It was the summer of 2003 and I just graduated from 4 tedious, yet eventful years of college. I was looking forward to enjoying the summer and then it was off to grad school in the fall. Something in me itched to do something different, something outside the box, with my life. After much thought I decided to venture out on a path I never imagined I would take. I don’t know if I was having a pre midlife crisis or what, but I decided to take on a new attitude about my hair.
After years of braiding my hair and getting Super Strength Perms/Relaxers in between, to straighten and “tame” my coarse, extra thick hair, curiousity got the best of me. At the time of my “curiousity got the best of me” high, my hair was braided with extensions and so I had the lovely task of having to unbraid my hair, which I hate. Any woman who has had to unbraid her hair knows how tiring the process can be and if you have to wash your hair yourself because you can’t or choose not to go to a salon, it is even more tiresome and time consuming! However, because I was so excited to see “me” as in completely whole, real, genuine, thick, coarsed hair, no chemicals, no colors “me” it was worth the tiresome hours that lied in my near future.
While unraveling the extensions I had put in for my college graduation and carefully sliding my fingers through my hair, my curls were just “popping” out of place and it tickled my fancy, I actually chuckled. I remember saying wouldn’t it be cool if my hair was always this manageable. I felt that the only reason why my hair was manageable and my curls were defined and looked healthy was because it was stretched while braided so I concluded that only extensions could have that effect on my hair. I truly believed that it was impossible for my hair to have definition, fullness and “stretch” in its complete natural state. BOY WAS I WRONG!
I had so many misconceptions and misunderstandings about my hair because of society’s stance on what beautiful hair was, what “acceptable to wear” hair was (especially for a new college grad, upcoming professional woman) and what added the most to the cobweb of “untruths” were the lovely changes that my hair went through over the course of my life at that point.
Those changes included getting a ‘kiddie perm” at the tender age of 9yo. Getting a kiddie perm was actually quite the norm, at that time, for girls my age of African American descent. The point of getting one was to straighten out the tightly coiled hair that our mothers struggled to manage. Most of us had already had the experience of straight hair with the pressing comb, before we got a perm. Later on the next stage of taming my hair with a more “natural look” was the good ol’ jheri curl, then on to dry (jheri curls). No one could tell me that I wasn’t cute, but no one told me that my hair was experiencing serious damage:( . My mom did what she thought was best and I don’t blame her for it. I am actually thankful for the experiences because I am a real life example to others of what to do and what not to do. There is no need for other women to learn the hard way, if they hear me out and take notes from my experience.
I knew I would need some resources to direct me on this new hair journey. So the avid reader in me ran to the library that day and lo and behold there were books galore on managing, growing and loving African American textured hair. I was so EXCITED:)! I grabbed every book in that section, found an empty table, stacked up all the books and took a seat ready to delve into a life changing experience. Most of the books gave advice and counsel on how to manage your natural hair so you can love your hair. They suggested understanding the hair typing system which ranged from 1a—-(unmanipulated) straight hair to 4c hair—-(my hair texture, btw) tightly coiled, kinky hair and suggested different products for each hair type that contained the most effective ingredients for managing your hair. As I continued to read, I kept getting more and more excited to embrace my natural hair because it felt nice to touch and looked good, but I had no idea that I would be persistent on my journey based on a conviction instead of a feeling.
The book, “Hair Story, Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America”, gave me that conviction. The title alone intrigued me. It completely caught me off guard because I expected to read another book about hair typing and recommended products. This book drew me into the world of hair, MY HAIR, on a deeper level. I don’t want to give away all the details of the book, but I will tell you the lesson(s) that I gained that made me say no more going back to that “creamy crack” (<—a term often used to refer to Relaxers to straighten African American women’s hair). The lesson was that “black hair is good hair”, kinks and all, naps and all, tight coils and all, but even more so all hair is good hair.
Many of us relaxed our hair with Perms not realizing we were trying to relax more than our hair, we were also trying to relax society’s opinion of our hair, relax the nerves of corporate America intimidated/turned off by our twists & Afros, relax our hands so our hair wouldn’t break a poor defenseless comb, relax the attitude of the men we wanted to appeal to so they wouldn’t have a wandering eye towards a white woman, an asian woman, a Latin woman or any other woman who had straight long hair that flowed past her waistline. Besides the 70s when big Afros were the trend (most of us of African American descent own atleast one picture of a parent or a loved one rocking one as a testament of that) there was hardly any love, respect, admiration or compliments towards the kinky, tight coiled hair that most African American women have in its natural state. There were, and honestly I believe there still are, so many extreme measures that African American women take to have their hair in every way except for their “I was born this way” hair. The book talks about that in detail.
I must say though out of all of the book’s messages that I felt were written especially for me, the most important one of all was that I can’t love myself and not embrace all of me, naturally. This is my conclusion, my decision and mine alone. I don’t judge any woman who chooses to alter her hair away from its natural state and I appreciate not being judged for not wanting to alter mine. This is simply MY HAIR STORY and I think a person is so much better in knowing the reasoning behind why they do what they do or say the things they say, the habits, the quirks, etc., so I highly recommend this book not to change the state in which a person wears their hair, but to discover the history behind one of the most controversial issues that an African American Woman will have to deal with her whole life. I have chosen to stay on this journey since 2003, bad haircuts, breakage and all, because beauty, for me, is only skin deep, it lies in the eye of the beholder and I am determined to embrace every kink and coil—–NO LOOKING BACK 🙂