Testimony: My Natural Hair Journey

I’ll always remember March 2008. It was the month when I made the choice to do the big chop. On that fateful day, my braiding stylist Roxanne snipped the perm out of my hair and I was left with an afro. I was not brave enough then to walk out in public with the style, so instead she gave me double strand twists.

I felt a mixture of liberation, pride and uncertainty when I left the salon that day. It marked the beginning of the end of my old belief system about my hair—that it was ugly, unsightly, and unmanageable—and the awakening of a new consciousness. It was the start of my natural hair journey.

Prior to making a commitment towards going natural, I made a vow to never perm my hair again. That was in 2006, the year I graduated from college in Boston. Although graduation was supposed to be one of the happiest times in my life, it was also one of the most traumatic when it came to my hair.

It all began when my mother asked if I could perm my hair straight to please my grandmother for graduation day. At the time I had my hair in braids but I was no stranger to perms. I had my hair permed throughout high school without any major problems so I thought this time around would be no different. I was wrong.

With my most trusted stylist out of the country, I was forced to find someone else to do my hair. That someone turned out to be a stylist in my hometown so I made a trip to New Jersey. The day of my perm, I went through the familiar ritual of having that magical white cream burn my scalp to alter the texture of my hair. But instead of leaving the salon with the bone straight hair I always came to expect, it was curved out into a dull, lackluster bob.

When I returned to Boston, my disappointment turned into panic as I started to sweat out the perm, making my hair revert back to its natural state. As a result, I made a visit to a second salon, at the recommendation of my roommate, which gave me a texturizer. The chemical treatment made my hair as straight as paper, which was finally the way that I wanted it to be but not without a price.

As I combed my hair the following day, I noticed some strands separate from my scalp with such ease that I started to worry about losing my hair. I felt so upset but there was nothing I could do but hope that a different salon could repair the damage and style my hair in time for graduation. So with only two days to go, I approached a third salon with my hair dilemma. Fortunately for me, they were able to give me a temporary fix and start my hair on the path to recovery. A feeling of relief finally settled in but I knew from then on that I would never perm my hair again.

Although I was determined to make perms a thing of the past, I was not ready to wear my hair natural long-term. After briefly sporting my hair in chunky twist outs, I went back to braided extensions. It was only in the winter of 2007 that I decided I needed a change.

Since I was back in New Jersey, I went to Roxanne and showed her a picture of a kinky curly weave that I thought would look perfect on me. Although she could not find an exact match, the one that she brought in on the day of my appointment was similar enough. As she sewed my first weave into my own braided hair, she made a comment which stuck with me for the rest of the day. “Your own hair kind of looks like this,” she said. At the time I could not see the resemblance. The only times I had seen my natural hair, at least as an adult, was between braiding appointments and it always looked a disheveled mess to me. But now a curiosity was awakened; I wanted to see what my hair would look like if I actually put some effort into wearing it natural.

Since I did not know the first thing about going natural, I decided to begin my research on the subject the rest of the winter. I discovered websites like Nappturality, MotownGirl.com, Afrobella and NaturallyCurly.com and eagerly absorbed all the information I could to prepare myself for the transition.

I learned about how to start the natural hair process, what types of products and styling tools to use, and how to properly care for afro-textured hair.

Despite all my new education, putting it into practice was an entirely different matter. I had to figure out what personally worked for me and that meant a lot of trial and error. Although I had already bought my styling tools, a wide tooth comb and a boar bristle brush, I was still confused as to which products to use. There were so many different recommendations on the internet that it was hard to narrow down the choices. I went through several before deciding upon a staple set comprised of a leave in conditioner, a curl cream and a frizz tamer.

Now I had the products and the tools I needed to take care of my hair but I was still experiencing the aftermath of the perm. I was suffering from severe breakage and struggling with two different hair textures, coily and wavy. My hair looked so awkward that I had to twist it to create a more consistent curl pattern. By March 2008 I was so tired of all the twisting and broken hair that I decided to finally do the big chop.

It was only after I had my perm cut out that I truly discovered how to manage my hair. There was a quiet sense of joy inside knowing that I had accomplished a task which I once thought was impossible. I no longer felt my hair was too difficult to deal with or too unkempt to show off to the world.

Despite my budding confidence, I still had reservations about wearing it in a full-blown afro. I felt subconscious about being perceived as militant or unattractive but deep down inside I wanted to do it. I did not want to be ashamed to wear my hair in its most natural state so the following year I decided to occasionally wear it in an afro.

I first wore my hair in an afro in April 2009 while meeting up with a friend in New York. I felt a little self-conscious but I would remind myself that this was New York, a city where anything goes in terms of hair and style. I had already made the choice to step outside with an afro so I was going to wear it like I owned it.

But first I had to cast the remnants of my lingering unease aside. Unbeknownst to me, I would soon get the burst of courage I needed from a young black girl I encountered in a McDonalds. She was probably around six or seven years old with deep brown skin and double strand twists. “You have beautiful hair,” she said with a smile. I blushed out of shock but then composed myself enough say thank you. In that moment I felt the little girl had given me a gift to embrace my natural hair a little bit fuller and realize that regardless of what anyone says or thinks my hair, with all its kinks and coils, is indeed beautiful.

Andrea is a freelance writer and founder of the blog Soul Sassy. She writes about race, gender and popular culture.

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