Monday, January 4, 2010

Reading "No Impact Man"... and straightening my daughter's hair

Bear with me, they're connected!

When my sister, who lives in New York City, told me a couple months ago that she had attended the book signing of Colin Beavan's No Impact Man, it just didn't occur to me that she might purchase a signed copy for me! I was surprised and thrilled to receive the book as a Christmas present from her.

One of the early lessons of Beavan's "No Impact" experiment that he highlights in the first few chapters is that living sustainably should not be about asceticism. Instead, Beavan asked whether or not our consumerist, throw-away lifestyle is making us happy, and if not, could he and his family find a way, via low impact living, to become happier and more fulfilled?

Armed with these thoughts, I spent the day after Christmas... at the mall. I have mentioned before that my husband is 6'7", and thus can't generally find clothing his size second-hand, so we went as a family to see if he could take advantage of the post-Christmas sales to make some purchases he needed.

While hubby shopped, my daughter and I strolled the mall. I can't even remember the last time we went to a mall--it's been well over a year. My daugther, like many children her age, is into the "gimme" stage, but the item that caught her fancy the most surprised me. We stopped at several of the kiosks in the middle of the mall to check out their products, and at one, a woman selling high-end flat irons straightened out a lock of hair on each of our heads.

My daughter was delighted and wanted me to buy the flat iron. At the post-Christmas 50% off price of $120, it was still well our of my price range. But daughter knew I have a similar item at home, and asked if I would do her hair with it when we got home. I promised I would.

I haven't used my flat iron in the past year since I stopped relaxing my hair, and I've never used it on my daughter's hair. Of course, mine is a rather low-end version, so it took several go-overs to straighten her hair. She loved the final result, however, asking me if her hair would stay like this.

"No," I said. "It will last a couple of days, or until it gets wet, whichever comes first."

"But Hannah's hair stays like this all the time!" she objected. (Hannah is her best buddy from day care).

"Well, Hannah has a very different type of hair than you do," I explained. "But let me tell you a little secret: people LOVE your hair. People pay lots of money to have hair like yours."

Maybe it's not such a secret: she gets complimented on her hair almost every time we got out. Like her mother, she has super thick, super-curly hair in an unusual color: a honey brown with dark brown, auburn and platinum highlights. Add that to her beautiful face and she's very striking. My hair was something I hated as a child, because it was hard to comb (although thanks to my homemade detangler, it's getting easier to comb both our heads), and because it made me different. It took years of hearing hair dressers say to me, "Boy, I wish I could bottle your hair color/texture and sell it," for me to believe my hair was beautiful.

I hope that my daughter will grow up appreciating her hair, and yet I want her to have the flexibility of styling her hair different ways, even straightening it if she chooses, in ways that are non-chemical and non-toxic. In a variation of No Impact Man's musings, I don't want her to be an ascetic about her hair. I want her to feel like she can have fun with her hair, try new things, etc., in ways that are healthy for her and the planet--AND while being proud of herself the way she is, as a young black girl (and someday, woman).

I remember reading a NIM blog post in which Beavan's daughter, who is the same age (4 1/2 years old) as my daughter, asked if she could eat meat like her friends. Beavan and his wife are vegetarians. He said, "Yes"--because he wants her to choose for herself. She tried meat and didn't like it.

So like Beavan, part of my journey has to be about setting an example for my daughter, but letting her choose for herself.

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