I had to write a narrative essay for school about a personal topic, so I told my hair story. It was very difficult to put on paper, but I drove on anyway. I read the draft to my dear friend, Bridgzette, and she was in tears by the end. She asked me to share it on Facebook. She said my story may inspire someone. I shared it on Facebook and got a pleasant response on my personal page as well as on the natural hair community group. Now I want to share it here. So here goes:
It was all supposed to be so simple- One wide tooth comb, one box of no lye relaxer, and 45 minutes to Herbal Essence commercial worthy hair. I bought a box perm from Sally’s Beauty Supply and rushed home. I implored the help of my husband, Chris, and I got to work spreading my tools uniform and neat on the dining room table. The house was dead silent. I sat Indian style on the floor while Chris began to part my hair into sections and slater hair grease on my edges. (The experience transformed me back to happier times when Mom used to do my hair.) Easy Peasy. I carefully poured liquid A into cream B and began rigorously mixing while peering periodically at the instructions. I sat the timer and Chris begin the application process carefully dividing the hair and applying the cream directly to the new growth. With the exception of the occasional tangle all was going swell. I just grinded my teeth whenever my dreaded tender headed spots would ping. The burning began on the right crown of my head and initially it was mild (like hydrogen peroxide on a small cut). I grabbed the oil sheen and extinguished the tingling. At last it was only temporary relief. Chris wasn’t even halfway done applying; so I clenched my fist, digging my fingernails into my palm, to distract myself, while watching the arrow rotate on the mini timer. Right when the burn was intensifying (like the feel of rubbing alcohol on a scrap) and spreading, I told my husband to hurry and work it into the uncovered portions. He joked about beauty being painful and while I’ve experienced the burn many times in the past, I was in no joking mood at the moment. The exact second the timer went off, I leap from the floor and raced to the bathroom. I did not wait for my husband but turned on the water and plunged my head into the sink praying for dear God to get it out. My husband was assisting to rub the cream out but it seemed as if he was moving in slow motion and I could not think past my pain. I pushed him to the side and ran to the tub, pausing only to remove my shoes, before I turned on the shower and got in. Chris was not far behind handing me the neutralizing shampoo. Only then did the burning subside. I continued to lather and rinse until the water turned from pink to white to clear. When the application of conditioner stung, I knew I was in trouble. I rinsed, cursed, rinsed, and cursed some more. As I began to gently finger untangle, my hands came away with clumps of my hair. I grabbed a towel, dried, and dragged my feet on the cold tile floor as I moped over to the medicine cabinet. As I stood looking at the reflection of the nest on top of my head, I wanted to cry. My hair was under processed and over processed at the same time. It was beyond a tangled mess…it was a painful tangled mess. The creamy crack was supposed to save the day, but instead made me dread the day I thought applying my own relaxer was a good idea. This disaster made me wonder what my hair would look like if I never had another perm again.
There was a time when I would have never dared to contemplate such delusions. “Nappy headed girls never win.” That’s what Mom always said. Her hair was bone straight, ebony, and cascaded down her back. Everyday her hair was beautiful and pressed to perfection. I was a miniature version of Mom. So from the tender age of two and a half, she relaxed my hair and entered me in the Tennessee Tiny Miss beauty pageants. My straight hair made me more than just the “only black girl in the contest”. I was that “black girl with the pretty hair”. People would complement me on my hair and Mom would take the credit. I only competed in kiddie pageants for a few years, but that was enough to learn that kinky hair was not ideal. I mastered the discipline of sitting for hours stock still while my hair was tamed. Even as a toddler I knew to hold the tips of my ear down when Mom was hot combing the hairs on my nape. I also knew that when the relaxer started to burn I should raise my hand rather than fidget or cry. Every 4-5 weeks it was time for a touch up on my newly sprouted roots. In my household it was second nature to make sure my roots were just as straight as my tips. If I had one millimeter of new growth, I could guarantee mockery from my female cousins, “Look at all them buck shots. Girl, your hair nappier then a sheep’s butt. Hope those naps didn’t break your comb.” The worse insult was when my cousin, Carla, would come up to touch my hair then quickly pull back saying, “Ouch, those bebe’s cut me.” My confidence has always been fragile when it came to family. Strangers could complement me all day long, but one jab from my favorite relative could unravel me, shattering my happy oasis to a decrepit wasteland. The peer-pressure to have perfect hair was overwhelming at times, and I resented my Mom for making me do my own hair at twelve years old. I suppose she had to sever the training wheels eventually, but my broken heart wouldn’t allow me to see reason. So from my tween to my twenties, I bore the responsibility of ensuring my hair got relaxed. I would beg, plead, and borrow for money to fund this necessity. It was no longer a regimen, it was an addiction. Like an abusive relationship I just couldn’t free myself. I hated the ridiculous prices salons charged; and I refused to pay 3 figures to permanently straighten one inch. I hated the burning (there was always burning), because even if done properly, I have a very sensitive scalp. I hated the tugging on my scalp from combs. Combs hurt and I’ve always been tender headed. And to be honest, I wasn’t even very happy with the end results. Only Mom knew how to make it perfect. Most of my girl cousins were experts at doing their own hair, but not me. I could never get my hair as straight as theirs, but that never stopped me from trying. For two decades I tried and tried. I knew my hair deserved better, but the perm was all I knew.
