If you are a POC who has decided to stop using relaxers, texturizers, and other chemicals made to straighten your curl pattern and soften your hair texture then I’m sure you’ve watched and read your fair share of natural hair journey stories. This is mine.
I went natural in Spring of 2015 of my senior year of high school. That’s right, just in time for prom!
But before I got to the point where my aunt was shaving my hair with a pair of clippers there were many things that happened in between that made me go natural.
Guess I should first start with giving a bit of background to my hair. I am a half Nigerian, half African American woman which means as a child I was considered nappy headed. It wasn’t all bad having such a thick grain of hair. My uncle was a hair dresser and I remember monthly trips to the hair cuttery where he worked to get my hair relaxed and straightened. This was a routine I followed since pre-k, but by the time I reached middle school the luxury of the salon seemed like a distant memory. My mother, for what ever reason, decided to stop paying attention to when I needed to make a trip to the salon and I was left to fend for myself against the beast that is Nigerian hair.
This is when it all went down hill for me. My midback length hair slowly broke off until I was left to work with nothing more than dry, chemically damaged, lifeless strands that barely reached my neck. A solution that I began to rely upon was long twists. If you’re not familiar with the style let me explain; long twists are done at a braid shop and typically take around 8 hours to do and cost on average $200 to get. I’d go with my sister every 3-4 months to sit through some of the worst pain and discomfort of my life. Eight hours bound to a chair while small sections of your hair are parted and twisted around with fake hair is just as horrible as it sounds.
This style worked for a very long time. It kept my hair out of sight and out of mind. It took away so much stress of having to style my hair myself which always resulted in small strains falling all over the bathroom floor with nothing more to show for all the sweat than a stiff sad small ponytail. In comparison with my real hair, the long twists were like night and day. I could pretend that I had beautiful long hair again and push the ugly truth far out of my mind.
Eventually the long twists began to fade from my hair routine. For one, the cost was becoming unmanageable for my mother who herself has alopecia and doesn’t know a thing about hair care. For two, it was an eight hour process which I grew tired of. I just couldn’t sit through it anymore. So I began to wear more weaves in my hair as I way to keep it styled and out of sight.
Even though my hair had been damaged by both chemicals and heat from flat irons, it did have its moments of growth thanks to keeping it protected under braids, twists and weaves. By the time I entered high school I remember I had enough length to make one braid going down the middle of my head that I tied into a small ponytail that was just a tuft of hair sitting at the base of my neck. Now my ponytails were still little but were looking less sad with a bit more length than before.
I’m sure you’re thinking this is where things get better for me, right? Nope! They get worst and then they get better, I promise!
My uncle had came back into the picture of my hair. He was trimming it, washing it (and relaxing it still) for me. He would wrap my hair, which is when the hair is straightened and then wrapped around the head to fall softly when taken down. This was a great time for my hair. Like I said, it was growing, looking healthy and most importantly for me at that time it was soft and easy to work with. Admittedly, I was kind of scared of my natural hair. I had never fully seen it! It was always matted under strains of lifeless mess that knotted on my head. What I did see of it made me only assume it was rough, dry and made to be hidden. All my life I was told I had thick, nappy, Nigerian hair which basically translated to “bad hair”. All my life I had my hair chemically altered, straightened with heat, or braided and concealed. That was all I ever knew and felt safe with.
So, how did I get to senior year of high school just weeks before my prom with a shaved head? Well it all began I early in that school year. See, I was still depending on my mother to make hair appointments for me and eventually she did not want to take on this task. Additionally, communication with my uncle became difficult and the promise of doing my hair was neglected so many times that I’m sure I just gave up trying to contact him after a while.
If you don’t know what happens to processed hair that isn’t maintained then I’ll tell you. It falls off! The bonds of your hair strain are weakened when altered by chemicals, that means they are super dooper prone to just snapping and especially prone to breakage when you do nothing to care for your hair like myself at the time.
So slowly but surely the health of my hair declined until one day I looked in the mirror and noticed a large patch gone from the right side of my head. When the hair that was there was touched, it began to snap off again. Yes, after coming so far, I was back to square one. I did my best to maintain what was there but I couldn’t go on like this forever and the pressure really came with the approach of prom.
So there I was, balding, with prom just around the corner. I was hiding my lack of hair skillfully with pulling back the hair in front to conceal the patch which had up and vanished. I was 18 then and working a minimum wage job that all my money from was going towards paying for my prom dress, a place to stay for senior week vacation and there was still graduation expenses that I had to worry about. Needless to say I couldn’t afford to get my hair done. Even more than that I began to realistically think what could really be done to it? It was completely busted and so I faced one option really; to shave it all off.
I wasn’t really upset about having to do this. I had no relationship with my hair. It wasn’t special or precious to me. I remember one day running my fingers along the wide patch that had broken off. I could feel the warmth of my scalp, it was sensitive likely due to the strength of the last relaxer I had put in. Above my skin I felt a bed of curls, little coils that I could push down on. They sprung my fingers back each time I gave them a press. It felt good to rub and massage my head there and feel the hair curl into little balls under my fingertips, it was possibly the first time I had felt my real hair texture in about 12 years. Those little curls that had already began to grow told me that everything would be okay.
I made an appointment with my aunt, a master barber who takes more pride in her work than anyone I know. She sat me down in a chair at her house, pulled out her equipment and went to work. In a few minutes my hair was reborn. She left a bit of hair at the top and faded the sides elegantly. My thinned spot of hair was so large that it invaded the crop of hair that remained and had to be filled in with a bit of black hair coloring. But I was just happy to be free. Free from the brittle hair that was impossible to care for. Free from the worry about getting my hair done for a long time. Free to sweat, sleep, swim, and move freely without thinking about how my hair looked at every moment.
The next day of school after the cut I was dreading everyone’s responce. Not because I thought it would be bad, I just didn’t want any attention over a decision that was made ultimately because I was too poor to get my hair done. Surprisingly though the reactions of my peers weren’t only good but also super empowing and supportive! I went to prom with a shaved head and if you’re wondering, no, my date did not mind it at all.
Now, four years after I big chopped before even knowing what a big chop was, my hair is doing amazing. As it grew, I actually learned about it and what it needed to stay healthy. I can now say that I love my 4c hair! Washing, detangling, and styling my hair has become so therapeutic for me. For so many years I feel that I cheated myself out of this very special relationship that I now have with my hair. No, I’m not attached to it to an unhealthy extant but now I actually feel that it is apart of me. I’m proud to wear my natural curls, I don’t fear touching them any more and my tightly packed kinks and coils are now taken as a sign of health and happiness from my hair (which I don’t see myself straightening anytime soon).
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my journey and all its ups and downs. I’m so happy I made the decision to give myself a fresh start all those years ago. If I could do it all over the only thing I would change is that I’d definitely go natural much sooner in my life. -J.A.