“I love my hair because it’s a reflection of my soul. It’s dense, it’s kinky, it’s soft, it’s textured, it’s difficult, it’s easy and it’s fun. That’s why I love my hair.Tracy Ellis Ross
My earliest memories include a series of stressed leather chairs. The kind you find in those old school salons, but these ones were in a home. The leather chairs that crackled beneath your legs. I dreaded them as a child, especially in the summer months because I knew I would sit on those chairs in my shorts and the crackled leather would poke me in the back of the legs. But, I would do as I’d always done. Climb up on that crackly leather chair without a single complaint and sit for hours. There was always a book in my hand but it was more of a wishful thought than a practical distraction. My head was never allowed to be in one position long enough to even think about getting too engaged in whatever world was tucked away between the pages. Several hours later I was done. My neck was stiff, my hair smelled of a mixture the gross smelling goop and sweat from the palms of the lady I came to know briefly as Giselle; a Nigerian woman who I had come to visit a few times before. Each visit was like this. Few words. Book in hand. Gross smelling goop. Stiff neck. To this day, nearly 20 years and 4 hairdressers later, I still carry a book in my bag to the salon, knowing the likelihood of me getting through more than a few pages would be very slim.
I’ve said to others in casual conversation that I started my hair journey about 4 years ago. Although that is when I chopped my hair and said goodbye to what the natural hair community so “lovingly” refers to as the creamy crack, it is not exactly where this journey started. This journey starts before I even knew I was on a journey. I was young, maybe 10, and my mother and I were undoing my hair in the living room of my childhood home. We were watching TV, a Madea movie I believe. Newspaper was strewn over the floor to catch the hairs we were removing, this made for easier pick up after the time-consuming process was completed. My hair was about 3/4ths of the way done, and my brother came in from the back yard. Screen door and sliding door opened, blinds clattering and me, ducking for cover, a pit in my stomach, anxiety heightened cowering from any chance of being visible to any of the kids playing outside in our yard, completely oblivious to the crisis happening out of their view. My biggest fear at that time and for years to follow was letting anyone who was not black, know what I really looked like without my braids.
At the time I wouldn’t have classified it as self hatred. I was a happy kid. Loved my friends, my activities, my family. I had a good life and I felt good. But knowing what I know now, those years of going to the hair salon at the crack of dawn so no one I knew had the possibility of seeing my head, even tho I was wearing a hat, the way I’d hide from the drive through attendant at Dunkin’ as my mother got us drinks and a sandwich before the trip, and the shame I felt at the salon as I removed my cap and scarf and looked at the knotted, stringy mess sitting on top of my head….some may beg to differ.
I don’t remember the first time I considered the fact that wearing my hair out and natural was an option…and an option that I could entertain, but I do remember what my influence was. I was scrolling through tumblr (I was obsessed with Tumblr and Pinterest at the time) and came upon a post with four black women. They were laughing, dressed in very trendy, boho chic fashion and they were natural. One had black hair, the other had blonde, another had red and the other one had brown and they were all different styles and textures. I fell in love. I followed the original poster and soon began following everything to do with black hair and black girls. I loved it. At this time I decided I would be done relaxing my hair (I skipped over this part, but somewhere along the line I began relaxing my hair) and go natural. I wore my hair in braids for months. Grew my hair out. My cousin visited from Germany one summer and we undid my braids together. I looked in the mirror and panicked. My hair looked nothing like all of the girls I saw online. It wasn’t curly and cute it was fluffed and knotted and tangled and…it was a mess. I went under the sink tearfully, grabbed my relaxer and spread it all over my hair, yet again. In that moment I gave up. I thought there was something wrong with my hair. It wasn’t beautiful like the black girls on the internet.
I moped for a while. Then simply decided that life wasn’t for me. I was doomed to be in braids for the rest of my life (dramatic, maybe….). But then this thing started to happen….natural black hair became a trend. I started seeing more of these beautiful black girls EVERYWHERE. On TV with afros. All over the internet. In magazines. As a result, natural hair care became a trendy topic as well. People were eager to talk about what products they were using, what products to avoid. I learned that heat was bad. Oils were good. Steam was great and playing with your hair constantly was a big fat no no. With knowledge came confidence and I decided to try again. I cut my hair once again, and ran with it. I knew how to take care of it this time. I knew how to style it in a way that worked for me. I knew my limitations and what my hair could do and what it couldn’t. I stopped comparing and started celebrating the versatility and uniqueness that was on my head and the heads of others like me. I fell in love with my hair.
I learned something through this shift tho. I learned that this transition was about more than a hairstyle. It became a movement, a protest almost. A protest against what? The thing that made us destroy our hair in the first place. Everyone’s reason was different, yet the same. The thing that made you feel you were less than because of the way your hair grew out of your head. The thing that made you believe that your natural form was “unprofessional.” The thing that told little boys that they couldn’t wear dreaded hair to school and told little girls their naturally big hair was too unkept for a private school eduction but that their braided hair was a distraction. The thing that made it’s way into our military forcing our men and women to change their hair instead of changing a rule that wasn’t designed to include them and the thing that made it “acceptable” for a referee to demand that high schooler cut off his dreadlocks before he was allowed to perform in a wrestling match. That thing. And with this movement we reclaimed our freedom. We reclaimed our ability to choose to relax or braid our hair or not to, because of our personal preference, not because we have been made to feel ashamed of ourselves in our most natural state.
For me this journey has been wild. But I love where I’ve ended up. I love that now when I get my hair braided, It’s because I simply want a change instead of it being because I can’t let anyone see my hair. I love the confidence that has come and the community that I’ve discovered. Most of all, I love the way this confidence has caught with the younger generations because of the ones not long before them who decided no more.
Embrace yourself. Every part of who you are. We all have something, an obstacle we’ve overcome, a triumph a victory. This is mine.