WHEN AND WHY WE FELL IN LOVE WITH OUR ROOTS
To get a picture of my hair journey, imagine a young twenty something who only decided to relax her hair going into high school. For four and a half years, I had my hair relaxed because I essentially wanted to portray a look that I thought – at the time - was prettier on me and made me look like all of the other girls, in my all black southern high school. With that being said, I was pretty much natural my entire life but did not have much of an idea of how to do my hair, before, I transitioned back natural. I don’t think I fully realized that my hair wasn’t a hassle or hindrance, and that I could easily achieve all of the looks and styles that I secretly coveted, on everyday naturals that I saw. I do not know what I actually thought people like Tracee Ellis Ross, Tracie Thoms, Sanaa Lathan, and Janet Jackson in her velvet rope days had going on in regards to their hair – maybe I just thought they woke up like that without having to do a thing to it, and that if I even just used the right leave-in conditioner, I could probably do the same thing. I do not think that I processed that, they too, were wearing the hair that naturally grew out of their heads, but they were just loving taking care of, and experimenting with their curls, healthily, instead of fighting them, like I. They knew in some shape or form that they had options and variety, as well as the realm of products and ingredients that help to enhance the looks that they donned. In short, I didn’t realize that we are all natural and that I was just like them, until after I went back to being natural.
Growing up looking and being an awkward black girl is tough, especially when you don’t know how to do your hair, and your involvement in sports doesn’t make it any simpler. I did not have a teeny-weeny afro in my formative years, to slap a headband on; I had a little past shoulder length bob that hated hot combs, sock buns, sleek edges, hair bows, and to lie flat when it thought it was doing the straight thing. My mom did her best with keeping my hair in braids, but I personally hated it. Picture a gangly black girl, with bifocal glasses, corn rolls, and sportswear on. Yeah, no. Any who, amidst all of the sports sweat and pre-teen interference, my hair stayed relatively healthy, just not luscious, curly and free. At best, I realized and appreciated my thickness and length, but I resented my hair’s inability to do as it was told, so I yearned for a relaxer.
My sister and I did not understand why my mother would not let us get a relaxer. She fought with both of our full, and I mean full, heads of hair, sometimes on the same day. Bless her. And sometimes she even went all out with the added beads, lol. We both wanted a relaxer for the reasons that most girls do, and we figured “hey mommy, our hair is a lot for you too. Why don’t you just make it easier on all of us, and let us get a relaxer?” Now come to think of it, my mom also had a fade – let me tell you, it was flawless – at the time, probably because she couldn’t deal with our rebellious desires to try not to cooperate with our hair, as well as her having to deal with a toddler baby boy, so finally she let us get one.
Of course, like any other relaxer new-bie, my hair was luscious and flow-y from the thickness of being a previous natural for about a year, but I had to go on and over-do it, with my many requests to add another shade of brown to the previous brown I just added, as well as mineral oil being my unknown bestie, and of course, the natural hair devil… heat. So my hair began to gradually break off to a jaw-length bomb from a shoulder length bob, from freshman year of high school to mid senior year of school. I didn’t realize this at the time but the reason why my hair started to thicken up and retain length for the remainder of my relaxed days - rest of senior year to the end of my first semester of college – was because I literally cut down on my flat iron use by half.
Nevertheless, I took the brave stand around 2010 to transition back to natural. I say brave, because my hair was a healthy bottom-of-the-shoulder-blade length, and I pretty much had my younger, non-hair stylist sister cut my relaxed ends off after only 10 and a half months.
Before I continue, there were some good times that I remember as a child being natural. My mom would twist my hair using Organic Root Stimulator’s pomade-like gel, when I was in middle school. They were luscious. I would wear the twists as is, and then after a week or so I would talk it out and rock that too. My mom and I loved the look but just thought we were getting by. We didn’t know that we were doing an actual individual twist out style. We didn’t even know what to call. All I knew was that there was an inkling of a hope that I could rock my hair gloriously like Tracie Thoms. I think we thought it as a miracle, and not just my hair, lol. We didn’t even know what to call it, but just knowing that I loved it, my mom loved it. I felt different. I felt unique. I felt like me. I felt pretty. My mom and I had the same reaction from the cornrow braid outs she would do on my natural and relaxed hair. We didn’t know what to call that either, but I knew that those looks were for me. Not that I needed validation from anyone else, but I did notice and appreciate that other people either actually liked or felt that I felt like I was more attractive and confident when I would wear these styles.
I can’t even lie, I feel like I have had the most perfect natural hair journey since my relaxed days. I was busy with life, activities, and school so I couldn’t really focus on the fact that my hair was growing like weeds – a great thing, and my hair is as health as can be because I had been researching everything dealing with natural hair on YouTube, natural hair blogs, and the like before, during, and after I transitioned. I think I didn’t really focus on the fact that my hair has evolved into a healthy and glorious extension of me since I decided to go back natural. It has just always felt like me – not necessarily a new thing. It kind of came easy to me. I love it. Being natural is for me, it looks better on me, and it truly feels natural for me.
