Me and my hair have had a long and bumpy journey. I have always had kinky, coily hair. And my mom was not too keen on styling it herself. So, she permed it when I was four years old.
I like to call that event “the end of days.” Yes, I know that seems a bit melodramatic but I am sure she had no idea that for the next 12 to 16 years of my life, I would struggle with self-esteem and a positive body image specifically around my hair.
Throughout elementary and grade school, I experienced the “grow a little, break right off” pattern of over-processed permed hair. And, not knowing that this wasn’t my only option, I dreamed of the days when I would have long flowing hair like the other girls in my class. But, it never happened. I tried wearing synthetic hair braids to help my hair grow but often, I did so little to take care of the hair underneath, it just resulted in unevenness and more breakage.
By high school graduation, I had already grown my relaxer out once. But, so irritated with the slow pace of growth, I started bothering my poor tresses. After growing it out for less than two years, I permanently colored it. And while the first day of hair experimentation looked great, I slowly watched it break from the chemical processing. By high school graduation, my press was back to the thin shoulder length it had been when I was relaxed.
So, I simply cut it all off again and started fresh. Not totally sure what natural hair would be like in college, I thought it was worth a try.
And so the saga started again…
My Natural-ish Days
As I started college, I, like many young whipper snappers, experimented with my hair. I learned how to cornrow and braid my own singles and often wore braided styles. I put them in and took them out and never really gave my hair a break in between. In two years, I saw tremendous growth but still had no idea how to take care of my natural tresses. Plus, I had thinning around my temples from all the tiny braids I put in.
Once again, my hair got to reach about shoulder length but it was unhealthy, thinning, and unmanageable. To put it simply, I had no idea what my hair needed. I washed my hair with whatever I thought sounded good. I used heavy greases and pomades instead of natural oils and emollients. I had no idea about the “protein-moisture balance.” And, my hair suffered because of it. So, I gave up….again…
My Re-straightened Days
A few weeks before my wedding, I went to my childhood hairstylist and asked her to perm my natural afro. She was crushed. She chided me, admonished me, and attempted to cajole me out of my decision. But (listening to my mother’s voice in the back of my head) I couldn’t bear the thought of having “nappy” hair on my wedding day.
So, she did the deed. It was hard for me but I normalized it thinking that things would be different because I was starting with a brand new head of hair…well…
Things weren’t different. In fact, my hair situation got worse. A few months after the wedding and a terrible stylist later, my hair ended up breaking off BADLY. I had to cut off about 6 inches and rock the chin length bob. It was devastating. I felt like all my work for all those years had been for nothing. And, as if it couldn’t get any worse, the stylist I had started seeing began using products that I had an allergic reaction to causing terrible flaking, eczema, and sores around the front of my hairline.
I was pretty much over it. I was over my hair. I was over the hair shop. I was over the stress. I was over the crying. I was just done. And, I started to really hate my hair. I wanted to hide it. I was ashamed. I felt like people were judging me because it wasn’t longer, healthier.
So, that is exactly what I did. I hid it behind braids and weaves for about 4 years. Every time I would take my weave down, I would put one in again. I never wanted my hair to see the light of day. During that time, I cut off all the relaxer, little by little.
Meanwhile, I discovered hair bloggers and a host of other women going through the same cycle I had experienced. And, in summer of 2011, I finally developed the confidence to wear my OWN hair.
My (Real) Natural Days
I went on a rampage and threw out every ‘cone, lanolin-based jar of goop in my bathroom. I invested in natural sulfate free shampoos and conditioners. I developed a regimen that worked for my extremely coarse, extremely thick 4b/4c hair. I put the blow-dryer and flat iron away. And, I started doing monthly henna treatments to help strengthen the hair I had systematically torn to pieces for the past 10 years. I started taking B vitamins. I started drinking half of my weight in water every day. I started trimming all the heat damage from my ends. And, I started exploring the art of protective styling.
But, most importantly, I decided to love my hair and myself. I decided to value my hair. I decided that my hair was worth something. And, in response, my hair became my crowning glory. Now just a few months later, I have seen inches of growth. Broken parts of my hair have grown back. Places once damaged by tight weaves and braids are now thriving.
My hair is healthy, happy. It is manageable and, probably for the first time in my life, it actually reflects the person I am on the inside.
My hair journey was and is a part of my personal Worth Campaign. It has been a part of my struggle with my own self-worth since I was a child. Not every woman of color struggles with their hair but I have. And, I am still learning about it and myself every single day. Hair care and love for our authentic physical features is a major component of the The Worth Campaign, Inc..