I am a woman whose spirit is less secure than Humpty Dumpty, and consequently, I’ve taken great pains to avoid spending extensive amounts of time on Facebook. There are not enough crispy-chicken wraps in the world to help me bounce back from the deluge of unintentionally inaccurate black history facts, passively racist status updates from college acquaintances and awkward selfies from my uncle’s second ex-wife. I can even feel my blood sugar dropping as I write this.
Beyond all reason, however, the other day I moseyed my way onto Mark Zuckerberg’s social media cesspool. Fortunately for me, I was rewarded for my adventures in the form of a fantastic original short film with Lupita Nyong’o from Vogue.
Called “Braids,” the Austin Peters-directed spot was peak black woman excellence. You’d be hard-pressed to find a black woman who doesn’t identify with having a long-term relationship with her hair, and Lupita and her friends manage to capture a multitude of ways that hair can be a defining moment of a black woman’s life.
1. The struggle of getting your hair done in school: I went to a college in southwest Virginia, an hour and a half south of Charlottesville, which would arguably be the closest major city to us. Getting my hair done during the semester was stressful. My one homegirl would just get it braided during breaks and have it redone whenever she went home. I won’t pretend to have been so enlightened as to know how to style my natural hair at the time other than with an occasional wash and go, so I had extensive stretches of severe heat damage from just constant flat-ironing. My ends were more brittle than Young Jeezy’s front teeth.
2. Not charging friends for services: For those living in remote college towns, there was almost always that one friend who had acquired just enough skill to help hold you over until your next hometown break, whether it was touching up your twists or keeping your lineup fresh. That one person who can do/cut hair is a valuable resource on any college campus, and if that person is also your good friend, you can probably get it done for the low or free. Don’t be this person. Drop a couple bucks. Your friend should at least be able to afford the occasional Wawa trip for making sure you’re not out here looking insanely raggedy.
3. Braiding shops in New York City that can be unbelievably frustrating: I could honestly write a thousand words on this alone. I can’t tell you how many times in the early aughts in Harlem I had made an appointment to put box braids in my hair and had to deal with a stylist who was either always excessively late, intentionally overbooked or attempting to do wildly unhygienic nonsense, like trying to continue touching up your hair while eating lunch. What should have been a four- to six-hour affair ended up taking upward of 14 because the stylist stopped to talk to everyone and their momma while you were sitting in that chair.
The arguably worst part is that the best folks are out in the boonies and require planes, trains and automobiles to get to—shout-out to Tanti Celine in Park Hill, for whom I had to take the train to the ferry to the bus to get the waist-length straight backs that I had my sophomore year of high school. Also, shout-out to my friends for letting me burn every piece of evidence that displayed me in waist-length straight backs.
4. That one white girl who insists on doing her hair, too: As surely as the sun sets or Grey’s Anatomy continues to get more seasons, there is always that one girl who has never seen women’s hair get braided/twisted/locked and inexplicably needs to get in on the experience. What tends to follow is a frustrating hour of using every product in the world to try to get Mary-Kate’s hair to hold a damn braid, although Lupita seems to have figured out how to work around that.
Lupita revealing herself as the black hairstyling plug on her campus is just one of a multitude of reasons as to why she seems to be damn near perfect. Not only is she a dynamic actress who seems to be flat out incapable of looking bad in any color, but she is also dedicated to making sure her friends’ and family’s hair is laid whenever they walk out the door. That kind of black woman solidarity is enough to put Lupita in the proverbial Homegirl Hall of Fame.
Shamira Ibrahim is a 20-something New Yorker who likes all things Dipset. You can join her as she waxes poetic about chicken, Cam’ron and gentrification (gotta have some balance) under the influence of varying amounts of brown liquor at Very Smart Brothas.