Meet Andréa Smith. A twenty-four year old, Michigan State Graduate. She has been natural for 5 months and transitioned for nearly two years. She shares, “I can truly say it’s the best decision I’ve made concerning, not just my hair, but my total self as it has brought a boost of confidence with it.” Read on as she recounts her experiences being a curly girl in a beauty pageant.
Let me start by stating a truth. Growing up Black in America is challenging. I remember, as a kid, telling my Caucasian friend I wanted hair like hers. I would imagine my hair flowing in the wind as I walked. That was the only beauty there was to me. I got my first relaxer around the age of 9 after asking my mother for one. Apparently I observed other Black girls at school with straight hair and wanted it too. That went well for the first couple of years and I eventually started doing my own hair. I spent my high school years washing (with sulfates), blow drying, and flat-ironing my relaxed hair every. single. week! I now cringe at the thought of it. I had no knowledge of hair and I would sit in hairdressers’ chairs who didn’t seem to be too knowledgeable about it themselves. They knew how to relax, gel it down, and definitely didn’t mind cutting it, a thing I fell victim to.
One day during my freshman year in high school I went to get layers cut into my hair and came out of the salon with a full haircut. Four to five inches of my hair was gone! Throughout the years my trims also turned into haircuts. It was those moments that left me feeling helpless and confused. I couldn’t figure out why frequent trims were necessary (according to them) and I figured these hairstylists knew my hair needs better than I ever could. I knew I was doing something wrong since my mother had hair down her back by the time she was a senior in high school. I knew I should’ve had the same length or close to it! Finally, while in college, after much frustration…and another unwanted/unplanned haircut, I began to do my own research on hair. I had no plans of going natural, I just wanted to learn how to take care of my hair. I gained a lot of knowledge of hair and began stretching my relaxers, which introduced me to my curls. I was fond of my curls and didn’t want to lose them completely so I planned to start texlaxing my hair. My last relaxer, in April of 2011, turned out to be a mishap. My hairstylist didn’t realize how much new growth I had and only relaxed half of it. I was going to get it corrected but circumstances led me to believe that wouldn’t be the best choice. I didn’t know what to do. A few months later, a hairstylist who specialized in natural hair told me I should just grow out my relaxer, especially since I had about three inches of new growth at this point. I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea but later I began to watch a young lady’s YouTube channel (HairCrush) and I was finally sold, thus my transition began. Now, 15 years after my initial relaxer, I have gone back to my roots. I have fallen in love with my hair and now feel authentically me. I no longer have the guilty feeling of hiding behind a relaxer to feel pretty.
Recently I participated in a pageant that represented cultural diversity. I knew exactly how I wanted to represent. I was excited about presenting my true self at the pageant, my natural self. My goal was to show other Black girls that our natural self is beautiful. I was blessed to get that opportunity during a visit to a family center for kids in low income households, where I was able to briefly talk and promote natural hair with a pair of lovely young ladies.
I wore my hair curly most of the pageant week but when it came time for photo shoots they wanted to heat style my hair, “too much frizz.” I was told to go for the cover girl look. My hair has never gone through so much abuse in one week since being natural. Heat was applied via flat-iron and then twice with a curling iron all in the same day! I could almost hear my hair screaming at me! Here I was, excited about presenting me and they were trying to hide me! What an awakening!
I came back from that pageant with a greater knowledge of myself and of the society in which I live, along with an inner declaration. I declare, from within, to never “blend in”, one of the many perks of being natural. I declare that I will pay no mind to those who want me to “look the part” simply because it’s convenient. I declare that I will recognize my beauty even when only one type of beauty is being celebrated, and last but not least, I declare to reach out to my Black sisters who are struggling to and who are on the cusp of embracing the wonderful person God created in them, for God did not say “oops!” when He gave us this hair! We, as Black Americans, must love and celebrate ourselves, for no one, but us, will do it! Who would’ve thought that going natural could have such an impact?