When I was transitioning, there were not a gang of products for “transitioners” like there are today, nor were there a lot of videos on transitioning 5 years ago (they were well on their way though). So the mark of demarcation, where the natural hair meets the relaxed hair was a nightmare! I decided to do the big chop, which left my hairstyles looking a bit awkward for a while, since I was in the learning stage.
I think my hair story began like most young black girls, so I won’t go through all the details, but you know what I’m talking about – tears as your mother yanks the comb through your hair and tells you to “be still”; fears of being burned by the hot comb as you get your hair pressed in the kitchen, the joy of getting your first perm and feeling your hair blow in the wind; routine touch-ups to get rid of those reoccurring naps; trying not to scratch before the touch-up; scalp burning from the chemicals; excessive shedding and split ends, etc. As crazy as all that sounds to me now, I considered it to be normal at that time because that was all I knew. All of my family and friends went through the same thing, so I thought that was just the way it was – just part of the beauty regime we women went through to look our best.
Now fast forward to 2005, and I would say that is when my hair journey began. I started working a job that required 40% travel. After having a few bad hair experiences when traveling to high humidity areas and after have a couple of curling irons break in my luggage, I decided to start wearing braids. During the time I was wearing braids, I didn’t get my routine touch ups and as my natural hair begin growing strong and thick, I became more curious. I realized I had no real memory of my natural hair, so I decided to grow my hair out just to see it. I transitioned for almost two years wearing every braided and weaved style I could find. In December 2007, I cut the last 3 inches of perm and this was also the last time I wore my hair straight.
I was a little intimidated by my head full of naps, so I wore braids for a couple of months and decided in February 08 that I was ready to tackle my hair. I washed it and tried to blow dry it the same way I did when it was straight. Not only did I pull out clumps of hair, but my hair was hard, stiff and dry and it looked horrible. I wanted to cry when I saw it, but then I thought it couldn’t be that difficult so I went to the internet to do some research. I found nappturality.com and that is where I got most of my hair information. I learned that I was using the wrong products and I needed to stay away from heat. I also learned many styling tips and the do’s and don’ts for natural hair care. My early hair styles were mainly afro puffs and twistouts.
It’s fun and exciting to see how my hair has grown in such a short period of time. I’m also proud to say that my styling techniques have improved and even my sense of fashion has changed to compliment the new natural me. The above pictures were taken early 2008. The pictures below were taken early 2009. To be fair, I don’t think the difference in my twistout from 2008 to 2009 is all based on growth. Some of the additional length you see is from me learning how to manage the shrinkage a little better.
Although I’ve had many hairstyles over the years, none of my other styles required me to define who I am in order to clear misconceptions. No I’m not an activist and I’m not consciously part of the movement; No I’ve never been to Africa and can’t say I know a whole lot about it; No I’m not a vegetarian; No neosoul is not my music preference and I don’t spend my nights listening to spoken word; No thank you – I chose to wear anti-persperiant and not just deodorant; Yes my hair is natural, but I like to wear nail polish and make-up; sorry to disappoint you – I know I look different but I’m not from some exotic island or from the motherland, I’m from the South side of Chicago! Seriously, you got all that from the way I wear my hair???
Initially, the hardest part of my journey was looking in the mirror and being comfortable with what I saw. After years of thinking that nappy hair was unattractive, now I was staring at a head full of it! Initially, it was also difficult for me to deal with people reactions to my hair. That’s why I am so grateful that I met a group of ladies from a Chicago social group, N.A.I.M.A, which stands for Naturally Alluring in Mainstream America. Their compliments and positive attitudes made me feel more comfortable with the new me and provided comfort when those closest to me belittled my new look. I had old friends and some family members who laughed at just how nappy my hair was and friends who would tell me I looked better when my hair was straight. Then I had some people question whether my husband had a problem with my new style and others warn me that I may have trouble advancing in my career if continued to wear my hair this way. On the flip side, as my hair grew out, I would have women stop me on the street, give me compliments and ask me how I got my hair like that. They would also tell me how they wished they could go natural.
I also noticed that guys would talk to me in a more respectful way – often referring to me as “my sistah.” All these comments puzzled me because when I was transitioning, I wore my hair in many different styles – micro braids; cornrows; crochet braids; straight weaves; curly weaves; phony pony tails long and short, curly and straight, and none of those drastic changes sparked this type of interest or comments. It made me wonder why this was such a big deal especially because at that time, I had no intentions of staying natural it was just something I wanted to try. I bought books to understand the history of black hair because I really needed some understanding of where all this was coming from. So in this regard, I would have to say that going natural has definitely opened my eyes to things I would have never seen before. Also, I never thought a hairstyle would change the way I view life, but I am now more conscious of what I eat. This may sound a little odd, but I was at Whole Foods one day walking past all the organic food to get to the hair section to buy my Jane Carter Conditioner and it just hit me: I’m willing to spend a fortune to put the best natural products on my hair, but I want to be cheap when I buy lunch so I will stop at some greasy spoon for a cheap combo meal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a health nut, but I have decided to make better choices not only when I select what I’m putting on my hair, but when I select what I’m putting in my body.
