I have always had a passion for hair. In my teenage years I was that girl you would find braiding some random guy’s hair in the park. Styling hair is a talent that runs is my family. I remember as little girl watching my aunt do hair out of her living room. While my father was downstairs shaping high-top fades and cutting zig-zag designs into the head of every brother in the neighborhood. But that’s my father’s side and my mother is not nearly as hair savvy.
So, like many Black girls growing up in America my hair fell victim to relaxers at a young age. And when I say fell victim, I literally mean FELL. I was only about eight years old when the first relaxer was applied to my hair and my hair promptly began to break off and fall out. Thus, began my first natural hair transition.
On into junior high I rocked my “Poetic Justice” braids as my natural hair grew out underneath. Even though LL Cool J was rapping about girls with extensions and bamboo earrings, being natural wasn’t exactly the cool thing among middle schoolers. My peers had little appreciation for my protective style. Not that I cared. I was loving everything about braids and by age nine, I had taught myself to cornrow on my Kenya doll. I had even grabbed a few scraps of left over synthetic hair from my aunt and practiced attaching them to Kenya’s already thick head of synthetic tresses.
By age ten my relaxer had completely grown out and my hair had reached a length that I was comfortable with. My mother took me to the hair salon and the result was the image you see to the left. The stylist ran that hot comb through my hair, bumped my ends and hooked me up with the hottest set of feathered bangs this side of the 80’s. I loved it! My love affair with braids ended the minute my dysfunctional relationship with straight hair began.
Wash, blow, and straighten. This was my routine through high school on up to college. The only exception being humid summer months when I would cornrow my hair myself into simple styles. I didn’t have a relaxer but everyone certainly thought I did because my hair was almost always straight. Hot combs, flat irons and blow dryers. I needed a serious lesson in heat damage. I’ll never forget the look on my best friend’s face the time I let the hot comb get too hot and my hair melted and sizzled into smoke. Both our jaws hit the floor and must have hung open for almost ten minutes.
Then one day during my sophomore year in undergrad I just didn’t feel like going through the process any more. Maybe it was the comfort of going to class in my PJs, or the afrocentric empowerment of Black Studies classes but one day I decided I was done. I headed to the food court with my first “wash-and-go,” not knowing at the time that it even had a name. I barely looked at myself and was out the door.
The response from people was nothing short of insane. Insane but good. Everyone seemed to be amazed by my new look. “Oh God, how did you do that?” “Girl, what did you put in your hair?” The truth was, I hadn’t done anything. All I had in my hair was a little conditioner. I thought people were crazy. Didn’t they realize that if they stopped straightening their hair it would do the same thing. You would think they never saw Black hair before (yes these were mostly people of color.) I stopped in the bathroom to check the mirror to see what all the fuss was about and wow! My hair really did look amazing. I realized in that moment that I had never really looked at my hair. I’d never given it this much freedom. Then suddenly, I felt free.
This was the true beginning of my transition to natural. By embracing my natural hair texture, I developed a deeper love and appreciation for myself. There was a new found confidence and acceptance for all that I previously considered flawed. More comfortable in my own skin then I ever knew to be possible. This was me. The natural me. It wasn’t long before I decided to loc my hair but that’s a whole other story.