After my home relaxer nightmare, I wore low manipulation styles like buns and cloth hair wraps to cover and heal. I mourned my hair and I was embarrassed. I found myself morphing introvert, scampering away from any hint of light, hiding in the darkest corners, and praying to go unnoticed. My hair never fully recovered and, as a result, it was brittle, frizzy, dry, limp, flat, and shedding. I wanted to give up the creamy crack, but I still had a few reservations. I didn’t know what to expect or where to start.
That August I worked as an intern at Baltimore Fashion Week. Big hair was everywhere. From the models to the other interns, everyone was embracing volume. I met a lot of other African American women in various stages of the natural hair process too. I made friends and exchanged contact information with a model named Tearsa. After fashion week ended, we all keep in contact via social media. Tearsa invited me to hair forums, directed me to hair blogs, told me about YouTube tutorials, inspired me, and gave me the courage to take the journey as well. There really was nothing more holding me back.
I didn’t tell my family or other friends about my decision. I keep it a secret because I didn’t think they would approve. Living 12 hours from home helped me keep a bit of privacy on the matter. I could really care less about being popular, but I still cared about their rejection. I just wanted healthier hair, but I wasn’t ready to share just yet. Sadly, there’s only two ways to go natural: Either Transition (grow your hair out little by little, trimming along the way for about two plus years) or BIG CHOP (cut it all off). I opted to transition because that was easier. (Less chance of ridicule, and I could change my mind any time.) Five months into the journey, after I mastered the Bantu knot out, I shared a picture of my hair on Facebook.
Shockingly, most of my likes and comments were from my cousins and aunts. I was beyond happy about their acceptance. (In fact I discovered that one of my cousins had went natural a few years prior. She was my main cheerleader and sole supporter. She was the only one in the family who truly understood.) On my tenth month of transitioning, I BIG CHOP off 13 inches. I would be lying if I said I was being brave about taking that final step. Nope, I had just moved from Maryland to California. No one knew me here. New changes in a new environment was my motivation. I interviewed five salons before I chose one. We set a date and I was an hour early for my appointment. I was nervous, but I was determined. The moment I sensed the cool air on my neck I felt instant relief. I knew I made the right choice when I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. I posted a selfie online even as I set in the barber chair, speed dialing my Mom to tell here before she found out from the gossip mill. As expected, she wasn’t thrilled, but she at least told me I looked fabulous. When I got home, my husband made me tear up again when he told me I’m beautiful with or without hair.
It’s been one month now. The more I post pictures of my hair, the more my cousins talk about the cuteness of my coils. While the online praise is validating, I love my hair too! I can’t seem to stay out the mirror. I’ve developed a habit of playing with my curls. I often find myself twirling the straw sized spirals between my fingers, gently pulling against the spring before releasing and repeating. Styling is no longer a chore or a difficult task. My arsenal consists of shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, and natural oils. Other styling products are not needed. Even when I shampoo and walk out the house still damp, it looks presentable. I definitely feel more confident now. I think I used to hide behind my hair. I never noticed my sharp high cheek bones the way I do now, and my head really isn’t as big as I used to think. I was scared before because I felt like my hair defined me, but now I know it doesn’t. I’m still me. The health of my hair has also drastically improved. It no longer sheds like a dog on a hot summer day. It’s stronger. It’s fuller. It’s hydrated and softer than any newborn baby’s hair. It’s grown significantly, like a Chia Pet, in the past four weeks; and I’m getting used to caring for my spirally curly texture more and more every day. If I ever feel the need to temporary straighten, I’ll use a hot comb. As God as my witness I’ll never perm again!