"What is my hair even like?" A question that would seem strange to anyone outside of the African-American culture, but one that we know all too well.
Most often before we have any idea of the implications of what it means to be a black woman in America, we are being tamed. Starting with our hair.
I've had some type of processed hair since I was about 5 years old. And not because my mom just thought my hair wasn't good enough but she had issues with her hands that wouldn't allow her the strength to maintain thick and rebellious tresses. And so since I can remember, my hair was in some altered texture plagued by new growth and met with touch ups every so often.
I wasn't even sure what the texture of my hair was really like and so I asked. In my final year at Temple University, a few people seemed to be embracing their natural hair and I looked on from the outskirts. Being in that environment made me feel like that was how our hair was supposed to be. I guess I longed for the comfort to embrace my natural hair as well.
See, every natural has a story. Our hair is our glory right and so drastic change to it is often synonymous with life altering experiences. I was approaching my 21st birthday and I just wanted to do something different. I decided to get highlights. So I marched down to the Chop Shop on campus to get done up for this monumental birthday.
Diane had magic hands. She had natural hair and the patience required for our hair which defies gravity and rages against the mundane. She did me up and it was fabulous. My hair was still relaxed then but Diane got your hair so straight with the flat iron that I didn't even think about how long it had been since my last relaxer.
So new hair, new me! I had a party and looked fabulous as you could guess, sweated that press right out. Ha! And so I had these gorgeous highlights but that damn nuisance of new growth impeding on my look.
I waited what I thought was a sensible time and decided that I should just touch up my hair so that I could feel as whimsical about my dye job as I did when I left the salon. So boom, put the relaxer in and never expected what happened next.
Everywhere that my hair was highlighted, the hair snapped to about an inch or less long. The good news? It was highlights so I still had hair my natural color which was unscathed. The bad news? I would part my hair down the middle and all you could see where these whimsical short hairs dancing down the middle of my scalp. The survival news? I knew how to do a mean cover up or ponytail to give that hair time to recover.
That's when I was over it. That's when I thought to myself, what the hell is this? Why are we doing this to our hair? How can I get my hair back? I don't want to do this anymore. And so I began transitioning. Didn't have the heart to cut all my hair off from the bat. I'd had long hair practically all my life and the breakage was traumatic enough. And so that began the process. And the obsessing. And the questions for my mom about my texture because if it was too kinky then I might just have to relax it again but at least I would try and see.
This started the awkward phase of braiding the front of my hair and rocking ponytails because I was working with two completely different textures of hair. And then one afternoon when I got to about half and half, I washed my hair and literally had a breakdown trying to comb through my half permed, half Afro hair. My boyfriend at the time even came out to help me try to tame the beast. And he said "I think it may be time."
I made the appointment and my hair laid strewn all around. This was the shortest my hair had ever been in my life. And I felt free. I had the barrage of questions that plague black women. "Why would you cut all that hair?" Blah blah blah. Our obsession with hair helps you to understand how the hair industry is a billion dollar business. But I digress. I was free of the long straight hair that in many ways didn't even belong to me. It was someone else's texture. Someone else's comfort.
Rocking it straight and short was one thing, but the first time I washed my hair was a whole other traumatic experience. I couldn’t believe how much my hair shrunk! LOL. It was tough trying product after product to figure out what actually worked. And of course you start with the most expensive products only to realize more natural things work best. HA! I mean the first time I had to make an appearance at work, I was terrified. You don’t even realize the range of emotions that you go through or how attached you were to your hair. I mean I even thought, who will like me now? Will the same men I like, like me? Will I have to date the dudes that love incense? Ha! (No offense, but you know what I’m saying.)
It was important for me to come to my “I am not my hair moment.” Sure I could have just done weaves and braids, but I think that an important part of my development was based on knowing there was more to me than my appearance. I had always kind of known that but having a shrunken afro REALLY drove the point home. Spoiler Alert: Most often the things we stress about, men don’t give two craps about. HAHA! I was still getting the looks. And sure we want to pretend like that doesn’t matter but we all want to be desired. I don’t care what you say.
You have to embrace what you have. It’s so important. But it was also mind-blowing to find a love that also embraced what I had. I remember my husband literally sniffing my hair when we first met. LOL. He loved the Mimosa Hair Honey, shouts to Carol’s Daughter. It meant a lot to me that he found me beautiful, intriguing, and wanted to be all in my kinky, nappy hair. Lol.
So many women come up to you and say “I wish I had the confidence” or “you can rock that but I can’t.” And I’m like “Ma’am, what confidence? Do you know what journey I had to take to get here?” Most of us don’t just start out thinking we’ll look great with our naps or curls or kinks. I’ve seen women with gorgeous curls talk about how they were never confident enough to rock their natural hair until now. So we’re all out here struggling to love and accept ourselves the way that God made us. If you want to rock your hair natural, do it. Eventually, you’ll find your way to acceptance just like the rest of us.
CLICK TO TWEET /// We're all out here struggling to love and accept ourselves the way that God made us
Sure I could say that it only matters that I like me. But that ain’t true. I am happy that not only do I like the way that I look with my natural hair but also that those closest to me have embraced it as well. I’m also happy that my man encourages me to wear my hair naturally, almost to the point of annoyance when I want to straighten it. And to the men who love women with natural hair. Thank you for helping us feel comfortable being ourselves because well, as strong as we like to think we are, your support matters in a world constantly try to tell us we’re something other than beautiful and magical.
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