The Hair Journey

As I take a break from installing mini-twists (and question my sanity for ever beginning), I thought it would only be natural to end Black History Month with some hair talk. Black women make up the overwhelming majority of spenders when it comes to hair care—its not often you'll find one of us out in public without our hair done. So you would think we'd know all about our hair, right?

When I was little, I got 90% of my spankings over my hair. It would take hours to wash my hair then even more hours to dry it. My mom would then detangle my hair—yes, she detangled my hair dry!—which would take another hour and usually around the time I'd get popped with the brush. Finally she'd give me some pigtails and set me free. Of course by this time the day was done and my head would hurt. Below is a picture of me as little girl; it's a little hard to see my hair but it's the best I could find...

Me at 3 years old or so
Eventually, my dad got sick of me and my mom fighting over my hair so I got sent to the hair stylist. Prior to visiting the salon, my grandma would straighten my hair with a hot comb (I'm talking straight off the stove style) after my mom had finished her day-long washing technique. Once I hit the salon, the beautician slathered my hair with the Just For Me kiddie relaxer. Looking back, no one ever asked me if I wanted straight hair and I never asked for straight hair. I just didn't want to sit in the house all day with my mom tugging and yanking my head every which way. At that point in my life I'd only seen my hair blown out or straightened with a hot comb—essentially frizzy straight versus smooth straight. Even after it was agreed that I'd get a relaxer—mind you, this was under the premise it would make my hair more manageable for my mom and less painful for me—my hair was still always in either 2 or 3 ponytails.

9th grade, after the breakage
When I turned 13, my beautician decided I was "too old" for a kiddie relaxer and put a "real" relaxer in my hair. After that relaxer I was introduced to the infamous scabs that develop on the scalp as a result of burning. I'm not sure exactly what she did, but one side of my hair has never been the same since! The short term result was breakage on that side, which led to my hair being shoulder length on one side and BSL (bra-strap length) on the other side. Needless to say I had to cut it. Which led to the next short term result, that side of my hair stopped growing as fast. Up until recently, no matter how often I cut my hair, one side was always longer (see the picture to the right). Eventually I noticed that the short side was also thinner—not extremely thinner, but enough that I can tell. 

Well, that was my one bad experience, but it didn't make me stop getting relaxers. I never went back to her, but I went back to my kiddie relaxers 3 times a year (before school photos, before Christmas, and before Easter). My new stylist gave me hot oil treatments twice a month for a while to "restore" my hair. By the time I started college my hair appeared healthy and was approximately APL (armpit length). It was around this time that I fell in love with Jennifer Freeman's hair. I wanted my hair styled like that so bad that I went through several stylists trying to find one who could actually do my hair like hers. None of these stylist could figure out what to do, especially since my hair wouldn't hold a curl for more than 30 minutes...
Freshman Year of College. Yikes at those split ends

Jennifer Freeman and the hairstyle I wanted
In college, I had gotten to the point that I didn't trust many people to do my hair so I started washing my hair myself. While wet, my hair was actually very curly. In fact, it almost looked like the style I wanted. I realized I just needed to know how to keep it like that. I still couldn't find anyone who could tell me what to do, but I was also starting to contemplate the most basic question I ever asked myself: if my hair is curly, why can't I get it to curl?

My senior year in college is when the natural hair movement sparked around Clemson's campus (or at least when I realized it was happening). I remember there being the biggest commotion when the first girl I knew started her journey. She did her big chop (BC) herself, and I'm still in awe of her bravery to go through with it. I remember there being a lot of negative comments about it. She and I had became friends just before her BC (I think), but eventually she opened up about what she was trying to accomplish. Up until she told me, I thought she'd just lost her mind and cut all her hair off one day. I had no idea what she meant when she said "natural" hair. Soon after, two of my sorors, one of which was also my cousin, also decided to "go natural." I barely did anything to my hair as it was, so while I watched them, I didn't really put any thought into following.

After graduation I moved to Florida where it is hot and humid and my hair did not do anything I wanted it to. I don't know what possessed me to think I could then get bangs and keep them successfully, but that's what I did. Unfortunately my stylist didn't understand what I wanted and gave me Nicki Minaj bangs. -_- This is why I don't trust hair stylists. Obviously this style didn't work for me. It eventually grew on me, but keeping the bangs straight was a pain. As I said earlier, Florida is just hot and humid, and the University of Florida's campus is large, which meant sweat was inevitable. I hate the feeling of sweaty hair, don't you?  Well, thank goodness for sweaty hair because one day during February 2011, I sweated so much I couldn't take it. I decided that instead of sitting on campus waiting for my exam, I was going to go home and wash my hair. It took a bit longer than I anticipated, so I didn't have time to straighten it or dry it, let alone detangle it. I knew that if I didn't detangle it, I would regret it later... So I got the crazy idea to simply brush it wet and just go to my exam that way.
February 2011-Wet hair
My exam was from 8pm to 10pm, so when I got home it was probably around 10:45 and my brain was fried. I didn't feel like trying to straighten my hair (thankfully the Florida heat had already dried it). So I just went to sleep. The next morning when I woke up, I was shocked to find this is what I looked like:

So I didn't touch it, and guess what? Two days later I still had curly hair! Who knew, right? The whole time all I had to do was not do anything at all! This was when I turned to the internet and YouTube for help.  I haven't had a relaxer since the one before I discovered this (December 2010), though I have flat-ironed it a few times. I never BC'd; I just gradually cut off the ends. Technically, I still have about 1 inch of relaxed ends in some places on my head. Below are a few pictures since I stopped relaxing my hair.
  • First "chop"—Summer 2011
  • March 2012
  • October 2012—Loved this hairstyle!
  • 2013—Twist-out (not my actual curl pattern here)
  • November 2012: The accidental chop and discovery
    that I never need a relaxer to straighten my hair

  • Since beginning the natural part of my hair journey I have seen wonderful, awesome, powerful, and beautiful things, but I've also seen the negative, the ignorant, and the infamous "Natural vs. Relaxer"/"Good hair vs. Bad hair." Good hair had always been a term that made me want to claw my eyes out but the fact that many have reduced the ideals behind natural hair vs relaxed hair to the idea of good hair and White acceptance, annoys me just as much. I agree that Black women began straightening their hair to be accepted by the White community. I agree that there's a lot of insecurity that expresses itself with the term good hair. However, I think that a LARGE part of the problem is that we don't know anything about our own hair. The truth is, growing up, I saw more White women with curly hair than Black women. I didn't even know my hair was curly. I didn't straighten it because I wanted to look like a White girl or because I wanted acceptance. The first time I saw a Black girl wearing her natural hair (minus dreads or being almost bald) I was out of college! Up until that point every Black woman I knew had straight hair or a weave. I came to my moment of truth when I talked to my cousins. After I stopped straightening my hair, I went home to visit my family, and do you know what my little cousins asked me? "When are you going to go back to your real hair?" My real hair? They knew I didn't have weave in my hair; they thought my hair was straight. Just like me at their age, they've never seen their hair not blown out or in braids. Our generation isn't straightening our hair for acceptance in the White community, we're straightening our hair for acceptance in our own community and because we don't know how to manage our own hair. The beauty of the Natural Hair Movement is that we're producing not only the visual message of loving our own hair, but educating a generation on how to take care of our hair. If I have a daughter, I'll know something other than just straightening her hair, unlike my mom and grandmother. I think this is an important milestone for us and hopefully, in the future our children will see and appreciate themselves as the truly are.

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