MY ROOTS: Why I Went Back
Well, it all started back in 1996, 20 years ago, when my mother began relaxing my hair. I was 5 or 6 and was in Kindergarten, while my mother was still finishing her degree. My hair, as you can see in my profile picture, is and was thick, coily, and easily tangled. With limited time and energy, she made the decision to relax my hair to ease the frustration of caring for hair that tangles easily. For those that do not know what a relaxer is, it is a chemical treatment that straightens your hair making it easier for women with curly, kinky and/or coily hair, to manage their hair. So the creamy crack (relaxer) addiction began, and as my hair grew, we touched up my roots so that they were straight too. I never really had a problem with it. Sure the relaxer burned my scalp a little, and I had some chemical burns on my scalp throughout the years but it wasn’t anything that many other black girls hadn’t experienced as well. My hair never suffered. I always had shoulder length or longer hair throughout my childhood. My hair was healthy and I felt good about it. I started learning about hair care when I was about 9 years old. By the time I was in 9th or 10th grade I took care of my hair on my own. I even applied my own relaxers, something many women would never try. I washed, blow-dried and flat-ironed my hair approximately every 2 weeks. As my hair grew, I found that I could straighten my hair without needing a relaxer. My flat iron was hot enough and with the help of some quality products, I found that I could get my hair very straight and protect it from the humidity with product. I continued getting relaxers but on a less frequent basis. Until, I started getting curious about what my natural hair would look like.
My best friend, who had never had a relaxer, always kept her hair straightened using a hot comb (same idea as flat ironing but a different method), her hair was virgin hair (never chemically processed), and while we were still in high school, she tested out wearing her natural curls a time or two. I loved the idea, and the reaction she received from all of our friends, got me thinking that maybe my natural hair was beautiful too. It was a new idea back in 2006 and 2007 and there weren’t many girls or women wearing their natural hair. I knew it would cause a stir and wasn’t quite ready for that jump yet. The seed was planted and in a few years I would venture into the world of natural hair.
Throughout 2006-2009, I saw a stylist regularly (every 4 or 5 months) and she did an amazing job straightening my hair. She styled my hair for prom in 2006 and 2007, and as I let my relaxer go, she commented on how beautiful my natural curls were. I was just itching to see what my hair would look like if I could wear my curls from roots to ends, but sadly I had relaxer in most of my hair. Finally, it was my sophomore year of college and I moved away from home. I knew that hair care would be more challenging in the dorms, and I knew I was not going to rely on frequent visits to the salon (lack of funds), so I decided that it was time to let the creamy crack (relaxer) go! I let my hair grow out.
I went through some awkward periods with my hair. Before I left home, I had dyed all of my hair a reddish color, it then faded to a coppery brown color, but still a pretty tone. Once I started letting my hair grow out, I had relaxed/colored hair on my ends, and blackish curly hair at my roots. It was very odd and for a while I did not like how my hair looked, even when it was all straightened. Throughout this time I was struggling in general, I was away from home for the first time and everything was new. My confidence suffered, went up and down for a long time, but today (8 years later) I am in my most confident and secure self. There will always be more work to do, but I’ve come a long way.
About 8 or 9 months went by and I started to notice that my hair was breaking off where the relaxer began. It had gotten so bad that I couldn’t hide the damage anymore. I cut off all the bad hair (chemically-processed), and kept all the good hair (virgin hair). I had a cute bob for a while and I was back to loving my hair. I think that was probably my first rebellious act as an adult that I felt really proud of. I made a decision that was outside of the norm, and the result was positive. My hair started growing like wildfire and I noticed that when I applied conditioner after shampooing, I had the most defined curls. I wondered if I could get defined curls if I let the conditioner dry in my hair.