As you’re reading this, for the first time since I was 12 – my pre-relaxed days – I actually feel confident enough to walk out of the house – even go to a corporate job – with twists in my hair, and feel perfectly fine, pretty, and appropriate. I guess you can call that “coming into my own.” My natural hair journey is still progressing because I will never relax my hair again. Natural is freeing and it’s me.
I always enjoy talking about my natural hair journey because, one it’s a life long journey that I’m able to share with other amazing women and second it helped me to become aware of the type of woman I was internally. For a long time I wasn’t aware of my natural hair’s beauty and I can honestly say that it wasn’t until recently that I fully embraced my hair in all of its natural glory.
In December 2010, after eight months of transitioning, I cut the remaining of my relaxed hair off and was officially “natural”. Now, I don’t mark that as the time I became natural because even with my hair being perm free I was still insecure of my natural texture and I also had no idea what to do with my hair. It was a struggle. My sister was natural with beautiful hair and ultimately that is what I wanted but, as we all know, it takes patience to get your hair to a desired length. After becoming natural I constantly straightened my hair, so I never learned to embrace my natural texture. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that I mark the beginning of my natural hair journey. I fully embraced my hair, I was wore it in its natural state without feeling embarrassed or insecure. Why would I feel that way? It’s pretty simple…I don’t fit the Eurocentric standard of beauty. My hair is not the loose, wavy curl but the kinky, coarse texture. I was told that my hair texture was nappy which, to some, equates to ugly and unacceptable.
The turning point in my journey was the moment I searched for my beauty from within and realized that their truth wasn’t my truth. If I was never told that my hair was ugly I would have never discovered that it was beautiful. I didn’t need their validation to be accepted because there was a community of women on the same journey, fighting the same standards. My journey evolves on a daily because with every negative I may hear or read about on natural hair became irrelevant because once I found that beauty and confidence I’ve never let it go.
I was natural for many years in my adolescence. It wasn't until I started trying to give up a look that everything changed. I remember being a little girl and going to Blockbuster every Friday with my mother and big sister to rent our hair braiding movies. Every weekend my mother would sit us down in the living room and braid out hair for the upcoming week. The process was repeated and systematic which allowed my hair to grow down my back. I took pride in my crown and at times let it go to my head. My hair is very thick and I have a ton of it. I grow hair, it's just what I do and it has proven to be a blessing and a curse (think about it). So, perming wasn't necessarily about texture versus manageability, I'm talking snapping combs and brushes in half and popping rubber bands on the regular. Actually, when I was young I only got special perms. Like, back to school, Christmas and beginning of summer perms. I started getting perms on a more regular, 6-8 week basis because in High School I became more active in sports but still wanted my hair to be straight. I remember one track practice, after I had gotten a fresh perm, where I showed up with my hair flowing and didn't bother to pull it back or bring a scarf. I was reveling in the ease of it all. Me wearing my hair natural now is more of a political statement but back then I didn't feel the need to express love for my roots because my community was made up of nothing but black people so growing up black was a great thing and didn't need to be asserted. And then one day I moved down south... that's when everything changed.
I started my junior year of High School in a small county in the heart of the bible belt and for the first time was the minority. I had white teachers, white administration and white peers who showed up to school in hunting gear clad with confederate flags. One defining moment was walking into my english class as the new kid and noticing that the students had segregated themselves. That's when I started to stand up in my blackness starting with the one thing they couldn't emulate, my hair. At this point I was the last person in my immediate family to get off the perm so it sucks that it took adversity for me to get with the program. My transition from black butterfly to black panther was gradual and didn't come into complete fruition until college but the internal shift had been made.
Two short years after bumping heads with my teachers and academic staff, getting into arguments about the '08 election because of my support for Obama (even tough I wasn't old enough to vote), checking the white kids who didn't want to take orders from the black girl in JROTC and thriving under the pressure to perform in the classroom as one of the few serious students, I graduated and didn't look back. I don't attribute many positive things to my last years of High School but I did get my identity from the experience.
Afterward, I attended an HBCU as a black person in nature and in spirit. Throughout my tenure I only learned more about my culture, history, myself and fostered an even deeper love for my race and everything that it encompasses. But my safe place within the mecca of Black excellence was only as far and wide as campus stretched. While at school I didn't feel required to represent anything other than myself but holding internships and being in mixed company professionally I came to the realization that my success was not enough to garner respect. There was never a moment when I didn't love my natural hair but knowing that, in certain circles, others did not made me want to sport my natural tresses all the more. In the back of my head, I dared someone to not take me seriously or give credit where credit is due because in most, if not all, settings I have been the most qualified and intelligent youth in the room. It's amazing what work ethic a lack of privilege can foster. I'm not going to lie, I still straighten my hair all the time even though I stopped getting perms in 2010 but in certain settings I make a point to wear my hair as big as it wants to be to make a statement. I love that in it's natural state blackness cannot be denied. There is immense power in that.
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