From Shiny Hair to Kinky Hair - It's All Beautiful

Hair is pretty serious business...both commercially and personally. I wouldn't even say that our culture's obsession with hair is specific to women...or to a specific culture. Men and women across cultures want to have and maintain a healthy head of beautiful hair. However, the challenge for African American women holds a few special challenges because of our history and many of our misconceptions about beauty.

The following is a cross post from my primary blog's sister blog that I started last Fall. During the whole Gabby Douglas hair fiasco (which I felt was pretty ridiculous), I was going through my own emotional challenges with my hair, that ultimately led me to cut it all off or do the "big chop" (picture at the end of this post). This may seem like a little different kind of post coming from me, but it is so parallel to my emotional and spiritual journey. I tried to include links to terms that everyone may not be familiar with. Enjoy!


My Hair Story...In the Beginning...

It’s pretty simple. I saw a commercial (maybe it was a Vo5 commercial) with a white lady with beautiful long hair. Her hair flowed and was so soft as she shook it in the wind. And boy was her hair shiny!

I told my mom that I wanted “shiny hair!”

The pressing comb didn’t give me shiny hair, braids didn’t give me shiny hair. So my mom, being the best mom in the whole wide world and wanting to please her daughter gave me a relaxer ("A chemical treatment designed to permanently alter hair's natural texture"). Perhaps I was 10 years old.

It seemed like the right thing to do. All the other moms were doing it. And this straight hair was a lot easier to deal with than my natural kinky texture. And I never had any problems with relaxers. Or so I thought. My hair usually grew like weeds. At it’s longest, my hair was past “bra strap length.”


25 Years Later...

It may surprise you that I actually decided to “transition” ("A method for returning to a natural hair texture from a chemically straightened one") about 10 years ago. I had dyed my hair honey blonde (I was going through a phase) and as a result, it broke off badly. I knew that the damaged hair was going to have to come off, but I wanted to let it grow out some without putting any chemicals in it before I visited a salon again. I did this for about 6 months. In that time, I would wash my hair and straighten it with a hot comb. Styles consisted of pony wraps and drawstring ponytails. Although these kind of hairstyles can enhance the look of your hair, I never really felt (or feel) comfortable wearing hair extensions and pieces. Perhaps it’s because I always had a nice length of hair growing up…my hair was always long. But in this case, after the damage I had done with the dye, I knew I would have to get a “big chop.” ("In a big chop, all of the chemically altered hair is cut off, leaving only the new growth")

In this process, I also came to a realization. I had gone 6 months without getting a relaxer. Perhaps I could live without the time and money that it took for me to regularly have to get one every 6-8 weeks. I thought I had made a decision. Big chop and no more relaxers.

But I was in my 20s and back then, I rarely ever spoke up for myself. I needed external validation and I often valued other’s opinions higher than my own (this is an important part of the story…I promise).

I made an appointment at a high-priced, high-end salon with a woman who the salon confirmed was a specialist in black hair. On appointment day, I walked into the salon expecting to see a brown skinned-girl, but out walks a vanilla-skinned girl. My own limited thinking caused my shock at the skin color of the white, black-hair specialist.

So the stylist inspected my hair and said, “yeah, these blonde ends need to come off.” I agreed. Again, I already knew the damaged, blonde ends could not be saved. But then she said…

And you need a relaxer.

Ewww…

I didn’t stand up for the decision I thought I had already made. I simply said,

Okay.

This was the first time in my life I would have short hair. My self-esteem was already in the dumps because a lot of my self-esteem was wrapped up in my hair. And now this white lady was also telling me I needed a relaxer.

I just wanted to feel beautiful again. Relaxed Hair = Beautiful

The cut was challenging. As I mentioned before, I had never had short hair. I had to buy new curling irons and learn how to deal with it on bad days. This was a difficult time for me, but eventually, my hair began to grow. I continued relaxing, and a few years passed and I had nice length once more.

But of course I could not leave well enough alone. As my hair began to grow, I got bored. I got the itch to do something different, and this time, I thought, I won’t completely dye my entire head, I will just highlight it. And I will get a professional to do it this time.

Well, you can probably guess what happened. The breakage was not as bad as it was last time, and pretty much was localized to one spot. It would also break down to the root. This is also when I began to have a really bad scalp itch, also in this one spot. I had always had a dry itchy scalp, but this one spot would itch until it would burn and my scalp would be sore. My hair would break off in the one spot, grow a little, I would get a relaxer and it would fall out again. This spot turned into my “weak spot” because the hair never fully grew out in that area. My stylist said it was my fault because of my scratching. I won’t comment about that, because I am not a professional. But let’s just say I started seeing another stylist.

Things went well with the new stylist, for a little over 2 years, but the hair in the “weak spot” never grew full again. My most recent stylist did a wonderful job with my hair, but it would still grow out some in that spot, and then fall out after a relaxer. I’m not sure what happened to that “spot,” perhaps as I got older, my body chemistry changed, I really don't know. But last June, the hair broke off again in the same spot really bad…to the root. It grew out a little, I got another relaxer, and you guessed it, it broke off again.

I have been doing a lot of emotional work, clearing out a lot of emotional baggage from the past so that I can be free to live with joy in the future. A lot of this has to do with connecting with my “Inner Child” or that sweet, beautiful part of myself that is closest to the Divine. Perhaps this hair challenge was just the Universe’s way of telling me that it was time to let go of one more external thing that  I thought made me beautiful…relaxed hair.

Perhaps this was one more piece of emotional baggage that I needed to clear out. Or perhaps my body chemistry just changed and my hair follicles can no longer handle relaxers. Who knows? The important thing is that I’ve made a decision, and now I’m confident enough in myself to follow through with it, no matter what others say, others opinions, or how challenging it gets.

It’s pretty parallel to my life.

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