My friend Eleith decided to “go natural” in college. Not only did she do that but she vowed to never straighten her hair ever again. I didn’t understand. “You mean, you’re not even going to press it?” This was in the early 2000s. Probably like, 2002 or something. The natural hair movement was not as permeating through our culture as it is now. Going to Temple University, I would see Black girls with various styles, wraps, braids, locks. I thought it was a college phase or something you did when you went to a city college like ours in Philadelphia. My last semester I took a class called, “The Black Woman.” Walking into that class was the first time I ever felt like a hair minority. I was the only one with a relaxer, let alone with straight hair period. Honestly I think they judged me for it, which to this day is problematic when Black women judge other Black women for their hair choices. Every single class I felt uncomfortable. I was insecure in my Black womanhood
….all over hair?
I wondered why I didn’t have the confidence to pull those styles off. I thought that maybe if I’d started my hair transition when I was a freshman, then I would have had time to experiment. There I was leaving the school. I thought there’d be no way that would work in the real world.
So from then on I continued going to the hair salon every 6-8 weeks (sometimes sooner) to get my perm put in.
I’d go to the Dominican salon every 2 weeks to get my doobie. I’d notice my ends breaking every few months and go back and get it chopped off. This was the routine for the next 8 years. But I’d been getting my hair permed since I was 6. People would tell me that I should go natural and I didn’t think it would look right on me. I was afraid of my hair curl pattern. What if it was “too nappy”? (Another problematic concept) I thought that it made sense for “other women” to go natural but not for me. I was thinking all about style, but not about health. It wasn’t until my hair had grown at a good length after years, that I noticed significant breakage and I started thinking about what would happen if I never got a perm ever again. I thought about it for a few months and then one day after getting my last perm in February of 2011, I noticed a scab from the chemical burning on my scalp. It was then that I said, “enough!” I didn’t know where to begin or how but that was it. My hair stylist convinced me that I didn’t have to cut all my hair off. She said that I could transition out of it and she would straighten my hair with a hot comb and flat iron and trim the permed hair bit by bit. It pretty much broke off on its own. All the heat mixed with the leftover chemical on my ends was a nightmare. Cute the first few days but after that was hard to keep up.
I went ahead and put a weave in so that my own hair could grow underneath it.
I would figure out what to do with it later. Once I moved to southern California, there were not a lot of choices for natural hair salons…actually there was like 1 that I could find. Different from the East Coast where there are a plethora of choices. So I kept the weave in. I’d take it out and get it in again. When I finally found a woman who knew how to straighten natural hair, I started going to her to do my own hair. Once again, my hair started to break off. Not as much as it did when I had a perm. It was thicker and fuller, but again, the heat wasn’t good for it. I’d maybe get braids or twists and then take it out and straighten it again. It was at this point in my journey that I was at a crossroads. I needed to have a long conversation (in my head) with myself.
What’s at stake if your hair is not worn straight? Do you think you will be ugly?
Who told you, you HAD to wear your hair straight?
Will men be attracted to me? If they’re not then why would I want to be with someone who doesn’t like me in my most natural state?
And on and on, I asked myself those hard questions about why the hair that came out of my own roots had to be manipulated in order to be accepted. It’d be one thing if my sole reason was to explore the diverse styles that we can do with our hair. But that wasn’t my sole reason. Mine was because I felt like I had to. At the time I was exploring the themes within my own personhood, womanhood and even singleness that I AM ENOUGH. So why not have this ideology spill over into my image as well? I made a deal with myself that I would not straighten my hair for the next 6 months. I would not, even when tempted, get a weave or even braids. I would just wear the hair on my head and style the hair on my head and that was it. I had to come to terms with the complete me.
My godsister, Kai, told me about a man name Shai Amiel in Burbank that specialized in cutting natural, curly hair. He was going to be expensive but if I wanted to start that journey I needed to get all the straight heat damaged ends cut from my head. I went to him and he cut my hair (a DevaCut) and lectured me a bit on what it means to care for your curls.
He told me which products to stay away from and how I need to care for every single curl on my head. He told me that our curls need hydration, not grease. I took many notes. He also suggested that I leave my hair alone for 6 months (the time id even agreed on) to just condition it daily and that my natural curl would begin to take shape. I hated my hair when I left the salon. But as the days and months went on, I have spent countless hours loving and caring for my curls. I’ve worked mainly with DevaCurl products, Ouidad, Crème of Nature and a few other products. Sometimes I’ll twist at night, sometimes I’ll just wash, style and go, sometimes I’ll put it up. I’ve even read books on the Black hair experience such as “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayana Byrd. (Highly recommend)