Happy and Nappy: I Am Finally Not My Hair

After wearing a hair relaxer since the age of nine, I chopped my straight shoulder-length strands off earlier this year. I had decided to stop relaxing my hair because my hairline was thinning in the front. We have all seen those Black women whose hairlines have been obliterated and chased back two inches from their forehead by relaxers, braids and weaves. “That is not a good look,” I thought. So, I stopped relaxing my hair. I wasn’t brave enough to cut all of my relaxed hair off, because I was afraid of how I would look with short hair. Instead, I began the process of “transitioning” (i.e., growing my relaxed hair out until all of my hair was natural and unprocessed). However, I knew that transitioning would be a long process and that styling two-textured hair would be no easy feat. I came up with the brilliant idea of getting a weave so that I could “give my hair a rest.” Wrong move. I just went from bad to a hot mess. The weave was so tight that I looked like an Asian woman with a suntan and an overactive thyroid gland.  And then I slept in my contacts and burst a blood vessel in my eye. So, I now looked like a drunk Asian woman with a suntan and an overactive thyroid gland. And I had a headache that was too big for extra-strength Tylenol to handle. I had the weave taken out after two weeks. My scalp was so sore that I was forced to go to a dermatologist. My doctor was a forty-something year-old Black woman with shoulder-length natural hair in small twists. She examined my hairline and noted what I already knew, “You’ve got a lot of damage,” she said. “I think the lady pulled some of my hair out when she removed the weave,” I told the doctor as I pointed to a small bald spot on my head. “Yea, she did,” the doctor casually replied. “Well, will my hair grow grow back?” I asked with worry in my voice. “Yea, it should. Your follicles aren’t scarred, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t grow back,” she replied. “But, you need to give your hair a lot of TLC. Whatever you’re doing to it that’s so harsh, you need to stop,” she firmly said. What she really meant was, “If you keep on frying your hair, your entire head will be one big bald spot.” I wondered who her hair stylist was. “I guess it would tacky to ask her for hair styling tips, huh?” I thought. She is not the chatty type. However, she ultimately gave me a prescription for what can only be described as “scalp crack.” Oh, that steroid-filled solution made my scalp feel like heaven. I get a high just thinking about it. Over the next few months, I wore my hair in styles that didn’t require my hair to be straight.

My hair was thick and increasingly unmanageable. Although I wore braid-outs, French rolls and other up do’s, I didn’t have much patience for discovering yet another way to tame my hair. My impatience is what ultimately led me to the big chop. Despite usually going to the salon to have my hair washed, I decided to wash my own hair while at home one Saturday night. I was bored and it was cold outside. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. After three hours of washing, conditioning, and detangling that bird’s nest on my head, I had had enough! I was tired and still had not dried or styled my hair. “What am I holding on to this hair for,” I thought. I couldn’t think of any good reasons. “This is the last Saturday night I will ever spend doing my hair,” I thought and searched for a pair of scissors. Idle mind. Devil’s workshop. After I cut about three inches off, I thought, “What if I mess this up? I betta let a professional finish it off.” The next morning, I visited the Dominican hair salon around the corner from my house and told a stylist that I wanted her to cut all of my hair off. Three stylists, including the salon’s owner, tried to convince me to get a perm instead. “But, it’s gonna be short,” one stylist said to me.  “Yes, I know.” She then went to the owner and said something in Spanish. The owner came over to me. “You only want the new growth, mommy?” the owner said to me with a confused look on her face. “Yes.” She then spoke in Spanish to another stylist, who eventually cut my hair. Once she finished, the short-haired reflection staring back at me in the mirror initially shocked me. I had never seen this person before. In fact, I had never really gotten a good look at my face. And there it was. Nothing but my face and big eyes staring back at me. Well, well, well.  My hair was shorter than I had expected. When I had a head full of hair, I thought I had more new growth than this cut suggested. I even had one of granny’s wigs on hand just in case I hated my short hair. I wore a hat back home, because I had to decide whether I liked my cut. I had to get used to it. My hair hadn’t been this short since I was in diapers. But, I never had to use granny’s wig. I loved my hair.

