For most of my life, I’ve sat at my mother’s feet as she pulled a pressing comb through my hair. It was the same comb her mother used to straighten her dense, curly hair. I never saw my mother’s hair in its natural state. It’s always been a straighten veil falling behind her shoulders
As long as I can remember, I have only ever known straightened hair.
I transferred schools in 2nd grade. Before then, I went to a schoo where many of my friends looked like me. We compared barretts and braided one another’s hair during recess. I never complained about my hair (except the times I grew impatient during the hours it took my mom to do my hair on wash days).
Then I arrived at Germantown Elementary School, a diverse school but still, at the time, primarily white. Suddenly, most of my friends were white. As much as I loved my friends, they didn’t look like me. Their hair was sleek and straight, sunflower blonde and chestnut brown. Their hair danced lightly in the wind and bounced with every step. They flicked long ponytails over their shoulders. They took showers without shower caps. They walked in the rain without umbrellas. Their hair dried more or less straight. Even the black girls at our schools were all getting perms. I started noticing all the magazine cover girls looked nothing like me with their shiny, long, straight hair. My own mother relied on chemicals to keep her hair straight and manageable.
So many people seemed to look a certain way that I thought it was that beauty equated to. I wanted so badly to be as pretty as everyone else. My hair suddenly felt strange and difficult in comparison.
Being young and overly impressionable, I begged my mom to press my hair harder and more frequently so my hair could look like theirs. I stopped wearing my hair braided, because they didn’t do that. When they talked about quickly washing their hair a few times a week, I couldn’t mention my wash day routine without feeling awkward and strange in comparison. I burned with envy as they went swimming together, had water balloon fights, and danced in sprinklers and I sat alone on the sidelines, feeling ugly in my swimming cap so my hair wouldn’t curl and coil in contact with the water.
Through middle school and even high school, I spent years sincerely believing if my hair looked like anyone else’s I would be prettier. I constantly had a difficult relationship with my hair, feeling more irritated and frustrated with it than happy and content. Those hostile feelings translated into the way I treated my hair, thus causing its health to decline as the years passed.
Recently, I have seen more and more girls of my color transitioning to their natural hair textures. Inspired by their raw, authentic beauty, I decided to make peace with the extension of myself I never had the heart to embrace. Following that decision, I faced my biggest fear; I went a full week without the heat I so heavily depended on.
I’m not going to lie – the process was frustrating. Finger detangling tested every bit of patience I could muster. My hands felt slick and clumsy covered in essential oils and moisturizers I needed to massage into my otherwise cry, coarse hair. Braiding and unbraiding took longer than I initially predicted in order to define the curls in my 4c hair. Fluffing my hair to create an even distribution of curls made the muscles in my arms ache. Crawling around the floor to find stray rollers scattered beneath my furniture got old by day two. Most frustrating was taking 30 minutes necessary to stumble through caring for my hair when I would typically collapse onto my mattress without a single thought about the state of my hair.
The positives of my transition far outweighed the negatives. I felt more confident not only in my hair, but in my appearance this week than I had in years. I looked in the mirror and genuinely liked what I saw. I was mesmerized by the natural texture of my hair, although it didn’t align with the texture often popularized on social media and television. Sometimes, when I wasn’t aching to crawl into bed, I felt relaxed by the process of pampering my hair and swaddling it with a satin scarf and bonnet every night.
For an entire week, I wasn’t trying to look like anyone else but me. And for an entire week, I felt truly at peace with my appearance.
Embracing my natural hair texture for a week put a considerable crack in the wall insecurity blocking me from having a healthy relationship with my hair and myself. I certainly can not say I have mastered the art of caring for my hair – I’m actually still quite clueless and have so, so much to learn. But it’s a series of lessons I am more than willing to sit down and learn. I am positive I will continue to go without heat into the future and learn how to spend more time taking care of my hair the way I should have all along.
At the end of the day, my hair was never the problem; my attitude toward it was.
Below are some interesting and inspiring TED Talks about the relationship between natural hair within the African American community and our society at large: