It began as an idea. A fleeting, flirtatious thought.
What if I went natural with my hair?
I had this thought maybe two years ago. This fleeting thought became a seed planted and buried into the recesses of my mind, growing slowly but steadily over time. Gradually, I decided that one day, I would go natural with my hair. Originally it was by my early 30s. Then, it morphed into my mid-twenties — specifically for my 25th birthday. (For context, I turned 23 in September 2016.)
Then, one night this past fall, I was sitting on my couch, playing with my straw-like relaxed hair. Dry as it usually was after 8 weeks without a relaxer. Edges at the front of my head and nape of my neck nappy and impossible to comb through. Uneven and split ends. Inconsistent length that, at its longest, barely passed my ears. New growth matted to my head underneath brittle, lifeless, struggling-to-stay-straight strands. It was running my hands into my new growth — my natural curls suffocating under chemically-processed hair — that caused my revelation.
My hair couldn’t wait any longer. My natural tresses were ready to have their day in the sun.
Normally, I would have gone to the salon that week. Eight weeks was the absolute maximum amount of time my hair could go without that Creamy Crack. But for reasons I can’t remember, I couldn’t get to the shop that week. So I was going to go in to the shop on nine-week-old hair the following Saturday. Once my revelation came, I immediately took to YouTube to start from the ground up on natural hair care basics. What products to use while transitioning, styles I could wear and during which months, tutorials on basic styles, wash day and conditioning routines. My research consumed me that weekend and for several weekends following it. I compiled notes on all of the tips, products, and processes I needed to transition. I wrote down my plan detailing how and for how long I planned to transition. The journey would start the week before Thanksgiving.
Finally, It felt as if I was taking control of my hair. And it was through this process — of essentially finding out how much I didn’t know about natural hair — that I came to the first underlying reason for my transition.
I wanted to get to know my hair in its rawest state. By learning about what my hair likes and doesn’t like, how it behaves, how it adapts to products and seasonal conditions, I would learn, by extension, about myself. I’ve had my hair for 23 years, and for about as long as my scalp has been strong enough to take it, it has always been relaxed or taken care of by someone who was not me. And I thought, How could I not know arguably one of the most intimate parts of myself? Something that grows out of my own body? I needed to take control of that.
Then I began thinking about my hair throughout my life. It has consistently been one of the things I’m most insecure about. It’s always been relaxed, but for as long as I’ve been surrounded by white peers in school, it has aroused countless questions. I’d get constantly asked, “Why don’t you just grow it out?” I tried explaining that my hair does grow, but I, too, did not understand why my hair couldn’t seem to grow in the same way my non-black peers’ did. (The answer: Because my hair has always been brittle due to my lack of good hair care with relaxed hair, my ends would split and need to be trimmed faster than my hair could grow.)
My hair would look good for the first couple of weeks after a relaxer, but after all of the sweat, dirt, and weather conditions set into it, it would go stiff. A nervous twitch of mine used to be constantly smoothing down the hair on my neck, trying to get it to stay down as to look naturally flowing like my white girlfriends’ hair. Because my hair was so short and stiff, it followed my head when I moved it.
About two years ago, I decided I would wash my hair more often. I used shampoos and conditioners with sulfates that would strip my hair (unaware that sulfate hair products are bad for the hair), thinking that the dryness of my hair post-wash was indicative of clean and healthy hair. But even with taking somewhat better care of my hair, I was still dissatisfied with its appearance and texture. It still felt inadequately hydrated, and after one wash post-relaxer, my hair would almost revert back to its wannabe natural state. The relaxer would be pretty much gone, which would leave me with a puffier version of my relaxed hair that needed a hot comb to be straightened further, which only added to the weakness of my hair.
I had gotten to the point where I didn’t see the point of putting myself through the pain of relaxers every two months to get hair that still didn’t look naturally straight. I really had to ask myself “Who are you fooling?”
Which leads me to perhaps the deepest-rooted reason I am transitioning. I don’t want to give into white beauty standards anymore.
It’s unfortunate to admit that being albino created an added pressure to fit the picture of whiteness. My straight relaxed hair made questions about my race less confusing to my white peers. It allowed me to fit into a crowd. It made me feel a sameness that I didn’t realize I wanted to feel from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood. But as I became a feminist, an activist, a fighter for social justice, this internalized sense of belonging in white culture became more apparent. I didn’t want my hair to be natural, or “nappy,” because it would make my Otherness apparent. When you have white skin and blonde hair, kinky and curly hair doesn’t exactly spring to mind.
But I realized that I was sacrificing the health of my hair trying to be something (or rather, someone) I’m not. My hair will never be like my white girlfriends’. My hair needs more care than theirs do. After 23 years, it’s time I be proud of the head of hair I was given.
Now, do not construe my personal reflections to be shaming black women who get their hair chemically straightened, or those that wear straight-haired wigs or weaves. Weave-shaming is a very real thing that has as many bad connotations as natural hair. And let us not forget that hair straightening for black people (namely women) emerged as a survival tactic in a working world that still to this day discriminates against black hair types and styles. Indeed, this is the biggest fear I have entering the working world post-graduation, especially given it is coinciding with my transition.
I can only hope that my next employer will be accepting of my natural hair styles (particularly the Marley twists I’m planning to get in early February). But choosing my hair despite all odds or restrictions that exist in our society is revolutionary. The act of choosing ourselves, of loving ourselves as black people, is radical. I hope by the end of this journey I’ve learned to love my hair for the natural wonder it is — through thick and thin.