Cutting my hair was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This was also the best time in my life to make such a bold move. I had previously contemplated going natural in high school and again in law school. However, I feared what others might say and think. I feared that men would think I was ugly or looked like a boy. I feared that my family and other Black people would disapprove. “Hmmph, you needed a perm,” my mother said in disgust after looking at my high school senior picture. I had sworn off perms that year, resulting in at least four inches of unprocessed hair merging into straight ends. “Well, you didn’t pay for my pictures. My granny did, so I really don’t care what you think,” I told her. But, I did care and eventually resumed relaxing my hair by my first year of college. I also feared that White people would think my kinky hair was “unprofessional” and be too afraid to hire me. I had read about Black female attorneys whose law firm employers had discouraged or prohibited them from wearing braided and other natural hair styles, because such styles looked “unprofessional” and “unkempt,” and made (White) clients feel “uncomfortable.” I knew of these women’s unsuccessful race and sex discrimination lawsuits regarding such grooming standards. “I’ve got too many law school loans to end up unemployed over some nappy hair,” I told myself. And so I continued my weekly trips to the Dominican hair salon to get my wash, roller-set, and fresh blow-out. I thought natural hair wouldn’t “look good on me” because I didn’t have “good” hair or the kind of hair that made people stop and ask me, “Do you have Indian in you?” I was just “regular Black.” I told myself that I wouldn’t be able to pull off a natural do, because there was nothing exotic or extraordinary about me. The chilling, unadulterated truth is that, beneath the freshly-done, bone straight hair, I didn’t like myself very much. I hid behind my hair. “At least my hair is long and straight,” I thought, somehow making me feel better about myself. However, I am no longer concerned with how others think I, a Black woman, should wear the hair that grows out of my head. Black women’s hair is a politically weighted and sensitive topic in our society. But, I am not a statistic, a cause, a project, a group representative, or a segment on CNN. I am simply me. I have finally embraced the fact that I have the right to be who I am, how I am – nappy hair and all! This shift in thinking has caused ripple effects in other areas of my life. The tides are changing and it’s a wonderful thing!

Here are some things I have discovered and love about having natural hair:

  1. My hair feels nice.
  2. I can enjoy walking in the rain without using an umbrella or wearing a plastic bag on my head. Humidity is my friend.
  3. My life no longer revolves around beauty salon visits, and I have more time to focus on other aspects of my life.
  4. What you see is what you get.
  5. I have a good hair day every day.
  6. I don’t have to worry about whether my hair is enough – long enough, straight enough, tamed enough, slicked down enough, “good” enough, or professional enough. My hair is what it is. My hair is enough, just as it is.
  7. I looked in the mirror and really saw myself for the first time. I can’t help but tell my reflection, “Wow, you are one fly chick!”
  8. My hair is healthy.
  9. I can wash my hair as often as I want to. I love the feel of water running through my hair.
  10. I am not my hair.

Ladies, what do you love about being natural? What has your natural hair journey been like? Fellas, what do you love about naturalistas?

6 thoughts

  1. My hair is unique. It’s curly, coily and it does what it wants. But you know what? It grows. I remember (when my hair was relaxed) always saying my hair ‘couldn’t handle length’ when people asked why it was always at shoulder length. Really, my strands were just snapping off. Now, I’ve got a full head of hair and it’s reaching for the sky and I love it =)

    1. Elle, you should check out the site http://www.nappturality.com for styling ideas and its discussion forums on every hair (and non-hair) topic imaginable:) Visiting a natural haircare salon for styling advice is also a good idea. Google it if you don’t know of any in your area. Good luck!

  2. Welcome to the club! I BC’d 3 weeks ago and am getting more familiar with my new texture. I can’t stop touching my hair and I enjoy washing it whenever I want.

    You look great!

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you are loving your hair! It is such a learning process. I eventually realized that I’m simple and lazy when it comes to hair, so the big chop works perfectly for me.

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