Hey Afro! Where have you been all my life!!!
Hair. The icing on the cake. The accent. The dotted “ i “. It can make or break your appearance. Because of what’s mainstream these days, you. have a lot of accepted styles to choose from. And don’t be fooled, every style has a purpose and intention behind it. The messy bun. “I woke up like this…”. No, you didn’t. In fact you probably spent a great deal of time in the mirror achieving that look. But, because you pulled it off and made it look so effortless, you get a Gold Star. A style is a style and what’s popular is popular. Our appearance is important and we all want to be accepted and we all want to fit in. And as a black woman, those pressures are all too real.
The first time my hair fell out because of a chemical, I was in 10th grade. At the tender age of 15, my life was over. My mother had been applying my relaxers since I was 5 years old and we never had a problem. Let me pause for a second and define what a relaxer (aka a perm) is and the process.
“A relaxer is a type of lotion or cream generally used by people with tight curls or very curly hair which makes hair easier to straighten by chemically “relaxing” the natural curls….The relaxer is applied to the base of the hair shaft and remains in place for a “cooking” interval, during which it alters the hair’s texture by a process of controlled damage to the protein structure.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.
That day, the cream, a usually cool calming sensation turned into fiery hot coals on my scalp. My hair was cooking for real and now it was life or death, in hair terms. We rushed to the sink trying to rise the relaxer out as fast as we could. But we were too late. Globs of my hair fell out. My eyes were closed but I could hear the soft ‘thuds’ of hair hitting the bottom of the sink. I had a few large bald spots, mostly in the back of my head. I had to gather what was left in the front to make the thinnest ponytail you had ever seen, just to cover them up. My heart was broken and my dad was pissed. I had to cut what was left of my hair nearly bald and start all over. In the end, we blamed that particular brand of relaxer and my dad spent $40 every two weeks for me to get the better types of relaxers applied at a hair salon. By the time I graduated high school, my hair was ‘healthy’, thick and had grown past my shoulders. I had achieved the perfect black relaxed hair style and my dad was so proud. I had redeemed myself and now I was the shit. All was well in my world. Until, of course, the next time my hair fell out.
Fast forward ten years and now I sit on an assortment of stories of how I managed to destroy my hair and then bring it back from the dead. I wore these stories like badges of honor. And it was always the same. Risking the life of my hair to achieve the desired look. The ‘controlled’ damage of the relaxer sometimes got ‘out of control’. Sprinkle that with a little bleach or coloring and VOILÀ! You just nuked your hair again. Now, let me pause again. My intent here isn’t to bash relaxers. At the end of the day, straight hair for black women is a desired hair style. We live in a Euro-centric America and the pressures of being accepted in this society are tremendous. Us black women are not naturally born that way, obviously, so we have to do the most to achieve that look. And some of us, can pull it off. I know plenty of women that have been able to ‘control’ the damage through rigorous rules and rituals. Congratulations. You have achieved the look, you get a Gold Star. Now, this Natural Hair Movement, is a response to this Euro-centric America. Black women should appreciate who and how they are and not succumb to these pressures. Although I do agree, that is not why I wear my Afro.
Five years ago, I quit relaxers cold turkey. Although, my hair at that time wasn’t destroyed, I had gotten bitten by the Natural Hair Movement bug. The curiosity about what my natural hair looked like was overwhelming! My hair had been chemically straightened for as long as I could remember. I had no idea of what my curls looked like or the fact that I actually have two types of curl patterns in my hair. It was like going on a blind date. So I cut it off. All of it. I had divorced from the relaxer and now I was free. This was the third time in my life I had cut my hair to only a few inches in length. This time was different and I fell in love. But just like ex’s that keep coming back, I missed my straight hair. By this time my hair had grown into a mini afro and I loved it. But, I still wanted to see what it looked like straightened. Since I had divorced the relaxer, I didn’t see any other real threats to my hair. So, I got my hair straightened. When I walked out of that salon, I didn’t realize that the texture of my hair had been once again, permanently straightened. This time not by a chemical, but by heat. Too much heat applied to the hair can literally fry your hair straight. I was devastated. So here we go again. After that I just styled my hair straight. Still applying tons of heat, knowingly destroying my hair. It took me another FOUR years after that to really ask myself, what the HELL are you doing and WHY???
I had developed a love/hate relationship with my hair all because of a simple hair style. And there is no way to justify that. So I just stopped. I cut out the damage for the fourth time and stopped. In the beginning I tried to keep up with the Natural Hair Movement but it’s become too political for me. You have to wear certain styles for protection, you shouldn’t wash your hair all the time, you gotta twist out and twist in. Not to mention the ‘natural hair’ products are crazy expensive and way to commercial. So I stopped that too. This is a personal relationship I have with my hair. So thanks but no thanks to Euro-centric America, and thanks but no thanks to the Natural Hair Movement. It’s just me and my Afro. And I don’t need a Gold Star.