My best hairdo is a style where I twist the front and pull all my hair up to the top of my head in a twistout or puff. I got the idea from a hair magazine. The style in the magazine was braided in the front and along micro braids in the back. Since I never learned to cornrow, I just adjusted the hairstyle to fit my capabilities. It takes a lot of time and patience for this style (especially the one with the twistout on top), so that’s my extra-special occasion do.
My worst hairstyle was when I tried to do the Miss Jessie’s shingling method. No offense to Miss Jessie’s, but something went terribly wrong. I don’t know if it was because I decided to do this method without a blowdryer or what, but my hair rose up like it was cut to stack like one of those old 1980s hairstyles. Then I had the nerve to put two little clips in the front – I don’t know what I was thinking! These pictures really remind me of a bad high school yearbook photo. What really made this hairstyle embarrassing was the fact that it did not look like that when I initially styled it and walked out of the house. As my hair dried, the cute coils I originally had that hung around my shoulders shriveled up and I had no idea my hair had turned into a massive butterfly until I got home later that day and looked in the mirror. Then I realized why so many people were staring at me!
I can’t share my hair story without sharing my proudest moment, which was the first time my 98 year old grandmother saw my natural hair. She asked me to come closer, so I walked up to her and bent over so she could examine my puff. She looked at it from every angle, reached out and touched it and she said: “beautiful, just beautiful.” I can’t really explain the feeling, but it was almost as if at that moment, I felt my heart smile. I really didn’t expect my grandmother to like it and after all the negative reactions I received, I told myself that I didn’t care what anybody said or thought about my hair. However, it was that moment that I realize that I do care about the thoughts of those who are closest to me and it meant a lot to me to have her not only accept it, but appreciate it.
My journey has taught me that it’s okay to be different from everyone else and I learned that I actually like standing out. I rather enjoy being the only nappy in a sea of straight strands. It also taught me that we often fear the unknown but there really is no sound reason for that fear. My husband didn’t leave and didn’t have any problems with my new look. Not only that, he would often look at me and say: “You look nice. We should take pictures today.” So most of my hair pictures were taken by him (he’s a photographer). Additionally, my recent promotion told me that there was no reason to fear that my hair would hold me back in the corporate world. In fact, some of the people who laughed and criticized are now interested in going natural, have gone natural or are in transition. The biggest testament to this is seeing my own mother wearing her TWA and she was initially one of my biggest critics. I never ever thought I would ever see her wear her hair natural. There’s a big part of me that want to put an end to all the misconceptions about our hair. That is why I am grateful for the opportunity to share my hair story and I appreciate others who are doing the same. Our hair is beautiful just the way it is. It doesn’t need to be tortured and straighten to be soft and manageable, attractive and professional.
My degree is in Accounting and I’m a Certified Public Accountant. I was a Senior Auditor working in Internal Audit at the time that my friend warned that my hair would cause a problem in Corporate America. I understood his concern because I worked for a conservative company and I was in a very conservative department, so I tried to explain to him that my hair wasn’t a problem and everyone was okay with it even offering compliments but he said that I was naive. He said some other things too, but clearly he didn’t know what he was talking about. The company I work for is a huge advocate of moving around the company and building your knowledge and expertise, so it was time for me to begin looking for a new position. My Senior Director found out about a position in the Finance Training department and he recommended me and provided his full support (which is needed to move around the company). I interviewed with 3 individuals who were all at least three levels higher than me and although there was a lot of competition for the position, I got the job. So now, I am a Finance Manager in the training department. My department is responsible for designing and delivering training to our global finance function, which consists of over 4,000 people, so clearly image is still a factor in this role and they didn’t have any concern about me. I’m still working for the same conservative company and I had to impress 4 very conservative people to get the job, so I realize that it was never about the hair. It was about the total package – my knowledge and what I could bring to the department and my professionalism, which includes my personality/attitude and dress & groom. I look professional when I go to work and I present myself well. As long as I’m doing that and I do my job well, they could care less about my hair texture. With that said, I don’t wear my hair in certain styles at work because I do believe that certain styles would not be acceptable because it wouldn’t fit in with the Corporate image. I don’t wear afros or frohawks to work. This fall I will start wearing twists because I feel I need to wear a protective style over the fall and winter this year, but I will be careful of how I wear and style my twists. So I don’t want to make it seem like it’s never an issue, but it’s not as bad as some may think. I really do think that if you are well qualified and you present your best, the hair is less of a factor as long as it is professional and falls within your company’s corporate image.
Thanks for offering to give my husband credit for the photos he took. His name is LaMont Lacey and I put LL behind each photo he took.
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