Growing up with my natural hair, I was always told I had n***** hair by classmates and neighbors. Being mixed, having rough natural hair was uncommon, mixed girls are supposed to have cute curls or wavy hair – or so the media told me. That was the type of hair that was desirable, beautiful. Fros were for the ‘70s and black power activists (which ironically, I love the 70s and I am an avid activist). They weren’t for people who wanted to look dainty and feminine. My sister’s natural hair was long and brown, barely wavy, fine like my mother’s. I took after my father – my coils tight and rough, edges that wouldn’t stay down with a healthy coat of cement like gel.
When I was in school, my natural hair was just one more thing for others to tease me about. I was already fat and poor – wearing my grandmothers torn scrub pants and off bra
nd shoes that talked more than I did – so desperately trying to fit in with not only my school mates but my own family – I opted for relaxers. Not showing my natural hair was one less thing to be
teased about. I cursed my coils and my mother slathered them in chemicals. This was it, I would finally be beautiful. I was only a child. The chemical burns? Well it was just a part of the process. “Let me know when it burns” she would say. In black culture, that was the universal sign of – “its time to rinse”.
My hair was straightened and thick….still not like the others but at least I could put it into a ponytail with flattened edges. No more unkempt naps decorating my now red and slightly burned hairline. I was somewhat normal.
And this was life. Every few months…..for the next 2 decades. Looking back – that’s when the migraines would start. A child with migraines? Yes. I never knew they were linked until I became older.
As I hit my 20’s I discovered wigs. They were a way for me to feel beautiful. Look like other women. Even if my size couldn’t match society’s ideals of beauty – at least my hair could. I loved wigs, at one point I had 10 on hand at all times. Each morning I would shove my dry brillo like hair under a black stocking cap and anchor my wig to my roots. “There we go, now you’re beautiful”. Even though I wore wigs, I would still relax my hair however, I was grown now. Now I could use salon-grade professional relaxers in a tub. I would coat my hair, rinse, dry, and then shove it back under the cap. When the chemical damage to my locks were too great, I would opt in for twists that took up to 8 hours to complete by a professional – where they twist your hair with a synthetic hair to make long beautiful natural looking twists – or I would opt in for sew ins – where your hair is braided down into rows either in circles around your scalp or in straight rows from your forehead to the nape of your neck and then synthetic hair is sewn into the braids for a desired look. These styles were gorgeous, however, they were costly and I was unable to style my own hair so they quickly fell off my radar.
Once I reached the end of my 20’s, the natural hair movement was at it’s pinnacle in my eyes. Women were starting to embrace what naturally grew out of their follicles instead of reverting to the “creamy crack” as we call it, to relax their tresses and torture them into submission. I wanted to join but – how would I look? At 28, I couldn’t even tell you what my natural hair looked like – I had to go to baby photos to investigate my natural hair and remember what it looked like before it was chemically treated. I decided to give it a try.
For the first year, I slowly began to cut down on my use of relaxers. Instead of one every month or every other month (yes, my hair would revert back that quickly!), I went to every 3 months and in between I wore pony tails. If I relaxed anything, I did just the forehead and nape. When I turned 29, I went relaxer free. I wasn’t quite ready to “big chop” yet (that is when you cut off all your relaxed hair) because my wedding was coming up and I was still in my “natural isn’t cute” phase. I pulled my hair back into tiny ponytails and wore weave ponytails over my natural hair with a near ½ inch coat of gel to tame my unruly roots. After several months of going relaxer free, I noticed not only did migraines stop (acupuncture brought them down to one a month, but now I was going months without them), but my period returned to normal. I would always go months without a period which was very common for someone with PCOS – regularity with my cycles was never something I experienced. I was elated. Later I would find out the cysts on my ovaries were gone, I will always wonder if they were connected to me coating my scalp in deadly chemicals – for years.
A month after my wedding, I got drunk, and had my friend cut my hair off. It was the only way I could do it and I needed some liquid bravery. He cut my hair down to approximately 2-3 inches. For the first time since I was achild, I saw my true roots. I cried. I had been abusing my body for years just to fit in. I hated my history. I never embraced who I was. Now I was face to face with it – surrounded by piles of hatred, self-loathing, and remnants of abuse scattered on my shoulders and our hardwood floor. This was me. This was who I was. Half curly like my white mother, half coarse and thick like my black father. Both who had been deceased for years. Here I was. A product of them. I had no choice but to love myself. There was no hiding now. I had to accept all of me.
I wore my natural hair out for the first time at work and got quite a few looks, but more positive remarks than negative. I would wear it again each day and slowly, I began to love it. I began to get used to me with my curls. I felt like a mother, looking after them, washing them tenderly, and rubbing them with olive oil to moisturize them. I wanted to make up for the years of mutilation. They needed love. I needed love. Each day I struggled to learn more about taking care of my natural hair. I cried, it grew. I tried to detangle, it grew. It grew slowly but little by little, I noticed its growth. Now, almost 3 years after my big chop, I embrace my natural hair. Sure I still may wear a wig now and then or a weave ponytail – but its solely out of convenience – I don’t feel like manipulating my hair so I condition it and put on a wig once every few months, I put it into braids as a protective style when I want my hair to chill for a while and just be conditioned, or I pull it back into a weave ponytail when I haven’t had a chance to detangle. I’m no longer wearing prosthetic hair out of my lack of confidence or my struggle to fit in. After a lifetime of harm, I am finally embracing who I am – who I naturally am.
I have no desire to fit in with the mainstream, but I am still giddy when I see a natural person on a mainstream commercial. How many other girls out there hate their hair because it doesn’t fit into the mainstream ideals of beauty? How many other girls are being teased for their “n*gg** hair”? How many other girls look in the mirror with disgust because of what naturally grows from their head? I wish we, as a society, would teach more love and acceptance of every part of our bodies – including our natural hair, rather than subconsciously teach girls to conform to our widespread ideals of beauty. Natural hair discrimination even occurs in the workforce! It has to stop.
To the girls that struggle with their natural hair – You are wonderfully made, you are beautiful. March to the beat of your own drum. Accept who you are, and unleash your true self on the world. They won’t be ready, but you can be.
Now, if I could just get my curls to stay in place.