I went natural a little over a month ago. Being natural, for my non kinky-haired readers, simply means letting your hair exist free of chemical straighteners (also known as relaxers) and other such processes to alter its original texture. Technically, I’ve been natural for over a year now – my last relaxer was after graduation last year and was an incredibly horrifying experience. I had been rude to my hair for months and it paid me back in kind.
My decision to go natural wasn’t really thought out in advance – I had waited too long between relaxers and my hair had practically made the decision for me. It was hard to maintain because the bottom half of my hair was new growth that had never seen any chemicals, and the ends were scraggly, damaged, over-processed hairs. So I tucked it all away and wore weaves for a whole year, hoping my hair would grow out to the point where cutting off the relaxed ends wouldn’t make me look like a boy. I was transitioning.
Transitioning is that awkward process between where your hair is and where you want it to be. I didn’t want to do the Big Chop and start from scratch, so I transitioned for a year. I thought I was only transitioning hair textures, but as it turns out, I was going through a major transition in my mind as well. You see, I was taught that “good hair” meant long, straight hair or defined, silky curls and waves. Big, afro-textured hair was not acceptable in good society. And certainly not in my mother’s house. Good hair was white hair – which explains the inordinate amounts of money black women spend on weaves and relaxers every year.
I felt my prettiest when I’d hang out with my friends right after putting a new weave in and they oohed and aahed over my hair. Oh, and when the guys oohed and aahed too? I was SOLD on this good hair being white hair thing. Once when I had long straight hair, I had three of my guy friends on separate occasions tell me to never change my hair because I looked so good. You’d think that would make me glow with sexy joy, but it made me sick inside. Because I felt like a joke, like the person I was presenting to the world was a sham.
And to some extent, I was. I was a chameleon – I changed who I was based on where I was. If you expected me to be very serious and very “Christian”, I could do that. If you expected me to be rambunctious and full of dirty talk, I could do that too. If you wanted good advice, I was your girl. If you wanted to go clubbing, I was also your girl. I could be anything you wanted because I didn’t think who I was was ever going to be enough.
I talk the talk, but learning to truly accept who I am has been a rather difficult journey. If I could’ve paid as much money as I did for my weaves to become instantly funnier, wittier, curvier, flirtier, more self-assured…I absolutely would have. And everyone who knows me is probably thinking, “But you are those things!” It’s not enough for the world to tell you wonderful things about yourself, you have to believe those things in the quiet places where no one else ventures. That is what my year of transitioning taught me.
The girl I was last year would never have left her house with her hair in a baby fro – she didn’t have the guts to. She would never have done many of the things I’ve found myself doing and saying recently. She would probably have caved and put in another weave when her mother disapproved of her natural hair. She would have made every bad thing that happened to her her fault. She would still be obsessed with trying to do the right thing at the expense of her sanity and joy.
Going against the grain takes guts (especially living in Vanilla Valley where the first day I rocked my fro, people stared at me like I was an alien). It takes believing in yourself – the self you are, not the one you put on before you walk out the door. It takes accepting your imperfections, loving them even. And it takes giving a middle finger to societal, familial, and relational pressures and expectations. Who you are is enough.
When I decided to let my fro out of hiding a month ago, I did it while I was away in Texas visiting my mother. You know, just incase I hated it and didn’t want anyone else to see it. And it was a hot mess during my first week of experimenting and trying to figure it out. But I stood in front of that mirror and said, “You, my dear, are beautiful. This is how your hair was created to look and feel, so stop fixing. Just enjoy the skin and hair you’re in.”
I’ve given myself that pep talk at least once a week since then. It’s taking a while – I’m learning to have patience, to not compare my hair to other naturals’ curly locks, and to listen to it in order to learn what it needs. On a scale of extra fine to extra coarse, my hair is as coarse as it gets. It’s tightly coiled and cottony and doesn’t keep a defined curl for more than a day. It shrinks to about twenty percent of its length once it gets wet. All it wants is moisture, but it cannot seem to figure out how to retain any. It is kinky and full and I feel like I’m growing a forest on my head, but I have never felt more beautiful. And I have never felt more like myself.
I still have minor freakouts regularly. What if my hair shrinks overnight and I look like a boy in the morning? What if I’m not conditioning enough? What if the dry Colorado air kills my hair and it all falls off? Oh and my favorite thing to freak out about isn’t even my reality yet: What if my husband doesn’t think I’m sexy because I go to sleep with my hair in twists AND wrapped up in a scarf, instead of long luscious hair spread out over the pillow like in the movies?
I’m giving myself grace because I’m fairly new to this process. But regardless of the amount of work it takes or the [few] weird looks I get, I am committed to never altering my hair texture with chemicals again. Concurrently, I am committed to never altering who I am just to fit in. This past year hasn’t just been about transitioning. It hasn’t really been about my hair at all. It’s been about accepting who I am, believing that I am beautiful – kinks and all, and learning to not let comparison steal my joy. I’m finding myself, and this is one grand adventure.