent with an overbite, astigmatism of the left eye and lots of wild frizzy hair. I’d created an extreme overbite by sucking the two left fingers of my left hand. The result of trauma and neglect from birth, as my mother suffered from being a jilted wife. Abandoned by her husband, she had to wrangle a young daughter and a baby while working a job for the first time in her life. She had been a house wife for a decade, then suddenly thrust into a humiliating, turbulent and prolonged divorce. My father cheated with another woman and left our family while my mother was pregnant with me. To make matters worse, I was a breech birth and never turned. Mother was induced twice, but I refused to be born in that condition. The day of my birth, Mother requested that my father come to see her. He informed her that wasn’t possible, as it was his lover’s birthday and he would be with her. My mother became enraged and was taken to the hospital, were I was born by cesarean section. So, I was born into trouble in Compton California, on my stepmother’s birthday, completely bald with bright blue eyes. Mother Lanvin Diffusion, L'Officiel Magazine 1974By the time I was a year old, I sported a head full of big curly locks and sparkling deep brown eyes.

“Just before my birth, my maternal grandmother and her sister came from Detroit to take care of my mother. They stayed to care for me and my mother until she got back on her feet. Later, I was watched by various members of my father’s family until his girlfriend burned me with tincture of turpentine; causing second degree burns down the front of my body and a multi-week hospitalization. After that, my 12 year old sister was made responsible for me while Mother worked, subjecting me to her mean spirited pranks, screaming fits and rough treatment. Every attempt she made to brush my hair always ended in me kicking, screaming and crying on the floor. Later, I was enrolled in daycare and not long afterward Mother packed our bags and we left California for good.”

456 Alger

Meemoe’s Apartment Building

Just after my 3rd birthday, we took the train to Detroit to live with my grandmother Jessie, whom I called Meemoe. She became my caretaker, teaching me everything and showing me a mother’s love. In the beginning, Mother went to work came home and shut her bedroom door. She was a shadow flashing in and out of the house, hardly interacting with anyone. I don’t remember hugs, kisses or lap time with her, but over a period of years she sometimes took me clothes shopping, on outings to the museum, symphony or to the movies. Meemoe and I were attached at the hip, we often walked to the grocery store, rode the bus downtown and attended her Po-keno club meetings once a month. By the age of 4, Meemoe had taught me the alphabet, spelling, simple arithmetic and reading. I tagged along as she cleaned house, fixed things in her apartment building, washed and hung clothing, mowed and watered the the lawns, prepared meals and food orders, as she was a caterer of sorts.

“I often watched her whip up meringue into perfect peaks to top her chocolate and lemon pies. I always got a bit of shortenin’ bread when she made those tasty desserts. Meemoe was an expert at making upside down pineapple cake and her chicken and dumplings dish was to die for! She had learned to cook from a German sous-chef de cuisine, while working as a live-in domestic for a wealthy white family in Michigan.”

Braidin' Time

Art by Diane Dengel

I had a mass of course hair that was silky at the nape of my neck, very kinky at the crown of my head and curly on the top and sides. She combed my hair every morning and washed it once a week. I loved climbing on top of the kitchen sink drain board for my weekly wash. As Meemoe scrubbed my scalp and pulled soap through my hair, I’d relax into a dizzy sleep. She’d rinse and ring out my hair, apply a vinegar rinse and make a multitude of thick long braids for quick drying. Daily maintenance included Hair so New and homemade bacon grease hairdressing to coax my hair into various braid styles. I was vigorously sniffed and licked by our neighbor’s dog, as I smelled like a BLT with extra bacon.

Alger School

Alger, my first elementary school.

“During kindergarten I enjoyed skipping to school swinging my long braids from side to side. I became so brazen that just before my 1st grade glee club concert; I climbed atop the teachers desk, tap danced in my red patent leather Mary Jane’s and flashed the gartered stocking tops under my black velvet dress. Clearly, I’d watched way too many Shirley Temple movies and who knows why my mother bought me a garter belt. During 2nd grade, I was chased home by mean girls threatening to cut off my long braids, until Meemoe bribed them with candy.” 

Father's House, LA

My father’s house in Los Angeles, CA.

