For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had straight hair.
My very first relaxer was at age four – my mother just knew I was going to be a model someday, and “models have straight hair,” so off to the salon I went. Just For Me wasn’t strong enough. It just wasn’t getting the job done.
So much of my life was spent getting nice and tanned from sitting in front of that stove, as my mother lovingly dragged a scalding hot comb across my hair, doing everything she could to get it straight. I’d wake up, get my hair straightened, go to school, play, come home, play some more, eat dinner, do my homework, go to bed, sweat out my press – because, duh – and begin the cycle all over again.
Back in 2000, I’d gotten microbraids from a tech that charged far too much, only to use hair glue – yes, hair glue – to seal the braids, which resulted in me losing about seven inches of my own hair when it came time to take them out. Ever since then, I swore I’d learn to manage my own damn hair. I put in my own relaxer, I straightened my own hair, and I – eventually got good enough at it that I apprenticed at a now-defunct salon.
When I first started losing weight, years later, I was still relaxing my hair. Every month, I’d lather the stuff on the newly-grown kinky parts of my hair, leave it on for a couple of hours – that’s right, a couple of hours – and rinse it out, give it a blow dry, and then spend several hours straightening it all.
And then, one day in November, about 100 pounds in, I ran out of my old faithful relaxer.
Living in my part of Miami, I could never find the hair care brand I was most accustomed to, so I had to place special orders, and my relaxer only came in big giant tubs. And, before I knew it, my tub ran empty… and I decided not to replace it. Besides – I’d been spending so much of my money on healthier food, that I didn’t really want to come up off of what it was going to cost me to place that big bulk order, anyway.
My hair spent a lot of time tucked away. For the most part, I left it alone. I kept it braided back in big braids that wrapped around the sides of my head.
The two textures managed fine for me… I mean, sometimes.
But the majority of the time, I got a lot of mileage out of twistouts and braidouts, which served as a way to mask the varying textures and blend them together with minimal heat and stress on the hair.
One of the things I was notorious for saying early on, was that I supported women who went natural, but I could never do it because I didn’t know how to maintain it. I would be sticking to my own hair (ha) because it was easier for me.
Learning to work with kinkier hair was difficult, but it was fun. I didn’t read any books or consult with anyone – I couldn’t afford to – in the beginning. I knew three key principles – 1) never work with “tangled” hair when it’s dry; 2) hair likes moisture and water; and 3) leave it alone as much as possible – and, with that, I was on my way to finding a pattern that worked for me.
I spent that next year and a half washing my hair with the same shampoo and conditioner I’d been using, tucking my hair away into big braids, unraveling them when I needed to be particularly stylish, and leaving it alone if I didn’t.
It wasn’t until a year and a half later, the summer of 2011, that I finally decided it might be time to cut off the relaxed ends of my hair… and so it was.
The day I decided to do it, I made it a ceremonious affair. I went to the grocery store, and purchased a brand new pair of cutting shears. I brought them back to my home, took my hair, parted it into seven sections – four in the back, and three in the front – and started snipping the relaxed ends off. My weight loss journey had me feeling particularly gutsy, and I just wanted to try something new. And, just like that, I kissed several inches of hair goodbye.
From then on, the challenge became finding ways to fall in love with this new hair. It was easy to fall in love with straight hair – for all I’d known at the time, I was born to have straight hair (ain’t that somethin’?) – it was all around me. It was everywhere I was. I could find endless photos of black women with straight hair at that time. Anything else was foreign, awkward, unfortunate. But, here I was — embracing something other than straight hair.
This was an easy adventure. During the time I decided to go natural – to be fair, I didn’t even know that was what it was called at the time – I was celibate and not dating, so I didn’t have a partner who could influence me in one way or the other. This was something I was doing and exploring for me, something that was not only cheaper – whooo, was it cheaper – and less time-consuming, but more exciting, too. I literally felt free to explore different ways to frame my face, how to accentuate my outfits with better hair and makeup, and – because this felt so right for me, I felt like I’d been given incentive to make more daring moves with my appearance, since this one had worked out so well for me.
Yep. Like fro-hawks. I felt pretty bad ass in this photo.
Before long, I had, well, enough hair. My natural hair had simply become a part of me. I met a man who “didn’t really care about hair at all,” who secretly loved seeing me with my hair “all out, everywhere.” When you wear your hair all over the place in a big puff, it’s easy to collect stares and looks of confusion, sometimes disgust. (Some day, I’ll tell the story of how, after driving at 100mph to go see my mother in the hospital, lopsided afro and all, I was met with the most rude, disgraceful, and disrespectful family ever who openly and outwardly pointed and laughed at my hair as I ran through the halls looking for my mother.) It chips away at your ego, and you have to spend a little time nursing your metaphorical wounds to make yourself feel better about it. Having a partner who loved it, loved touching it, loved to wash it…it makes it a bit easier to rebuild that ego.
After a while, you start to learn some hard, frustrating truths about the public: that many of them are just as brainwashed as I was into believing that there’s only one way to be beautiful, many of them are fighting to adhere to standards that don’t embrace them just as much as I was, and those of us who decide to exit that rat race should expect to receive pushback – if everything women are taught has to do with being “beautiful” in order to curry favor in society, why would we do something that would make us less beautiful to society?
At some point in time, you just have to explore what could possibly change the way you look at you for the rest of your life, and decide to give society the middle finger in the process.
Me, personally? I’ve been doing exactly that ever since.