I begged my mom to let me get a relaxer when I was 10, but she refused. All the other black girls in my school had perms (there were only a handful of us), and their hair was silky and pretty while mine sat in “Pippy Longstocking-ish” ponytails jutting out from the sides of my head. I got teased by the white kids all the time for those ponytails, in addition to other things – “daddy long legs” and “big lips” were some of the nicer names I was called. Finally at age 12 my mom let me get a perm, and I at least had some outward similarities to the other kids in my school. I continued to relax my hair through adulthood until I was about 29.
I didn’t so much decide to go natural as I did just stop relaxing my hair. I was living and working in Panama at the time, and I was very nervous about having chemicals put on my hair in an unfamiliar country. My plan was to get it permed as soon as I got back to the U.S. As the roots began to grow longer, I did wash-and-go’s a lot so there wasn’t such an obvious difference between the two textures. On a trip to Brazil, I noticed that a LOT of Brazilians wore their hair in their natural curly texture. I thought, “Maybe there’s something to this. If they can wear their hair the way it comes out of their head maybe I should keep doing this no-perm thing and see what happens.” I had no idea what my natural hair really looked or felt like except for childhood pictures I’d seen of myself.
I met my husband around this time. He’s half Caucasian and half Mexican, and he loves my hair. After we had been dating a few weeks he told his black friend that when he put his hands through my hair, it was ‘deep and curly inside’. I laughed at what his friend must have been saying to himself: ‘Man, that’s just some nappy roots.’ Finally I got sick of those two textures sitting on my head, and I did the BC. It was an impulsive decision, but I loved it! I lived in Miami then, and it felt like I had an air conditioner on my head. It was totally freeing to have short natural hair. I really had no idea what to do with it though. I was just winging it. I was basically using the same products I used when my hair was straight. My hair just kept soaking up every bit of moisture I put in it, so eventually I figured the effort of moisturizing was useless and I just quit. My hair kept growing higher and higher, and it refused to fall like I wanted it to. In my efforts to tame my BAA (or Big Ass Afro), I had a texturizer put in it. Again on a whim, without doing any prior research, I went to the local JCPenney salon and asked a stylist I had never seen before to put a texturizer in my hair. I ended up looking lopsided because she left perm in one side longer than on the other side.
I continued getting texturizers for the next 2 or 3 years. Somehow, though, I kept going back to the thought that maybe I was like in grade school – wanting to be like everyone else around me. Why did I hate my hair so much? Why did it bother me that my hair wouldn’t grow down instead of up? Why should it have to grow down if it didn’t want to? It’s hard standing out in a crowd, and my BAA REALLY stood out. I got compliments on it all the time, yet I didn’t love or even like my hair. Finally I said ‘Screw it’ and decided to try natural again.
I’ve been natural about 2.5 years now. When I went natural the first time, all of these wonderful online resources weren’t out there. But now I feel so fully supported by a bunch of women I don’t even know. I’m still learning to love my hair it all its glorious manifestations: afro, twists, twist outs, buns, etc. I get new ideas everyday from sites like curlynikki.com. I now do a lot of research before I put something into my hair, taking care to use mostly natural products, moisturize it, put it up at night, and style it (no more than 10 minutes) every day. My hair’s uniqueness is a source of pride, rather than a reason to hide or change it to fit in. I’m not a product junkie because A) it’s too expensive and B) when you use different products all the time, it never has a chance to adjust, and it’s hard to learn what truly works and what doesn’t. My routine is simple: co-wash (Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition) and deep condition (either oil or avocado) once a week, and either wash and go or twist out with KK Curling Custard. I’m still learning every day, so when my hair or scalp is trying to tell me something, I listen by changing one thing at a time to determine what works better.
I promise to be your best friend from now on. Thank you for all that you do.
P.S. – I love you unconditionally