June 9, 2010 § 3 Comments
This story is not unique; in fact, I’m sure it’s quite common. Still, there is value in the telling because we can gain strength and inspiration from those who have had experiences similar to our own. So I am going to tell you the story of how I came to love my hair.
I don’t remember hating my hair, being ashamed of its kinkiness, until I was nine. Before then, I don’t remember thinking anything about my hair, except that I loved when my older sister braided it and put beads on the ends. I went to a private school where the majority of the children were Black, but at that age (4-5), and in that era, most little Black girls had nappy hair. And we had not yet been socialized to think that it was a bad thing. After that, I was in a Catholic school where there were only a handful of Black girls – literally. Three of them were in my class. After the third grade, I switched to a public school, and there, my hair woes began.
Now, I was not the only girl in school with nappy hair; nor was I the only one targeted for teasing. But I was the new kid, quiet, bookish, and a crybaby to boot – easy target. Fourth grade is the first time I remember being told that I need to get my hair pressed or relaxed; that I needed to go buy a pressing comb; that my hair was ugly, so by extension, I was ugly. Through the ninth grade, I heard variations on this chorus, but I never straightened my hair – not that I had a choice. My parents insisted that we – my younger sisters and I – were going to wear our hair naturally. To straighten our hair, my father said, would be conforming to a Euro-centric standard of beauty. My parents wanted us to see ourselves as beautiful, just the way we were born. I couldn’t see that at nine; I hated my hair. I wanted my hair pressed, like all the other girls.
I wore braided extensions for the first time in junior high, dookie braids. I liked them, but they were expensive and my mother didn’t want to pay for me to keep getting my hair braided. I had started combing my hair myself by then, and I hated the amount of time it took every morning to clear it out. It was long – past my shoulders – even though a few inches had broken off because I couldn’t clear my hair out properly. It took thirty minutes every morning to comb and style. I didn’t know what to do with it, and I hated combing it, so I asked my parents to let me start dreadlocks. That request was met with a resounding no. I asked for the next best thing – to cut my hair off and wear a fade, like my mother.
Flat tops and High-top fades
It took a year for me to convince my parents to let me cut my hair. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I started sporting a fade. Finally, I thought. Hair I like and that looks good on me. The only problem was that not many women were wearing their hair that short. That meant most barbers fucked up and cut my hair like I was a boy – edged me up and everything, even after I told them not to touch my edges. I was a girl in a male domain, what the hell did I know? Plus, Black woman, (They couldn’t tell my age; I looked the same then as I do now.) on the large side, dressed in baggy clothes (it was the Cross Colors/Karl Kani days), wants to wear a fade? Lesbian. I got that a lot, as well as being mistaken for a boy. Still, I loved my hair, and thought I looked better than I did before.
When I was 18, I moved to Houston for college. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of finding a barber in an unfamiliar city. I bought a set of clippers and an edger so that I could cut my hair myself. I did a pretty good job. Eventually, I tired of short hair. I decided to let it grow so that I could start dreadlocks. It took five years for me to finally get the locks started. Every time I would get a little fro, I got tired of picking it out. I’d pick up the clippers and cut it all off. I started locking a few months before I turned 25. A year later, my locks had grown long enough that I had to keep them off of my face with a head band – they were still too short for a ponytail. One morning, I looked at my hair in the mirror. There’s my lion’s mane! (Forgive me, I’m a Leo.) I had this sense that I had finally made the right decision for my hair. This hair was my outward expression of who I am inside. I fell in love with my hair for the first time, and began to see myself as beautiful.
I am NOT my hair
On May 3, 2010 – seven years later, almost to the day – I cut my locks off. In 2006, I noticed that some of the locks on the top of my head were getting thinner, almost to the point of falling off. I joined them with neighboring locks to thicken the strands. I didn’t think the problem was serious until May 1, 2010 when I was re-twisting my roots. I felt bald spots on the top of my head. I did a Google search for ways to treat and reverse thinning locks. I found some great homeopathic remedies, but I kept digging. I came across an article that gave a name to the hair loss I was experiencing – traction alopecia. I read further, and a trichologist said that although there are ways to combat the thinning, best course of action was to stop wearing the hairstyle that was causing hair loss. Otherwise, there was a risk of damaging the follicles, rendering the hair loss irreversible.
The decision to cut my hair was difficult. My vanity was all wrapped up in those locks. How would I look if I cut them off? I so worried that I’d be ugly, I only cut half of them off on May 2. That night at work, I took pictures of the top of my head. When I saw the extent of the damage… Vanity be damned, I cut all of my hair off as soon as I got home. After washing and combing my hair, I put on some earrings and took a picture of myself. Even with my pictures from high school, I forgot what I looked like with short hair. I still look beautiful. I realized then that I truly love my natural hair.
I’ve had people ask me if I’m going to grow my locks again. Maybe, but not anytime soon. I’m armed with better information now, so I if I decide to lock, I can prevent my hair from thinning. First, I thought I would rock a righteous fro, which would also allow me to wear various natural styles. After going to the barbershop Friday, I know that I’m going to wear it low for at least a year. My hair needs to thicken, and for that, I need to handle it as little as possible.
I’ve also had people ask if I’m going to press/relax my hair now. Not at all. I don’t have a problem with hair straightening, but it’s not for me. I am happy to be nappy.
Click here for pictures of my hair loss.