At 5 years old, I had surgery to correct my wandering eye, but needed bi-focal glasses for a few years. The summer of my 8th birthday Mother put me and my sister on a flight to Los Angeles to visit our father. He’d had a daughter with his girlfriend and they married in Las Vegas shortly after the divorce. I stayed in LA much longer than scheduled, because of the 1967 Detroit riot, my sister stayed to attend college. When I got to Detroit, my cousin Ruth picked me up and took me to her house. I was confused and very upset at not seeing my mother at the gate.

“I asked, “Where’s mommy, I wanna go home.” Cousin Ruth assured me that she was on her way, but I just kept whining, “I want Meemoe, please take me home!” Hours later, my step-grandmother (Nana) showed up with my step siblings to take me home. The issue was, I’d met her Detroit Roit 1967once and didn’t know my step siblings very well. In the car I kept asking, “Where are we going?” and she’d say, “We’re almost there.” As she parked in front of our new home I asked, “Who lives here?”, she said, “You’ll see.” When the front door opened, my mother greeted us and I tearfully ran into her arms crying out, “Where’s Meemoe!” Mother assured me that everything was alright, saying that she’d gotten married and this was our new home. Having been blindsided I was shocked, verklempt and bewildered, Mother placated me with ice cream. She’d dated my stepfather for a little over 2 years and they had taken us kids on a few outings, but I had no idea they were planning to marry. The horrible truth is that she ripped me from my grandmother’s loving care, without any preparation or consideration of my emotion well-being.”

Diane Carol PinterestIt was a long time before I saw Meemoe and this is where my hair styling odyssey begins. Mother had her hair coiffured every other week and on special occasions took me in for spiral curls. Otherwise, I was responsible for washing and styling my own hair, as Mother clearly stated she did not do hair. Her lack of concern for maintaining my hair deeply hurt my feelings, creating a chasm that prevented bonding.  Mother did nice and appropriate things for me like, taking me to the Detroit Institute of the Arts to purchase a copy of the Sully fine art painting Torn Hat to match my new bedroom set and wallpaper. She’d enrolled me in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra children’s program to experience classical music with art and ballet at Ford Auditorium between the ages of 5 and 9. She bought me classical music records, novels and took me to the theater in an effort to acculturate me. We’d go mall shopping and at lunch she’d read a new novel as I sipped a Boston cooler observing others, during the long silence. I deeply loved and respected my mother, but we were never close. It seemed as though she always kept me at arms length, making it clear she didn’t want to be touched and that I was never touch her things. When I attempted to hug and kiss her she would push me away saying, “Stop! Don’t touch me…go on now!” 

Although I always loved doing other people’s hair, at 8 years old, I was not prepared to tackle my own. Meemoe had taught me how to make a ponytail and braid my doll’s straight hair, but attempts at making a single braid at the back of my head produced a crooked puffy mess. Mother dressed me in the latest styles, but my wild hair, overbite and bifocals gave me an awkward and unkempt appearance. My hairtastrophe and goofy looks evoked laughter, questions and teasing at my new school. One girl said, “You got that good hair, why does it look so bad?” It became painfully clear I needed a total makeover. These issues marked the first time I’d ever considered my self-image, because I’d always been a confident and fun loving kid with lots of friends.

Frank Morrison Art

Art by Frank Morrison

“When I was about 6-years-old my teenage cousin Billy Bowles came to live with us (Meemoe). He constantly teased me barking, “Hey ugly, you look like Alfred E. Neuman buck teeth and all!” He’d mock my overbite, cross his eyes, and while twisting his face laughed hysterically waving a MAD magazine in my face. Back then, I was a confident and exuberant child always clapping back at Billy’s mean-spirited digs. One day, I decided to raid his change box as payment for his nasty behavior. I claimed a hefty fee for Billy’s insults, buying chips, penny candy and soda pop for me and my gang. The thing is, I kept raiding that change box until Meemoe switched me for stealing. She vigorously tapped my legs with a licking switch, but I took it like a champ because I’d got Billy back for being an asshole.” 

Hair So New Ad, PinterestThe pressure, expectations and teasing at school upset me to the point of distress, compounded by my belief that Mother didn’t like me. One day after school, I broke down sobbing to Mother about the inability to handle my own hair, my anguish over constant teasing at school and her seeming rejection of me. Later, she gave me a big bag of various hair care products and styling tools, including a large bottle of Hair so New. These things helped to temporarily tame my frizz, but hair products could never replace a mother’s loving care. The responsibility was overwhelming and it became “a thing” for me to subdue my wild hair everyday.

