I had never caught my husband openly admiring another woman in my presence until one night when we were at the movies. His eyes fixated on a sister with a perfectly coiffed Afro. He was almost mesmerized and I was too surprised to be offended. He had always told me how he would love to see me with an Afro. But for me having an Afro would mean going natural and although I had always been napp-curious, I just knew no matter what he said, ain’t no man want a woman with a nappy head.
As a girl my hair was always the source of great shame and insecurity. At the age of 5, I received my first hair relaxer. Kiddy perms were supposed to be a safer gentler alternative to full strength relaxers, but my scalp still burned as I squirmed in my seat. Mommy was making me pretty, relaxing away the ugly kinks and naps. Afterwards, I would play in my newly relaxed hair feeling how soft and smooth it felt and the burn of the relaxer became worth feeling pretty.
My hair was kinky and short, unlike my mother’s hair, which was long, wavy and could be blown straight. I would walk around with a towel on my head to mimic long flowing hair and I thought that I was the only black girl doing this until I saw Whoopi Goldberg’s 80’s standup routine. Relaxing only gave me a very temporary fix until that new growth would rear its ugly head. Then there was the hair damage and breakage due to the chemicals. It was a frustrating cycle of relaxing and then trying to combat the damage done by the relaxing. But being nappy was not an option.
As a young adult I continued to relax but the seeds of napp-curiosity were budding. I began to question what I had been taught to recognize as normal and attractive. I began to question what it truly meant to embrace being a woman of African decent. As I continued to relax I began to become bored with the routine. I would occasionally spot a woman with a head full of beautiful, lush nappy hair and be in aw of how healthy her looked. I was in aw of how confident these women sported their natural hair. There seemed to be a glow about these sisters. Before long my relaxed hair no longer matched the way I felt on the inside. My standard of beauty changed. For me healthy became beautiful.
But what would my own hair look like natural? I had been chemically straightened since five. I had no idea how I would style my hair in its natural state. And how would my husband react? But then I remembered how he looked at the sister with the Afro and I had my answer. I was 24 and recently married when I did the big chop. I had stopped relaxing my hair for almost six months in preparation. As I sat in my hairdresser’s chair she informed me that after the big chop my hair would be really short. Short was an understatement. After my hair had been cut and styled into coils, I came home in shock. At an inch at the longest part, this was the shortest my hair had ever been. The first month my hair grew like fast! By the end of the second month, I had a full Afro. After a lot of experimentation, I became familiar with my hair in its natural state. I discovered that I actually have three different textures of hair. I learned different styling techniques and what products worked best on my natural. My husband who is a 70’s child taught me how to achieve an Afro. I also experimented with color for the first time. My hair became the healthiest it had ever been since I was a baby.
I have been natural for almost 5 years now and my hair finally matches who I am on the inside. Like others before me I have inspired other women. But I will say to any women considering going natural or is newly natural that while you will get a lot of positive feedback, there will also be people who will choose not to see the beauty of your natural. You have to have a strong since of who you are to deflect negativity. Understand that we as African people have become inferiorized and a lot of us are not willing to break the chains. There will be those who see your embrace of your natural God given hair as revealing a shameful secret. They may show how uncomfortable they feel by laughing or snickering. They might be outright rude. Understand that their shame is not your problem. Do not allow them to re-infect you with their inferiority complex. Ladies this goes for friends, family and lovers as well. I am fortunate to have a man who loves his African self so much that he can see the beauty of an African woman. But most important to me is that we are a role models for self-respect and self-acceptance for our two children. Natural hair requires care, creativity and patience but for me it is well worth it.
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