A while back, a reader requested I add my hair story to the blog. I don’t think my story is very original, so was hesitant to post my hair story/ journey to natural hair. Like many women who have chemically relaxed their hair, I had my awakening moment when I had enough of the relaxers. However, it is still my story to tell and if it helps anyone out there to read it, then I’m happy at the end of the day.
As a child, I had very thick hair. My mother really dreaded wash days. The long shampoo sessions, followed by brushing my hair until it was detangled, lathering it up in some type of grease and proceeding to put my hair in plaits or hot comb it. It was an entire day affair that wasn’t easy on either of us. If she had the information and resources that are available to us now, wash days probably wouldn’t have been so terrible. After all she was shampooing my hair and then brushing out any resemblance of a curl pattern! Even though these probably aren’t considered good hair practices today, my hair still managed to stay thick and healthy and to grow, longer than it has ever been in my entire adult life.
Turning point: relaxer
Flash forward to age 10. As a single parent, working two jobs to make ends meat and provide for her children, my mother no longer had time for our ritual day long wash sessions. My older sister pitched in and helped her, but this often ended in her taking out her frustration on my hair. My sister had started relaxing her hair when I was 10 and she really liked the stylist. That’s when my Mom decided, I too would relax my natural hair. I had no idea what a relaxer was and what it involved. I was just excited about a day in the city with my big sis. I imagined all the fun we’d have, just us girls, getting our hair done and maybe going out to eat.
I still remember entering the salon. I saw beautiful women everywhere with straight, flowing hair. I couldn’t believe that I too would walk out looking like them– okay, minus the awkwardly long skinny legs and terrible 10-year-old sense of fashion.
I sat down in the stylists chair and he asked me some questions about school, how old I was, etc. He proceeded to mix up jars of smelly liquids and white cream. Next he began applying it all over my hair. Surprised by the thickness of my hair, he asked an assistant to quickly whip up another bottle. Soon my hair was covered from root to tip in this smelly stuff. I didn’t understand how this would be the answer to everyone’s prayers, but I’d soon find out.
After getting my hair washed and blow-dried, the stylist wheeled me around. I didn’t even recognize myself. My hair moved from side to side, it hung past my shoulders. I was in awe and almost afraid to touch it. As I walked out of the salon, many women waiting in the lobby told me how pretty I looked and what lovely hair I had. No one had ever talked about my hair in such a positive way before. I walked a little taller, with a bounce in my step.
Later that day, as my sister and I walked around the city, I jumped around, ran left and right and asked her if we could go in the city sprinklers to play. She shook her head at me, annoyed by my ignorance and told me to stop running around in the heat, otherwise I’d sweat out my hair and ruin it and that getting my hair wet was out of the question. Suddenly, I didn’t feel as free as I had when I’d walked into the salon that morning. As an energetic child and tomboy, I started to feel really restricted, the world wasn’t my playground.
Life with a relaxer
After years of going to the salon every six weeks for my touch-up with the same stylist, relaxers and straight hair was just part of my being. As a teen, I called the salon to make my own appointments, paid attention to the weather forecast and made sure I did everything I could to protect my hair. With each trip to the salon, there was always a “trim”, which basically turned out to be a cut. Every year, my hair was shorter and shorter. I couldn’t figure out why my ends were always dry and splitting. Relaxers took forever and the stylists always told me thick hair like mine needed time to marinate, otherwise I’d never get it bone straight. I learned to tolerate the sting and ignore any burns I got on my scalp– all for the name of beauty. My self-esteem and mood correlated directly with my hair’s state. Fresh from the salon, I felt happy, feminine and beautiful as the time approached to get a relaxer, my hair look limp and dead and as did my mood.
Signs of change
After college, I began working full-time. I increased my once per month visits to the salons to every other two weeks. I’d spend hours of my Saturday, waiting with other women, chatting, gossiping, sometimes eating lunch. All of us united, awaiting a late stylist, with a gift for gab and magic hands, but absolutely no talent for time management. It was all worth it though…
In 2006, I met my now husband. Someone very different from me in many aspects. He had really big, beautiful blond curly hair that I often admired. He loved hikes in nature, swimming and running. On our first date, he prepared a picnic and took me hiking, followed by swimming. Little did he know I couldn’t swim, all those years of avoiding water, I also avoided swimming. I really liked him and wanted to impress him so I splashed around in the water, when he realized I couldn’t swim, he took it on as his mission to teach me. He first wanted to show me how to float on my back. Since I’d be going to the salon the following day for a wash and blow-dry, I followed his instructions and stuck my straight relaxed hair in the water.
