My Hair Story

Friday, July 31, 2009 6:23 PM

We all have our hair story. I can now look back on all of the misperceptions I had about being a black woman with the crazy head of hair that I have, and I smile fondly at the journey.

"My whole family has good hair, except for me."
Please excuse the term, but this is how I used to talk. What is "good" hair anyway? When I was a little girl, good hair was silky, wavy, and definitively curly. I clearly remember wishing my hair was silky and straight like all the women on my mom's side of the family. My hair was big and bushy and too knotty to wear "out" like my cousins, so I always had to wear braids and twists. No hair blowing in the wind, no hair to whip around like the white girls in dance class, and no cascading curls to dangle from my ponytail. I longed for straight, flowy hair that didn't have to be braided or greased. Eventually, I discovered that there is this magic in a box called a relaxer that could make my hair hang and shine. I even thought that a relaxer would allow me to have "wash and go" hair. Like I said, I thought it was magic in a box. I harrassed my mom until she finally gave in and let me get one.

"My hair used to be down my back when I was little - before I got a perm and it broke off."
Now how many black women have you heard claim that their hair was all the way down to their butt when they were little? I know you know what I'm talking about! Usually there is some exaggeration involved here, but there is truth in it for most women. After I insisted on getting a relaxer, I also began insisting on doing my own hair. At 12 years old, I already knew how to cornrow and french braid and make straight parts. (I practiced constantly on my barbie head. Did you have one of those?) Natually, I thought my relaxed hair would be as easy to maintain as my barbie head! I wouldn't need grease or gel or any of that stuff for "regular" hair. You know the rest. Before long, my hair dried out and broke off. Satisfied that I had learned my lesson, my mom stepped back in and helped me learn my hair. She also restricted me to about 3 relaxers a year. By the time I graduated from high school, my hair was down to the middle of my back.

"As long as I deep condition it, I can put permanent color over my relaxer and it will be fine."
Why are we never satisfied? We have to experience loss a little in order to appreciate what we have. It's EASY to appreciate what you don't have. When I got to college, what I had was long hair - what I didn't have was straight hair. In my mind anyway. It would NOT stay straight, and it wouldn't hold a style. I played around with braid-outs and twist-outs just because I'm a hair chameleon and can't wear my hair in the same style for too long...ever. But I was still seeking hair that wouldn't revert in the humidity and would remain sleek and sexy when I went to clubs. And trust me, I did some serious sweating in the clubs. So, I began getting relaxers every 10 weeks or so, and to add insult to injury, at the beginning of second semester I put color in my hair. Spicy Auburn or something like that. Picked it up at Rite-Aid and put it in myself. If that wasn't bad enough, I sprayed Sun In all over the front to give me "highlights". (Sorry for all the quotations but I need to acknowledge the nonsense somehow). It actually looked gorgeous for about a month or so....then it started to dry out and break off again. By the time I began my sophomore year, my hair barely grazed the base of my neck.

"I've worn a weave for so long that I don't like the way I look without it."
I went into recovery mode after that tragic freshman year and really tried to nurse my hair back to health for the next three years. It was very traumatized, and I kept on relaxing it, so I'm sure that didn't help. In hindsight, it's so funny to me that NOT relaxing was never an option. I thought my hair would go back to being poofy and frizzy and unmanageable. Furthermore, I'd look like a child! No way. The summer after my senior year, I discovered tracks. Woo hoo! I got so accustomed to how my hair looked with the tracks, that I didn't like the way I looked without it. Again I must ask, how many of you have felt that way or know someone who feels that way? Did I mention that I was using GLUE to keep my tracks in place?? Oh, the horror. I would lose chunks of hair everytime I removed them. I continued to track it up for a year before I finally realized how thin my hair was getting. I remembered the uncontrollable mane that I'd had when I was younger, and I felt like I'd lost something that I couldn't get back.

"I can't wear my hair natural, because I'm not an 'earthy' girl and it just doesn't look sophisticated."
I've always been a fan of big hair. Diana Ross was my hair idol when I was a youngun. I just never thought I could achieve BIG without its groupies FRIZZY AND DRY coming along with it. I toyed with the idea of going natural for a couple years. During this time, I helped a friend transition to natural hair. She had very thin, curly hair that wouldn't do a thing with a relaxer in it. After a year or so of straw-setting, her natural hair had grown in, full, curly and healthy. I still didn't think that natural hair was for me though. Would that mean that I had to wear my hair in knots, braids and afros all the time? Could I ever wear it straight again? How would I take care of it? How would my coworkers react to this new look? Will I still look sleek and sophisticated? While I pondered these questions, I stopped relaxing. 3 months. 6 months. 1 year. Meanwhile, my whole outlook on life was transitioning right along with my hair. I blowdried and flatironed my hair throughout my entire transition. I did occasional wet-sets and braid-outs, but for the most part, I wore it straight. The more I focused on growing healthy, natural hair, the more resources became available to me. I consulted with other natural women I knew, and I found resources online. Three years later, it's the best decision I wish I'd made a LOOOONG time ago.

There are many reasons that women choose to go natural, and it's not the ideal option for everyone. One of the biggest lessons I learned from my transition is to never say never. I had so many ideas programmed into my head that were false and didn't come from my own experience. The process taught me that I don't have to fit into a category or maintain an image that I think people will approve of or expect from me. I can be gloriously unpredictable and free to explore any possibility that I choose. If that's not sleek and sophisticated, then I don't know what is!