|Me at age 16|
Yep, that's me. A fresh faced 16 year old almost ready to finish high school. For my American friends who don't know, students in England graduate high school at age 16, attend a kind of community college for 2 years and then go on to university if they choose to do so.
When this picture was taken, I was counting down the days until I was done with high school. Sure, most kids are not big fans of school. I actually enjoyed the school work. It was the social aspect of high school that had me dreading getting out of bed on a week day and looking forward to the weekend.
Almost all of the Black girls in my year at school had in some way chemically altered their hair. Whether it was a relaxer or a jheri curl, all of them had had something done. I was the only one who did not. You can see in the picture I have my hair gelled down to the best of my ability. But for some reason, gel did not like my hair, so it did not make too much of a difference. Being the only Black girl with natural hair left me open to all kinds of ridicule. I was called "African sponge head", "dry head", and I even heard through the grapevine that a couple of the girls really thought I should "do something" with my hair. What they didn't know is that I begged and begged my mom to let me get a relaxer. But she refused. My dad thought my hair was beautiful just the way it was. I thought he was crazy but looking back now, I realize he was completely right. However, at that time society did not think natural hair was beautiful and so I didn't either.
It wasn't until exactly one week after I left high school that I was finally allowed to get a relaxer. It was like a whole new world had opened up for me! No more nappy hair! I started to attract the attention of boys with my new silky smooth hair, and so of course I began to associate being attractive with having straight hair. As a result, I made sure to get my hair touched up every 8 weeks without fail. Never again would I leave myself open to the possibility of being an outcast because of my hair.
Over the years that followed, I changed my hair style regularly. Variety is the spice of life, right?!
About a year and a half ago, I started hearing about Black women growing out their relaxers or even cutting off their relaxed hair and growing their natural hair instead. My first thought? Are they crazy?? Why would they ever want to part ways with their silky smooth straightened hair and go back to their kinky roots? Are they crazy?!?!
Then I saw the movie "Good Hair" in which Chris Rock documents the lengths to which Black women will go to fit into society's standards of beautiful hair. Of course, I could totally relate. I have been on a quest to have good hair for as long as I could remember. However, the scene with the relaxer vs. coke can struck a cord with me (look at the last link if you don't know what I'm talking about, but you'll get the full experience by watching the movie). Is this what I had been subjecting my hair and scalp to all these years? I used to joke about lying to the stylist when she asked if my scalp with burning, choosing to bear the pain to make sure the relaxer made my hair as straight as possible. That didn't seem so funny anymore...
Then I started thinking about my daughter. Although she's only 9, several of her female classmates of color have already had their first taste of the "creamy crack", as relaxers are often affectionately called. I knew I definitely did not want to subject her delicate scalp and beautiful hair to the rigors of a relaxer application. But how could I justify forbidding her to get a relaxer if I was in the salon every 8 weeks getting my edges touched up?
I initially made the decision to "transition" my hair from relaxed to natural in May 2010. Transitioning simply means stopping relaxers and allowing your natural hair to grow. Some women opt to undergo The Big Chop, cutting off all of their relaxed hair and starting all over with natural hair. I chose to transition, because I didn't think I was ready for such a drastic change. A complete transition for my length of hair could take anywhere from 18 months to 2 years. Those who know me know I am the most impatient person I know so I wasn't sure how long I could continue on this journey. I knew I had to try though.
During my transition, I tried very hard to conceal the two competing textures in my hair:
|Braidout - I wore the scarf to hide the line of demarcation - the point where relaxed and natural hair meets|
|Blown out straight and pulled into a side bun you can't see in the picture|
Eventually, my hair became too much for me to handle and I decided it was time for The Big Chop. I'll admit, although my mind was made up I was very nervous about making such a drastic change. There is so much history attached to my emotions toward my hair. The last thing I wanted to do was make a huge change and then have to endure the awkward stares and ignorant comments from those who did not like it.
Despite my worries, on September 19, 2012 I got my Big Chop. Here I am a few hours later:
I can't begin to describe the feeling of empowerment that comes from going against society's ideal of a beautiful woman with beautiful hair, and wearing my hair as God intended for me to wear it. For so many years, I have been spending my time and money chasing after an image I thought would fit me into the mold of beauty, meaning my hair should be straight and shiny. I finally understand and accept that as a Black woman, I should be proud of the uniqueness of my hair. No other ethnicity has the type of hair I have. None! Therefore, as I embrace my heritage and my culture; as I feel pride in the struggles my ancestors endured so that I should have the freedoms I enjoy today, so I should also feel pride in my hair - kinks, coils and curls included!
What are your thoughts on true beauty? Are your transitioning or have you had The Big Chop? Or are you a die-hard creamy crack addict?! I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!