My Hair Journey: What I’ve Learned From My Natural Hair

As a little girl, I was used to the six-week touch-up, having my mom mix the relaxer kit in the kitchen and wash my hair out over the sink. Yet, despite this regular routine, I always saw myself as having a pretty “natural” look. I never had fake nails, wore minimal makeup, wasn’t a huge fan of weaves or wigs, and honestly, didn’t have my first pair of false eyelashes until just a couple years ago.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I stopped to contemplate — was my relaxed hair really natural? I mean, it was mine, coming out of my own head, but pressed and heated and fried to fit the mold of specific beauty standards.

Growing up in a predominantly white community, I’d never questioned chemically straightening my hair. But when I moved to Chicago I became friends with some phenomenal black women. These ladies rocked their curls, embraced their coils, and celebrated their texture. As I admired their natural hair, I realized I didn’t actually know what mine looked like. I’d been on the creamy crack so long that I wasn’t sure what was underneath.

 

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I stopped to contemplate — was my relaxed hair really natural? I mean, it was mine, coming out of my own head, but pressed and heated and fried to fit the mold of specific beauty standards.

 

I wasn’t sure what was underneath my attempts to meet the beauty standards of women who didn’t look like me. That realization felt like walking into a glass door. The landscape didn’t change, but my perception of it was fundamentally altered.

I decided it was time for “The Big Chop.” I grew my unrelaxed hair out as long as I could, wearing thick headbands to hide the emerging curls. But soon managing the two conflicting textures felt like a part-time job. The straightened ends that still comprised three-fourths of my hair truly felt like dead weight, and they had to go.

So I did it. I was left with less than an inch of fresh, tight coils. I wish I could tell you it was the fist pumping, independent woman moment I imagined. But I can’t.

 

I wasn’t sure what was underneath my attempts to meet the beauty standards of women who didn’t look like me.

 

For the first few weeks I was low-key seeking affirmation from every corner. I liked the change, but simultaneously felt the compulsion to make sure other people did too. I’m ashamed to admit I even sought the seal of approval from a white man I was into at the time — I know, insert eye roll and facepalm emojis.

It was no longer my hair that needed to grow, it was something deeper within me.

But the unsolicited input from others, strangers and acquaintances alike, didn’t help. People felt the freedom to ask questions about my hair (is it really yours?); to provide comments about my hair (it just looks so ethnic); and to reach out and touch my hair —without asking. All things that, to someone who hasn’t ever dealt with them, may not seem like a big deal, but by every definition are microaggressions.

Even though I was shedding the pressure to assimilate, I was still hoping my natural hair would be considered “good hair” — contained, viewed as “ professional” and still somewhat close to a representation of beauty that made people comfortable. But there are always people who will be uncomfortable with things that aren’t familiar to them.

So I just kept coming back to my why. I did this for me, not them. Why?

 

Even though I was shedding the pressure to assimilate, I was still hoping my natural hair would be considered ‘good hair’ — contained, viewed as ‘professional’ and still somewhat close to a representation of beauty that made people comfortable.

 

A year and a half after The Big Chop I sat in a salon chair watching a stylist work through my hair, afro flat-ironed down past my shoulders, looking strong and healthy and shiny. My first straight style since going natural, I thought “This man has done some voodoo magic… and I look good!” But the more I admired my hair in the mirror, played with it, and ran my fingers through each smooth strand, I realized it wasn’t the fact that my hair was straight that made it magical. It was the fact that the journey to that point left me feeling like myself in a way I never had before.

The fact that I can go from a crown of curls and kinks and coils, to silky smooth tresses that hold all the same strength and power is extraordinary. I can dramatically change my look in, well, three hours (it’s no joke, that ish is a commitment), almost looking like a different person while still effortlessly holding true to who I am.

I realize now that no amount of makeup or weave or false eyelashes will make me any less of the natural black woman that I am. Which is good because, to be honest, I discovered that those eyelashes are amazing, and I need to figure out a way to make them a more regular part of my look.

 

I realize now that no amount of makeup or weave or false eyelashes will make me any less of the natural black woman that I am.

 

It’s less about the thing and more about the intention behind the thing. Am I doing this to fit a mold and to hide who I am? Or am I doing it to celebrate a different side of me? When I look in the mirror, do I like what I see? None of us will be able to say “yes” every second of every day, nor will we like each facet of our reflection. But, at the core, do we love what we have been given and who we are becoming?

I do now. So I’m gonna keep rocking my crown — long or short, curly or straight, smooth or kinky. It may change, but no longer out of the desire to conform — out of the desire to celebrate.

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