I AM my hair.
I was born in Bogota, Colombia in 1987, the third child of a mother without a husband, without the sufficient means to take care of another baby. My mother made a wise decision and put me up for adoption. She had me in a motherhouse, where she was taken care of until she had recovered from the delivery. She left me there and it was a mere three months until my new father came all the way from The Netherlands, Europe to get me.
I was adopted by the two most loving parents any child can wish for, but my parents had one negative point about them: they were white, and I was most certainly not.
Looking back on my childhood, my hair was a big pit of frustration for me and my mother. Unlike nowadays, where adoptive parents can go online and find all the information they need to take care of their afro haired children, my mother had no resources at all. She tried everything, every shampoo, every conditioner, but every single week, on washday, I would stand up in the bathtub, covered in a thick towel, shaking with the futile effort of trying not to cry as my mom, as careful as she could, worked out the tangles. We used to spend an hour of pure horror, crying together in that bathroom. I will never forget that.
I had a fro until I was eight and refused to get anymore haircuts. I wanted long hair. I longed for it. I don’t remember when I started doing my own hair, or at least wash it myself. It made an end to the pain of having my mom do it, but it didn’t end the ordeal. I had absolutely no idea what to do with my hair, I knew NOTHING about black hair, or what it was and what it meant.
I grew up in a predominantly white, upper middle class environment. My adoption has never been an issue to anyone, but I had no real conception of what it meant to be black, nor what that meant in terms of skin and hair. I grew up without racial issues. I never felt different, but that also meant I ignored the clear difference my hair showed compared to other girls long, sleek locks. I grew my hair long, but that was all there was to it. It was poofy, and I pretty much wore it in a low bun all the time, pinning back any flyaways. The few occasions I did wear it out, I got so many compliments from older friends and my family, but all I wanted was straight hair. I could not see how healthy and gorgeous my natural curls were, I was focused on getting it straight, like everybody else’s.
At eleven, I got my first relaxer, going to a self-proclaimed black hair stylist. I can tell you, he was not. My hair got ruined, it looked like a doll’s hair. It was then that the breakage started. I had to cut if off to ear length. I continued my search for a good stylist and finally, at thirteen, found one. My mom took me there and when I sat down in the chair, he asked me what I wanted. I demanded he give me straight hair, like the picture of Alicia Keys I brought.
He nodded, said that could be done. He talked to my mom about the former stylist and assured her he would do no such thing. He then cut off the damaged ends and gave me a texturizer with a rollerset. He flatironed the roots and then allowed me to check out the end result.
My mom and I cried of happiness. My hair was long, silky and bone-straight.
The truth was, I really still didn’t know anything about black hair. All I knew is what my stylist told me, that I needed leave-in conditioners and needed to stop washing my hair four times a week. Most, I know now, made perfect sense. The texturizer helped me manage my hair, it was easier to comb through, which was the main reason I had it done anyway. Some, however, did not. I know now my stylist practiced Dominican Blowouts, blowdrying my rollerset superstraight, on a way too hot setting. That must have given me heatdamage.
I sort of managed my hair for years, only getting two texturizers a year. I realize now I was a stretcher, but I did it only because these services where expensive and I had to spend an entire day at the salon, which I did not always feel like. I also still did not know any other girls with my hairtype, had nothing to compare it with.
When I hit puberty, my life went out of control. The adoption had left its marks on my psyche and I ended up in therapy. Refusing to accept that my problems had anything to do with being adopted, I wore my hair straight a lot in that time, almost like I was trying to prove a point. The hair was my lifeline, except for my skin, which I could not change, I ditched my curls to look more like my parents. I needed to reassure myself that I was their child, that I belonged with them. The desperation of it is evident to me now. Back then, I had no idea.
I had that straight hair the night I met my boyfriend of five years. He loved the look on me, but also accepted me for who I was, problems and all. He never shied away from the mess that was me, back then.
As I got better, I gradually started to dislike my sleek locks more and more. I simply stopped going to the salon for inbetween blowouts, only having straight hair about two weeks a year, a week after every texturizer. My hair looked okay-ish when curly, but the unawareness of the necessity of moisturizing and six months of dead ends everytime I went for a trim, kept my hair on shoulder length. It wasn’t until I discovered healthytextures.com only in june of ’08 that I truly started realizing what it was that I did to my hair and what my hair really was about. I became a PJ to the max, realizing my supply of good products in the Netherlands was very, very limited. I became obsessed with my hair, trying new styles, new products, realizing I had a breakage problem, trying to fix that.
When the site needed to be payed for, I found others, CurlyNikky being one of the most valuable. I got my last texturizer in August ’08, and decided not to get it redone in November. I was tired, so tired of the breaking hair. I was tired of trying to submit my hair to something it did not mean to do. I was tired of claiming to be a self-assured, assertive, strong woman, and not accepting myself for who I was. I had been in therapy from the age of 15 to 18. I had fought my way back from the edge, reacquainting myself with my place in the world.
Three years after saying goodbye to my psychiatrist, I cut off the texturized ends on April 16th, ’09. While washing my now short, natural hair in the shower afterwards, I cried and cried and cried. I felt that with cutting of the hair I wore throughout my therapy process, I had truly ended that period of my life. It was over, I had come out the other end a scarred, but healed woman.
I realize now that I AM in fact, my hair. My relationship with it goes deeper than most. It signifies self-acceptance on a level I can hardly explain. It defines my state of mind, it truly is my crown and glory.
In some way, I feel I deserve being natural. I am where I should be to begin with, and I will never be elsewhere.