Meet Kea… on her journey, she’s learned that she doesn’t need to shorten or straighten her hair to make others happy.
“I have always been embarrassed by my hair,” until now.
My earliest hair memories begin at 5, my mother washing out the “Just For Me” relaxer in the sink. I hated everything to do with hair. Point blank: IT HURT. But I’ve always had a soft spot for cornrows. Every summer, my mother would braid my hair in beautiful zig-zag designs, then plait it all the way down to the ends. With my hair beads jingling and braids swaying, I felt like a princess! And of course, my hair would grow like a beast. I absolutely LOVED the huge, wild effect I got right after taking my braids out. My family called me “Cousin It” of the Addams family. Lol. I secretly wanted my hair to be this BIG all the time.
Leading up to middle school, my mother was my only hairdresser: she meticulously cared for each strand. At the age of 8, my hair extended well past my shoulders, which was normal for me back then. But, boy did I catch hell for it, from all the other little girls at school! “You shouldn’t be allowed to wear fake hair,” “Is your Daddy white?” “You must be mixed!” No matter how much I assured them that I was black, and this was my real hair, they never believed and would taunt me. Hence, I started to become embarrassed by my hair and saw it as a rejection of my African American heritage. Society told me that if I wanted to “look black,” I couldn’t have long hair. One year, during a trip to New York, a black man actually stopped my mother on the street. After taking one look at my hair, he publicly berated her about biracial relationships! (he assumed my father wasn’t black). While this is wrong on many different levels, it left me wondering: Why isn’t my hair “black enough”?
During 8th grade, I received my first professional cut and relaxer. A devoted fan of Aaliyah since my childhood, I got a similar layered cut that framed my face. My hair became a shorter, “more reasonable” length for black hair and those hurtful comments melted away, into compliments. I figured I was doing something right. Not to mention, the stronger relaxer got ALL of the waves and kinks out of my hair that the “Just for Me” would have missed. My mother showed me baby pictures, and told me I used to have curly hair, but that scared me. Despite the length, people felt comfortable in the fact that I was relying solely on chemicals for my hair texture.
Upon high school graduation, I noticed my once fast-growing hair seemed to be getting shorter, without the aid of scissors. This inspired me to rock cornrows, my old “go-to” for hair growth. I was determined to reinvent myself to be a longer-haired college student who was more sophisticated. At the University of Florida, my long, relaxed hair was no longer an anomaly. Longer, silkier-haired constituents of all cultures constantly surrounded me: the race for long hair was on!
After a few semesters at UF, the importance of long hair seemed to slip away. I yearned for fashionable, trendy hair…spawning my quest for the perfect haircut. I progressed to a short, spiky bob, accompanied by shrieks of “why do you keep cutting your hair!” along the way. I loved seeing the old hair fall to the ground, the freshly clipped ends, and bouncy layers. At the same time, I was distancing myself from the “long-haired-thick-red-bone” stereotype (although sadly, I’ve never been considered “thick,” lol). During this time, I switched hair-stylists and began to see how damaged my ends were, vowing to clip away all the “weak” parts until they persisted no more. Problem being I always seemed to damage the “new” healthy hair, leading to another cut. Nothing was ever good enough for me to keep. And so, this led to my informal 5-month transition.
I call it an informal transition, because I somewhat stumbled into it. I received my last relaxer June 24, 2009. It started out as a financial experiment: I wanted to see if I could stretch my relaxer until Christmas, by blow-drying and flat-ironing once a week (dumb, I know…but ultimately saving money). I think the only reason my hair didn’t break-off, is because my mother raised me to deep condition and do hot oil treatments every time I wash my hair (thanks mom!) I really didn’t know anything about working with the two different hair textures, and never once thought to look for advice online. All I knew was that my hair seemed to thirst for, and CRAVE something…what could it be? I browsed my local beauty supply and picked up a jar of Cantu Shea Butter. With a touch of moisture, I saw my “new growth” happily curl up upon itself! I was intrigued. I had never seen my curl pattern before.
I decided to go natural then and there, but would tell no one other than my boyfriend. I abruptly BC’d a few weeks later in the bathroom mirror and it was invigorating! I have never felt more free, or comfortable in my own skin than I do now. The moment of truth was the first day attending class with my curls. Although I instantly loved my hair, I dreaded the ignorant comments. You know, the ones about having “good hair,” that I hadn’t been able to dissuade (even in the wake of my relaxers). This is what I had been running from my entire life, using chemical straighteners as my crutch. I now know that being proud of my culture has nothing to do with the texture of my hair; I don’t need to shorten or straighten it, to make others happy. However, I’m still looking for the most eye-opening response to people who say: “I’d go natural too, if I had good hair.” Any suggestions?