As Black women, our hair is our crown and glory. It adorns our melanin-rich skin and uniquely grows in a manner that defies gravity. It can be molded and shaped to form a crown that beautifully frames and enhances a woman’s face. But what good is a crown if you are afraid to display it in its natural form?
Thick, "Unmanageable Hair"
From an early age, I have had what I thought was “thick” unmanageable hair. In fact, it is so thick that the simple act of combing it has broken many a comb. When I was young, my mother began to use a pressing comb to straighten my hair – and by young, I mean the young tender age of 3.
As I grew, pressing combs transitioned to relaxers, and due to the sheer thickness of my hair, I had to rely on strong relaxers. Throughout the years I tried practically every at home relaxer kit and salon-based brands. Regardless of the type of relaxer, all of the products yielded the same result.
Despite my many efforts, relaxers would only last a maximum of four to five weeks before I desperately needed a touch-up. To top this off, I had absolutely no styling skills and have never been able to maintain a style in between appointments. To add insult to injury, my newly styled tresses would only last one to two days at best. In the summer, I was lucky if it lasted 24 hours past my appointment.
This further impeded any intention that I had of establishing a consistent exercise routine. There was absolutely no way I was going to exercise without having a protective style, aka “braids.” This started a vicious, expensive cycle that lasted for over 20 years. This process was extremely costly not just monetarily, but psychologically.
PHOTO: Ezekixl Akinnewu
Relaxers vs. Health and Wellness
My persistent use of relaxers cost me my health and wellness. Not only was I tethered to seeing a hair stylist on a biweekly basis, but I was unhappy. I felt as if my “happiness” with my physical appearance was contingent upon me habitually wasting money and having crappy hair. In a nutshell, I felt enslaved with no way out. Superficially, the risk of exposing myself to toxic chemical relaxers and not exercising was worth the sacrifice – or so I thought. Although I was consciously willing to take the risk, my subconscious left me feeling conflicted. Having temporary straight hair was more socially acceptable than living my own truth by wearing my natural hair.
For years, I knew that I was sacrificing my health to conform to western beauty standards. The very fact that my hair resisted relaxers was a sign that I should’ve stopped and listened. Periodically, I would comply and allow my hair to heal with braids. Since a young age, braids have always been my refuge, as they have always allowed my hair to recuperate.
Regardless of the timeframe, be it one or two months, braids had reliably provided me with time to heal and restore my hair.
Unfortunately, my newly restored hair was short-lived, as I repeatedly reverted back to the creamy crack, quickly reverting back to split ends, and limp, lifeless, thinned, damaged hair. As I think back, this vicious cycle was clearly a sign of addiction. Much like substance addiction, I was fully aware of the health consequences but was ill-equipped to stop. I deeply wanted to flaunt my natural curls but feared the unpredictability.
PHOTO: Ezekixl Akinnewu
My Black is Beautiful
Although I had lifeless, unhealthy hair, I had grown accustomed to its growth pattern, or lack thereof. Aside from washing my hair in between stylist appointments, I knew very little about my natural hair – and the little I did know was not by any means helpful.
The truth is, in my natural unfiltered, unrelaxed, nappy hairstyle, I did not feel beautiful. I felt as if my 4C hair was anything but the epitome of beauty. This realization pushed me even further into the relaxer conundrum.
Fast forward to 2011, and I began to see a wave of beautiful images of black women flaunting their natural 4C hair. Not only that, but there was an increased presence on YouTube where they showed you how they did it. This piqued my interest. My desire to have socially acceptable hair, outweighed the potential risks of ill health until I was forced to look outside of myself.
PHOTO: Fabricio Abdon
Lead By Example
I began to notice that my three-year-old daughter began asking for dolls and other kid-friendly toy hair pieces that were reminiscent of the caucasian persuasion. This was a slap in the face as it served as a wake-up call that she was watching my every move. It broke my heart, and made me think. Was I so caught up and self-absorbed in my own insecurities, that I failed to teach her to love herself?
I needed to show my daughter that she is enough exactly as God has made her. She didn’t need relaxed hair or a weave to be beautiful. More importantly, I needed to lead by example. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a weave, but my child was watching me as her first example of black beauty. It was my responsibility to embrace and celebrate all of my black attributes. Bottom line, actions speak louder than words. I could show her, better than I could tell her. This quickly became my “why” and my catalyst for change.
PHOTO: Ezekixl Akinnewu
Push Past Fear
I instantly became excited by the possibilities of finally exiting out of my over processed hair addiction. I was finally motivated to look outside of myself and I was up for the challenge. But I feared the big chop and its resulting “tiny weeny afro” (TWA) phase. Additional research showed that there were other alternatives to the big chop. Because of my previous experience with braids, I opted for the protective style route.
For the next two years, I alternated between braids and weaves. By the end of the two years, I was beyond tired of shielding my hair. I was ready to be free. However, I was crippled with fear of the unknown, but the universe so graciously sent me a friend and fellow Naturalista who introduced me to coconut oil, curl defining cream, and twist-outs. She answered all of my questions and encouraged and mentored me every step of the way until I found my confidence. It has now been five years and I could not be happier with my hair. As with everything I still have my good and bad hair days but I feel confident and secure in adorning my natural crown.
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