Ultra Sheen“Each morning I wet my hair under the faucet, applied Hair so New and yanked out the kinks. Some days I made bangs then struggled to bind a neat ponytail at the back of my head. After ringing out and combing the ponytail, I applied Ultra Sheen and proceeded to braid. My vigorous attempts at making straight parts and perfect braids often failed, as my skinny arms and small hands had little strength and no precision. This routine became a self defeating process, as I couldn’t produce the cute styles Meemoe created. In a rush, I’d brush my wet hair back spray it with Afro Sheen, make a side part and brush it down. Then blot with a towel, slather on Ultra Sheen and comb. Those shiny wet spiral curls always ended up a kinky fluff of gravity defying hair. Every single day my hairstyle would transform from cutesy curls into a fluff monster enveloping my head in some wild and crazy configuration.” 

Danskins KidsIn homeroom, I made friends with a Jewish girl who wore a pixie cut with a duck tail at the nape of her neck. She was always well dressed in color-coordinated Danskin outfits and that oh-so-cute no fuss hairdo. I decided this was the look for me and the solution to all my woes. I tried to convince Mother to make me a pixie girl too, but she flatly refused to chop my long locks. From there we discussed, debated and argued about it for months. I had a multitude of whining and crying fits and later ignored my hair on weekends unless directed to comb it or taken to the salon.

Just before the start of 4th grade, my hair resembled a colossal Brillo pad, the result of my defiance. One night, I argued with Mother over something and she put me to bed early. As I got into bed I screamed at her, “I HATE YOU! I WISH I HAD THE MOM IN THE KOOL AID COMMERCIAL!!!” Hallie Berry Pixie CutShe had no reaction to my outburst and I cried myself to sleep. On a rare visit to Meemoe’s house, she angrily expressed disappointment over the neglected state of my hair, lamenting over the 5 years spent cultivating my beautiful locks. Finally, my mother relented and I was liberated the day Mr. Tony gave me the cutest pixie cut ever. I was so proud to show up at school with a neat hair cut, cool clothing and fashionable non bi-focal glasses. It was a big relief to get back to the fun and excitement of being a kid, without all the fuss, scrutiny and teasing. These new developments brought me a couple steps closer to cutie-pie status, allowing me to get back to my natural exuberance and love for life. The haircut made it mandatory for my hair to be regularly trimmed, so I eventually had a standing appointment at the hair salon. At the age of 11, the orthodontist attached a heavy wire to my upper teeth to begin the straightening process. Later, I got full braces and had to wear head gear and rubber bands to fix the overbite. As my hair grew the styles changed and by 6th grade graduation I had a three layered shag, that eventually grew into a raggedy Afro.

Black Power Fist“I requested a neat natural and was very surprised at not having to beg, whine and cry over another refusal. Mother kindly took me to Dickies’ Natural Den on Fenkel Avenue, in Detroit. She asked the barber to cut a small natural for me. While looking at my hair he said, “I can’t cut no natural in this hair!” She curtly replied, “Would you just cut the natural please!” As he skillfully shaped a natural from my course wild hair, he asked Mother, “This your daughter?” She curtly quipped, “YES!” He then asked, “Where she get this hair from?” Mother snapped, “Please hurry up!!!” Coffy PosterHis question wasn’t unfounded, as I was high yellow with three different textures of hair and Mother was a dark skinned black woman. When my super cool curly natural emerged from inside that wild mop of hair, I walked out of there with the most trans-formative hairstyle I’d ever have.”

This was the pinnacle of my, “Black is Beautiful, Say It loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” phase. I was lil’ Soul Sista #1, running around in African print dashiki’s, tiki head French Permand black power bead necklaces. I tried my best to be like the blaxploitation movie heroine “Coffy” (Pam Grier). Although I wasn’t allowed to see the film, I got the play-by-play from friends who did, TV advertisements and secretly listening in on adult conversations. I ran around the neighborhood shouting, “Black is Beautiful!!, Right On-Right On!!!,” brandishing my black power fist at every opportunity; sometimes fiercely fighting boys who messed with me or my friends.

