“You need it for manageability.” My mother told me one summer day as we prepared for our family reunion. You see, I am the third of five girls and extremely tender headed, extremely, so I understand my mother’s frustration with having to manage my hair along with my sisters and, as with a lot of black mothers, perming my hair seemed like the only alternative. I was eleven years old then, and as I began to grow, that mentality that I ‘needed a perm,’ that ‘my hair couldn’t be managed, combed, or styled without it’, grew with me.
My hair was damaged and ugly; my natural dark brown color had become stripped and dull, my ends were split and nasty and my roots were so dry it was as if someone had lit a match to them and turned my hair to straw. It was just horrible. I stared in the mirror for hours, looking at the damage that I’d inflicted upon my hair. I wanted to cry out in disgust like, “What in the world have I done to my hair?” I was 17 years old and, I decided, no determined, that it was time for me to stop getting perms. After all, my mother and two of my sisters had already done ‘The Big Chop’ and their hair was growing in beautifully. Now I was too stubborn to cut off all of my hair, so I decided to repair my damaged hair and let the perm grow out slowly. I was so proud of my decision, that is, until I went to work the next day. I told myself, “I can’t manage college and a job while having to worry about my hair.” In my mind, my hair was just going to be a nappy mess that was hard to maintain. Plus, I refused to walk around looking like Natural Nancy when every girl around me, from celebrities to everyday women, had long, soft, flowing locks. One week later, my hair was permed again.
‘Creamy Crack’ is just what the perm had become to me, a highly addictive drug that I just couldn’t live without. I’d just turned 23 and I was relaxing my hair every two months. Literally at the first sight of new growth, I’d go and get a touch up. My hair was still lifeless and ugly, even began to fall out in patches, but I didn’t care. I’d rather my hair fall out than to walk around looking a nappy mess. I absolutely refused. I’d lie in bed at war with myself. On the one hand, my sisters, mother, and women everywhere were gorgeous and confident with their natural hair. I wanted to have that feeling, that ‘I can conquer the world’ feeling. On the other hand, I still liked that straight, permed hair and I wasn’t willing to wait years for my hair to grow back healthily if I was to chop it all off. So I continued to rebelliously straighten and relax my hair. But, something happened that made me really do some soul searching. My boyfriend was taking me out and he wanted me to look extra nice. I went through my usual routine of flat ironing my hair for hours in an attempt to get it as straight as possible. When he came to pick me up, he looked at me and said, “Babe, why didn’t you do your hair? I told you we were going somewhere special.” I couldn’t believe it. I’d just spent hours in the mirror fixing my hair and he had the audacity to come and criticize the way I looked! I was furious at him and, as you can imagine, we fought terribly and never went out. After he left, I went and took a glimpse in the mirror. I wanted to cry out from shame. My hair was stiff, thin, and dry. It was so hideous from breakage that it was beyond repair. I instantly became depressed. I felt ugly and unsatisfied. What was I to do? There was only one option; I had to chop it off. I ran to grab a pair of fabric scissors and I called to my mother. I handed her the scissors and, after little thought, she began to chop. I watched, frantically, as my hair began to fall to the floor. Regret had already begun to creep in.
I cried for weeks. What had I done? I was bald and ugly. Instead of feeling confident like my sisters and the natural women I’d read about, I felt depressed, hideous and sick. My boyfriend, who was now my fiancée, was going to hate my hair so bad that he’d leave me. I was going to be ridiculed by my friends and relatives. I didn’t want to look at magazines and see all of the popular celebrities looking fabulous with their permed, spunky hair while my hair looked nappy and unappealing. I stayed indoors for weeks because I was too ashamed to face the world. I felt naked.
When I first showed my fiancée my freshly chopped mane, he was shocked, though not in a bad way. He felt relieved that he would no longer have to hear me complain that I couldn’t find anything to do with my hair. He embraced me and my new look. For me, that broke the ice. I began to go on YouTube and watch videos and tutorials on how to style my natural hair. I read natural hair blogs and Googled pictures of women with natural styles. All of a sudden, the possibilities were endless. I started to feel that ‘I can take on the world’ confidence. I felt beautiful, free, and happy. As the months passed, I embraced my natural hair even more, testing new products and trying different styles. For the first time, my hair felt soft, full and healthy. I loved my curls. I loved everything about my natural hair. I was free, mentally and physically free, from the prison in which my hair had held me captive for years.
At 24 years old, it’s been one year and two months since my big chop and not a day goes by that I don’t get stopped about my hair. Women ask me everything from how do I get it so soft, curly and shiny to how did I do it? After I tell them my hair routine, I tell them all the one powerful truth: that I went through hell to get here. But I’m free now, and I will stay free.
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