Later that day, we went out for ice-cream he looked at me and said, your hair looks different, it’s really pretty. My hair that he was referring to had turned into wimpy, limp waves. I thought he was crazy for thinking that. I couldn’t wait to show him, how I’d look after my trip to the salon.
Later, as we continued dating, I found ways to avoid nature dates and suggest restaurants, when it was close to my relaxer dates. Everything involved so much planning and strategy, it was annoying, because I was starting to really enjoy our outdoorsy dates.
Years later, wanting a change of scenery, I decided to move to Europe with him. I began graduate school, we got engaged and were settling into our new lives. I had asked my stylist to order me a year’s supplies of relaxers. I planned on finding a stylist in Switzerland who’d do my hair. That didn’t work out exactly as planned. There weren’t any salons that resembled salons back home and the few I found specialized in braiding or charged really high prices for relaxers. So I decided to take my hair into my own hands. What did I have to lose. It had been stuck at chin length for years and was constantly breaking, maybe it was time I learned more about my hair.
What I learned was that I hated applying my relaxer, I was terrified of burning myself or over processing my hair. I began to dread doing my relaxer, but had no choice. With a busy graduate school schedule and a heavy workload, I scaled back my treatments to once every 3 months. I’d wear my hair down for one month then put it up in a bun for 2 months, relax and start all over again. The funny thing is, for the first time in years my hair started to get thicker and longer. This was really strange to me, because I’d always thought I needed a stylist to have healthy hair. Did I have magic fingers, was it the three-month long stretch without relaxing…?
My own personal method of doing my hair went on from 2007 until 2011, over 4 years my hair was past shoulder length. It was amazing to me. However, something was still missing. I was still organizing my activities around my hair. I still felt amazing after I relaxed my hair and less confident as weeks went on. My husband always complimented me when I scrunched my hair and admired the texture. That’s when one day, I thought of the idea of going back to my natural hair… At the end of my relaxer stretch, I was able to see and feel my new growth. I liked the texture and softness and became curious. I started searching online and stumbled across some YouTube videos and websites like Curly Nikki. Here there were all these beautiful women, every shade under the rainbow, with curls, kinks, spirals, etc. and they looked genuinely happy and confident. My last convincing moment was when I went out to meet friends on a bright sunny day. When I stepped off the train, the skies opened and rain poured down on my just straightened hair. It was a frizzy, poufy mess and I had wasted 2 hours sitting in front of the mirror straightening it. I’d had it, but didn’t know how to begin. So I relaxed for last time in March 2011 and promised that myself that would really be my last.
I began transitioning to natural hair. Trying new styles like twist outs and roller sets to blend the two textures. People complimented me on my new look and my hair felt healthier. I planned on transitioning 2 years and then cutting it, because I didn’t want longer hair. However, during the 8th month of my transition, I could barely detangle my hair and it became really frustrating. So one night in December, I sat around with a pair of scissors, contemplating cutting all my hair off and just going natural. My husband walked in the room and asked what I was doing, we had plans the next day, bright and early in the morning. I handed him the scissors and asked him to cut off all the straight pieces of hair. He was terrified and kept reminding me it would be my decision and not to take it out on him after. I agreed. He cut, I gasped and in the end I cried. Not from joy, but fear. Had I made a mistake?
I started wearing a lot of winter hats and headbands to cover up my insecurity about my new hair. I just couldn’t adjust to it. However, after a couple of months, I started getting used to seeing myself with natural hair. It was easy to care for, quick to wash and simple to style. I actually started to enjoy it, the process of taking care of it, but not my hair. When friends saw my hair, they always complimented me on how pretty it looked and how they preferred me with curly hair.
My in-laws adore my hair. My family had a tough time adjusting at first, but now they really like the look and tell me it suits me. My Mom is even considering going natural. Now I prefer my natural hair too. It’s a new adventure learning to care for it. However, I feel freer, I’ve learned to swim, rain isn’t the enemy anymore– I mean I don’t frolic around in it or anything, but forgetting my umbrella is not the end to my existence. I feel unique and the way I view myself has changed as well. My only regret is that I didn’t go natural sooner.
Natural since December 2011 – forever
I’d love to hear your transition, natural hair stories. If you’d like to share, please contact me. Remember, sharing is caring. =)