Eventually, my curly natural grew into an extra-large Angela Davis Afro that flopped. I strategically placed a large cheese cutter Afro pick on one side of my head. After several months of tolerating my floppy fro, Mother marched me over to her hairstylist demanding a press and curl. Mr. Dwayne asserted, “I’m not pressin’ that hair!” He offered a quick and easy French Perm instead and Mother was delighted. Little did I know, this single act would begin my addiction to that creamy crack well into adulthood. Gillette Super Max Hair Dryer SetMy first permed hairstyle was the Dorothy Hamill mushroom cut, that I later flipped into the Farrah Fawcett feathered look. The hair relaxer allowed me to become a pre-teen hair styling expert, along with the necessary hair care products and styling tools.

“My original styling equipment included a Gillette Supermax blow dryer with brush and comb attachments, a Lady Sunbeam portable bonnet hair dryer, pink plastic clip curlers and a Clairol Crazy Curl steam heat curling iron. Later, my older sister gifted me a Clairol Kindness 20 hot roller set that Clairol Kindness 20 Hot Roller Setcame in handy during high school along with makeup, hot-pants, and platform shoes. Those super convenient hot rollers kept me cute well into my twenties.” 

From 6th grade until high school my hairstylist was Dwayne Love, a partner in the Circus Salon and owner of The Kut Salon. He gave me variations of the layered shag cut, the Dorothy Hamill mushroom, and other Vidal Sassoon type geometric haircuts.

Fashion Fair Makeup Sample Kit 2

My first makeup kit.

Later, Mary Steinberg-Battle owner of New Dimensions Salon gave me voluminous curler sets, 1940’s deep finger waves and the Cleopatra cut with bangs framing my face, a style my mother requested. At the age of 18, I often covered my head with colorful African-style wraps and wore white silk and gauze clothing. One day Mother said, “Why do you have that scarf on your head, you look like a slave!” She  directed me to immediately have my hair done, so I got a mullet. The summer of my sophomore year in college, I had braiding expert Chi-Chi formerly of Wig Village in Detroit, hook up my braid extensions. Her new East 8 mile shop was always packed and it often took 2 days to complete the braid style. My first look was a sexy side-swept corn-row basket weave with long extensions on one side, finished with lots of shiny beads and cowrie shells. When I arrived home Mother exclaimed, “That God-Damn Bo Derick!!!” Her anger was apparent, but thatBeau Derrick didn’t stop me from sporting several other basket weave and zillion braid styles. The most dramatic was an extra-long full zillion with multi-color vintage jewelry beads and charms. At 20, I rocked a modified Mohawk coiffure (cut, curl set, back comb and style). Later, my hair had grown past my shoulders and I went semi-natural with a mass of curly locks and deep waves, I still used relaxer on the crown of my head. Later, adding extra length with French refined deep wavy human hair. My first dye job was a graduated tri-color look with blonde highlights. Later, my hair grew very long and I wore copper weave patterned highlights over chestnut brown color with a center part, my hair was beginning to go gray. I even tried being a redhead, a look I wasn’t comfortable with. These days, I’m relaxer free and wear my hair jet black, extra long and bone straight or in a wavy ponytail. Lately, I’ve been threatening to get a blue Mohawk, but for now, a bit of fringe around my face will have to do.

Freaky Hair Photo Source | Trendhunter

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About C. Rae White

I'm a proud 6th generation Detroiter, a creative who loves working with my hands and a fashion fanatic with a thing for shoes, bags and jewelry. I'm a family researcher who loves discovering the details of my ancestors lives. Thanks for stopping by!
This entry was posted in Beauty, C. Rae Says, Fashion, Personal and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Big Freaky Hair | My Hair Odyssey

  1. Chocolate Matters says:

    Are we talkin’ mohawk like Mr. T, “I pity the fool!” lol. The chick in the last photo reminds of the shrunken head thing from the movie Beetlejuice.

  2. C. Rae says:

    More like Rihanna’s mohawk after it grew out. More of a modern shaggy Mohawk with longer sides. Can you imagine me with a Mr. T Mohawk…tee hee!

  3. Xanthea says:

    Well C. Rae, I’ve not been on in awhile, and as usual, you are as amazing and entertaining as ever! I absolutely LOVE this. (and the paper cuff bracelets as well!) xoxo X 🙂

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