Since I can remember, my hair has been both my crowning glory and my greatest nemesis. Like many African American women, I have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in salons straightening my hair with chemicals and heat. Growing up, I skipped out on birthday parties at swimming pools and gym classes to protect my freshly straightened strands. As an adult, I performed olympic-worthy acrobatics in avoiding sudden rain storms, and sacrificed many a good nights' sleep by sleeping on my hands to preserve the styles I had just spent 5 hours and $$$ achieving. I used to have (and sometimes still do) anxiety nightmares about finding a trustworthy and skilled stylist who could give me that smooth, silky look I had grown accustomed to over the years.
During my senior year in college, I took a vacation in Jamaica and decided to get a set of cornrows (my first in 10 years) so that I wouldnt have to worry about what to do with my hair everytime I decided to go for a swim. After enduring the painful 4 hours of actual braiding, the next month was footloose and worry free! But shortly thereafter, I returned to relaxing my hair and continued to do so for the next couple years whenever I took a trip or wanted a brief break from relaxers.
Eventually, I started to notice a pattern emerging: every time I left the salon, I would have large, painful chemical burns all over my scalp and sometimes my ears. Still, I didnt question the necessity of a relaxer---it was normal to endure this sort of thing for your hair, right?
Then in March 2009, I was traveling in Salvador da Bahia in Brasil. The streets were filled with women getting their hair braided, and while I had traveled to the country with a set of cornrows in, I decided to take the "when in rome" route and get a set of Brasilian braids. I deviated from my usual cornrow routine and went for a set of medium thickness, burgundy colored singles that were decorated with raffia and cowrie shells. It was the most amazing braiding experience Ive ever had! All in all, I was sitting with my braider, Fabiola, for about 12 hours total in a beautiful Brasilian cultural center where people were dancing, making music, and hanging out all around us. Somewhere in our conversations about life, love, and food, she says to me "I am going to give you the best advice you'll ever have--stop relaxing your hair and go natural." A silly idea, I thought, especially from the person braiding my massive amounts of thick, coarse hair. But I thought about it, and thought about how during my last relaxer not only did I get burns again, but some of my hair had fallen out. So I agreed, natural hair it was!
Fast forward a couple months: the braids need to come out. I've been back from Brasil for a couple months at this point, I'm back to work annnnnnd I've been thinking that a cute little bob would be nice to rock for a little bit, so I call and make an appointment with my stylist for a relaxer. At this point, natural hair seemed daunting and enough people had talked me out of my resolution. So I take out the braids and in the process of washing, conditioning and combing my hair I was shocked to realize that I could comb through my new growth while my relaxed ends were turning into dreadlocks. The new growth was shiny and healthy and the relaxed hair was brittle and breaking. As I looked at the piles of hair around my feet, with tears in my eyes (from the pain of the 45 minutes of tugging and the trauma of massive hair loss) I decided to move forward and commit to going natural.
I was never old enough to do my own natural hair and I cant even remember what the texture is like without chemicals (beyond that 1" of new growth at the 6-week 'I need to make an appointment' point). I am going to use this blog to document my experience as I navigate the wide world of natural hair care as a relaxer devotee turned liberated, natural headed woman.
This blog is not going to just be about hairstyles and products (there are not only plenty of those out there, but eventually this blog would become as boring as, well, watching hair grow). I've come to realize that the story of black hair is a story about cultural and personal identity, health and diet, schools and learning, world history and politics, art and expression, laughter and struggle, and family and friends. I'm also a very visual person so look forward to a lot of pictures too! (not just of me, this isnt O Magazine). And some interviews. And whatever else I deem worthy of making this a dynamic, entertaining, educational reading experience.