On a random wash day, I had nowhere to go, so I decided to experiment with my curly hair. I washed, I conditioned and then got out of the shower and let my hair air-dry. I liked the result, but I wasn’t sure about my natural frizz and I hadn’t gotten out of the “frizz is bad” phase. I started coiling my hair around my finger in small sections and got really cute boingy curls. After that first experiment I tried wearing my hair wet, and completely drenched in conditioner. I got some compliments, and I got some comments from people who called me “Frizz”. I was not comfortable with that name but I started to enjoy my hair, especially because I stood out, in a good way. For a while, I couldn’t stomach leaving the house with frizzy hair, but eventually, the time it took to coil my hair everyday, was not worth it. I had to let the frizz do its thing. I also started to enjoy not worrying about losing my style due to humidity. There is nothing more freeing than accepting yourself as you are. I started noticing other women letting their curls out. I began to identify as a “natural girl”, a term that was relatively new, but felt really good.
I wore my hair wet and curly most of the summer and straightened throughout the winter. I hadn’t yet figured out the hair care aspect of it, I was just enjoying my curls. My hair was growing and growing and growing, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the need to detangle so frequently, and how much product was required while wearing my hair curly. It became an expense that I probably wasn’t ready for, but I was not giving in to traditional standards anymore because I loved standing out. I did some research and found that there were whole blogs dedicated to naturally curly hair. I found Curly Nikki, naturallycurly.com and began watching Naptural85’s videos on Youtube. Naptural85, AKA Whitney White, had a hair texture that closely resembled mine and it was thick and luscious and she always styled it really cute. She had advice that I trusted and I wanted to learn from her. As time went on, I learned that there were products made from certified organic ingredients, and intended to be used by curlies. My devotion to Shea Moisture began during this period. Shea Moisture, for those that do not know, is a company that now includes several hair and beauty products, but began as a hair care line that had organic Shea butter in it and expanded to include lines with other organic ingredients as well. My hair loved it and it was less expensive than many other curly hair care lines, so I stuck with it. Today I still shampoo and conditioner with Shea Moisture but I have explored many different styling agents.
Approximately 4 years ago, I decided to cut my hair to make it more manageable. Shortly after, I began student teaching in the desert in Utah and found that straightening my hair was difficult because my hair was so short. I started wearing my hair curly more often and even when I left the reservation in Utah (more on that later), I continued wearing my hair curly, even in the winter. I wore my hair curly more than I wore it straight and would only straighten it when I wanted a break, to check the length of my hair, or for special occasions. It became part of my eternal identity and I was recognizable as the girl with the big curly hair. I loved it and always will.
Today, I have been through many fiascoes with my hair. I am currently wearing long box braids as a protective style, but also because I need a serious break from my hair. I love it, I do, but either what I have been doing to it is harmful, or my hair is aging and becoming more easily damaged. It has been dry, brittle and fragile. I tried wearing twists, keeping my hair stretched to avoid terrible tangles, breakage and single strand knots. I also tried deep conditioners, hot oil treatments, homemade styling products and nothing brought my hair back to life. Finally, I gave in and bought a product made of not all natural ingredients that made my hair feel moist again. I had already decided I needed a break, so I installed my crochet box braids and am enjoying that for now.
I shared this journey with you, because each woman has a different story. Mine was about discovering the beauty inside me. Today, I know that no matter how much frizz I endure, I’m still beautiful. I don’t hide from it anymore and that feels liberating. Deciding to go natural was a decision that launched an entire movement within me. I am now more confident, I prefer natural beauty to made up beauty, I respect those who challenge the status quo and I aim everyday to love myself entirely. Being a naturalista has caused me to re-evaluate why I am doing this again and again. I look at my natural hair not as a rebellious act, but a reclaiming of my autonomy against the world. I don’t have to apologize for who I am at all, I am my most beautiful when I own all aspects of myself. I am skinny, I have big poofy hair, I have a loud laugh, I am very goofy, I don’t see the world in the way many others do, I am passionate, I am creative, I enjoy taking risks with fashion, and you will never know another one like me. I hope you learn to own who you are and love it with every fiber of your being. #fearlessbeauty
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