“Duro duro, malo malo”, the hairdresser complained.
Male patron asks (in Spanish), “How do you do hair that is so hard and so bad?”
Hairdresser begins to respond, but I interject. “Excuse me. I understand Spanish. Can you please stop talking about me?”
That, my friends, is my hair story. Or at least the beginning…
Growing up, my particular hair type was not celebrated in the black community. Back then, I didn’t get the looks of admiration –in reference to my hair — that I do now. Instead, my mom broke many combs and I received many frowns from hairdressers when I sat in their chairs. So, for my fifth grade graduation, I had the same rites of passage as the other tweens. I had my first relaxer. A few hours later, I had straight, bouncy hair. Goodbye, cornrows and pigtails! Hello, fly girl hair styles! (My tweens were in the 90s era. Think fingerwaves, stiff updos, and urban mullets.) Or so I thought…
During my preteen (and teen) years, I was the quintessential awkward, black girl. And to top off my awkwardness, was my “relaxed” but messy mane. As a teen, I had no idea how to do my hair. I didn’t know how to moisturize my new growth. I didn’t wash chlorine out of my hair when I went swimming. (It turned orange, by the way.) To make matters worse, my mom would burn my hair EVERY time. I have low porosity hair, which takes long to process. Coupled with a sensitive scalp, it meant burns when done by an amateur. In fact, once ALL of my hair was burnt to my scalp. It is a miracle that I didn’t go bald. But my hair did start to break off. On the right side, by my temple, to be exact. I had to stop relaxing that section. Braid it and swoop the rest of my hair over it. Yes. It was a mess.com.
By high school, I figured out how to do my hair. My Dominican godmother gave me a mean doobie (roller set and wrap). I would only let my mother relax my hair when I was desperate. And burns were much less frequent. While in college, I began installing my own braided extensions. Because I was in my college dance company and took dance classes several days a week, braids were the easiest option for my busy schedule. I went seven months without a relaxer and retained more hair than I’d ever had in my entire life. I considered going natural, but I didn’t want to cut my hair. Back then, we didn’t have the resources that we do now. I didn’t know about long-term transitioning and transition styles. So I headed to a hairdresser for a relaxer. She burnt my scalp badly and my trim turned into a cut. I think that it was a sign…
For the next ten years, I practiced what is now considered “stretching” relaxers. I only got relaxers about every 3-4 months. And although I loved styles like rod sets, I was afraid to make the natural plunge. I just didn’t think that my hair would be manageable in its natural state. I would flashback to the day my mom split a blow dryer in two while blow drying my hair. Or the day, I wore a press and curl and it shriveled up like a prune. So I continued to do the dance with a promise that I would finally stop relaxing when I got pregnant.
Then, everything fell into place. Nine months before my wedding. My hair broke off. For about a year, I had continued to use a blow dryer on the fritz. It smoked. My ends seemed a lot thinner. But of course, I still kept using it. Then, in one pass, about half of the hair in the back, left side of my hair was gone. (Yes, I always remember the exact location of the irreversible damage I do to my hair.) So the next week , my hairdresser cut my hair into bob in hopes that it would grow back in time for my wedding. It did. And my fear of cutting my hair, went out the window.
A few months later, I was bored of cycling the same hair styles over and over again. So, I asked my hairdresser for the Rihanna cut. She asked if I was sure. I said, yes. I loved it… for about two week. I scoured blogs and YouTube on tips for styling tips. I learned that I would have to relax my hair my often to maintain the sleek look and I was over it. But while I was on YouTube, I discovered the natural hair community. Women, with hair texture that looked like mine, with fabulous hair. It was decided. I was going natural.
To be continued… My Natural Hair Journey