After five months of growing out my natural hair, and a lifetime of straightening my curls, I finally did the big chop! Watching videos of other naturalistas who have done the same thing, I really thought I’d be doing this a year or two from now. That was wishful thinking.
Trying to style two different textures posed a real challenge; the line of demarcation, where the natural hair meets the relaxed hair, was extremely fragile. Every week or so I would do a deep condition only to have to spend hours detangling, snipping, and styling afterwards. It seemed that just the slightest movement of my strands would instantly create tangles and I would end up with balls of hair in the trash from ripping the knots out of frustration. It was a miracle I still appeared to have a full head of hair, after a few months of that.
A lot of women feel that their hair is a large part of their identity. The salon industry is a 20 billion dollar one and with the rise in popularity of weaves in mainstream culture, I can only imagine that dollar amount will continue to increase.
I was never an advocate for weaves and didn’t really support people feeling the need to wear hair that didn’t belong to them for the sake of vanity. It always seemed to me that putting on someone else’s hair was a way of rejecting one’s own natural beauty (which is ironic, considering I religiously changed my hair texture). I did, however, wear braided hair extensions in elementary school for a year or so but that was mostly my mom wanting to make things easier on herself. It was a smart move on her part; she had three girls and extensions only had to be dealt with once every several weeks.
The braids were heavy, especially when wet, and left tiny itchy bumps on my head, for the first several days after they were put in, because they were pulling so tightly on my scalp. But I will say that I did love having long hair because it made me feel pretty. I always wanted hair down to my butt but subscribed to the unspoken misconception that black people just can’t grow long hair. If I had simply studied pictures of myself when I was really young I would have seen that this wasn’t the case.
One day in preschool as I sat alone, being the shy kid that I was, my teacher approached me and asked if there was something wrong. I glanced around the room and noticed the other kids playing. It seemed no one was paying attention to us so I felt that this was a safe time to confess to her something that a lot of American black girls feel, at some point in their lives. I told her I wished I was white.
Taken aback, my teacher asked why I felt this way. My reply? Well… barbie was white and she had good hair.
I was five years old.
I vaguely remember my mom talking to me about the incident and though I don’t remember what she said (and wonder if she even remembers this having happened) it must have eased my worries because I didn’t consciously think that way again. But the thing about the subconscious mind is that it can have a much greater impact than our more obvious thoughts.
My hair was chemically straightened at a very early age so there was very little chance for me to become accustomed to my natural hair. It was relaxed for convenience. Those first few weeks after a relaxer my hair was silky, straight, and easy to manage. I could let it air dry and it would be slightly wavy or blow dry and flat iron or curl it for a more “put-together” look. While it still would take some time to style, there were no knots and, perhaps more importantly, straightening my hair helped with my assimilation.
The area where I grew up was mostly populated by Caucasians and I learned at an early age that fitting in was important for survival. I have no idea what my experience would have been had my hair been kept natural. What I can say, however, is that I don’t have memories of seeing many black girls with natural hair, during my entire childhood and teenage years.
My conscious reasons for not chopping off my hair, as an adult, were that I didn’t want to drastically change my look because I’d have to get new modeling photos, I quite liked long hair and had been growing it out for years to try and achieve my desired length (after I realized black people can, in fact, grow long hair), and I didn’t think I’d look good with short hair. As memory served, I’d always had hair that was at least past my ears. In fact, this is the shortest I’ve had my hair since I was a baby.
The thing about having relaxed hair is that even if you begin to grow out your roots, you won’t be able to fully see your curl pattern until you cut off the straightened hair. Of course, once you cut it off there is no going back. When I dug deeper I realized something quite shocking; part of the reason it took so long for me to finally cut off my hair was that I was afraid to find out how my hair would actually look in its natural state.
I’m no psychologist but looking back at my experiences in life and having only known how to do things a certain way in an attempt to fit in, it makes sense that my inner child felt uneasy about being too… well… black.
If you’d asked me at many stages of my development as a human being I would not have admitted to feeling this way. This was mostly because I didn’t realize the thoughts I had as a five year old had manifested themselves into something a bit more subtle and hard to recognize. Sure, it’s understandable not to want short hair. I don’t feel I have the right bone structure for that look. I’m also already quite androgynous looking, as it is, and have never really felt comfortable being mistaken for a boy. I realize, now, what a silly thing that is to let bother me. Besides, the short length would only be temporary. My hair would eventually grow and I would be able to be as outwardly feminine as my heart desired. So who cares, right?
Who really cares.?
As a child, physical insecurities stem from not being or feeling accepted but often translate into superficial desires towards influenced aesthetics. It comes from not being validated enough from the people and world around you and can make you want to change the way you look. It’s no wonder that so many young black American children don’t think they’re beautiful. Where are they being represented? How often do they see people who look like them being shone in a positive light? What do the most popular dolls on the market look like? And what type of hair do the few black dolls out there actually have?
Certainly there are some options out there of black dolls with natural hair but they aren’t common in mainstream culture and certainly were less prevalent when I was little. In fact, all of my black barbies had straight hair.
As you get older, even just a little bit, you start to realize that with assimilation comes certain privileges. I certainly experienced plenty of racism growing up, and still do to this day, but what would I have dealt with if I hadn’t acted, dressed, spoken, and styled my hair in a way that was easily recognized by the “majority”? It might sound silly that something as arbitrary as hair is ever a determining factor for the way a person is treated. My subconscious mind caught on early that you can’t always beat them but you can certainly join them.
The first step to recovery from the creamy crack is knowing you have a problem. After I acknowledged my deep rooted issue of ethnic insecurities (no pun intended) it was only a matter of time before I finally said goodbye to the archaic mentality of straight silky hair being the only acceptable option. Of course, I certainly don’t think that all black women who relax their hair are self-loathing. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the chemicals and me wanting to be my healthier, more natural self, I might have kept using the stuff. But the problem arose when I realized that it wasn’t simply about making it easier to do my hair. Sure, that really was a big part of it but there are so many women who wear their hair naturally, all I have to do is learn how to manage mine. And if I really want to, I can begin relaxing my hair again at any point in time. At this stage in my spiritual awakening, however, it is hard to justify exposing myself to unnecessary chemicals.
I’m no longer opposed to weaves and wigs. I now see them for what they are; a form of expression. Changing your hair is like changing your clothes, putting on make up, wearing nail polish, and even changing your eye color with contacts. I think it’s fun to be able to completely change your look in an instant without having to damage your own beautiful hair.
Now that my hair is short and curly I feel a huge weight has literally and figuratively been lifted off of my shoulders. Not only is having one texture easier to deal with but now I have so many more options. When I had a relaxer I was able to manipulate my hair to look different ways but I was missing the option to have curls the way I have them now. If I want to, I can still straighten my hair with heating tools and the right products but my hair, overall, will be stronger and healthier.
On more than one occasion I have fallen down the rabbit hole of browsing through natural hair photos on the internet. Seeing all of the different gorgeous styles out there really makes me excited to eventually get to try them myself. I see some 4a, 3c, and 3b curl patterns on my head and it’s so cool! My hair journey has made me realize something very important, there is no such thing as good hair. Babies are born perfect and every part of them is worthy of love. Every human being comes into this world deserving of acceptance.
We all have good hair… all of us. It’s just a matter of figuring out your style.