I remember crying and screaming as my mom struggled to get a comb through my thick hair. Looking back, I appreciate the time and effort she spent braiding my hair, sewing in hair pieces, perfectly placing barrettes, and trying her best not to hurt my tender-headed scalp. What a woman.
I wasn’t always delighted by the hard work she put into keeping my natural hair well maintained. At one point in elementary school I came home begging my mom to straighten my hair. I don’t recall what exactly prompted this desire, but I’m sure it was a combination of trying to conform to conventional beauty standards and being tired of my scalp getting yanked at every few days. So like the loving mother she is, she did whatever she could to keep me happy.
We quickly discovered that straightening my hair just wasn’t ideal for my active lifestyle. That flat ironed hair didn’t stand a chance against the combination of sweat and Jersey humidity out on the soccer field. If you’re Black, you probably have an idea of where this story is going next. Between boxes of Just for Me and sitting in the hairdresser’s chair with my scalp burning, relaxer was the “solution” to achieve the style I desired. Or so I thought.
After months of chemically manipulating my hair straight, the damage was real. This style, again, was not ideal for my active lifestyle. Constantly sweating dried out my hair and using headbands while playing resulted in severe breakage. It was so brittle and thin. Nothing like how I imagined my hair would be when beginning this process.
Realistically, my natural hair could never achieve the styles I dreamed of. I couldn’t get the perfect ballet bun without sewing in a hair piece. My hair wasn’t designed for a comb to easily glide through like my Bratz dolls. I couldn’t have long straight ponytails like the White girls. And no matter how many times my mom tried to tell me that, I kept hope alive.
I remember the first time a pair of clippers ran across my head. It wasn’t because I was ready to rock a short style, but because my hair was damaged to the point of no return. Thinking about that damage makes me cringe. My hairdresser and mom concluded there was only one solution: a big chop. Only the new growth of kinky 4c hair was left behind. As I sat in that chair teary-eyed, my dreams of having straight hair fell away with each tuft of hair that fell to the floor.
This was in middle school. So here I am, in an already awkward stage for many people, sporting a mini afro and worrying that my peers would think I looked like a boy. I’m sure I got roasted an appropriate amount. Sta-Sof-Fro should have been my middle name with how much I used it. I can smell it just from typing this memory out. It made picking out and managing my fro much easier, but it was messy. If you’ve ever used it, you know that it will literally get on everything you own. Instantly after use, the bathroom floor turned into a skating rink. I would not recommend wearing socks in these conditions or applying prior to soccer practice. You will bust your behind and your eyes will BURN.
In this new phase of naturalness, I went through a few rounds of getting my hair braided at the African braiding shop. Talk about edges SNATCHED, literally. Nothing compares to that first night sleeping on fresh box braids. Oof. The braids allowed for my hair to grow, while offering me some versatility. My personal favorite was a low side bun. If you know, you know. Unfortunately, this phase didn’t last long. It was maybe a year, at max, before I was tired of braids and over having to maintain my afro. I was too impatient to see what possibilities my natural hair could have offered me. So, I’ll let you guess what came next.
You guessed it. Since I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, here I was again in the salon chair fighting the urge to scratch my burning scalp. From 8th grade up until my senior year of high school, I fell back into the cycle of getting my hair relaxed every few weeks. This time keeping it at a shorter length so I didn’t have to hold it back for soccer and breakage was less noticeable. It took me those 4 years to get sick and tired of not only relaxer, but putting a straightener to my hair every morning before school to bump it back to life after a sweaty soccer practice.
When I graduated high school, and decided I needed change in my life, the blonde hair was born. Inspiration from a bomb Black woman I’d seen on Twitter. The adventure of trying various lengths, parts, and colors has been so fun. The thrill of cutting my hair, increasingly shorter each time, both stressful and exhilarating. I’ve finally found the perfect style that not only makes me feel good, but is ideal for my lifestyle.
One thing I’ve learned in all of this madness is that Black hair is not defined by one style or texture. It’s so versatile, so unique. Some styles eccentric and others modest. Everything from locs, twists, bantu knots and braids to pineapples, sew-ins, waves, and relaxers. The possibilities are endless. Everyone’s journey and experiences as unique as their hair texture and porosity. Over the years, I’ve learned so much that I wish I knew when I was younger. I’ve seen so many styles and beautiful Black people rocking them confidently. The things I wish I’d seen or paid more attention to as a young girl.
I would be remiss not to mention that even with the empowerment of the natural hair movement, the system we live in is still not designed for Black people. You finally find a style that you feel confident with and your hair is well maintained, but you get to work and are sent home for looking “unprofessional.” Discriminatory dress codes and hair restrictions leave Black people excluded or forced to conform. Only seven states in America have passed the CROWN Act, which prevents workplaces and schools from discriminating against hair based on texture and style. Meaning, still in many places, discrimination and microaggressions are the reality at work, at school, and in sports.
Even in a work environment where my hairstyle is not restricted, I’ve had experiences that I can guarantee would not happen if I had a straight ponytail. Comments that have left me astonished and attempts to touch my hair putting me in an uncomfortable situation. A lack of knowledge, accountability and diversity allows circumstances like these to perpetuate.
What many White people don’t understand is the time and effort that is put in everyday to achieve a certain look. Do y’all know how many hours I’ve spent brushing my hair trying to get waves? Too damn many, but that’s a convo for another day. Some people spend years just to find the right product that works for them. Hours watching youtube videos in front of the mirror trying to find a suitable routine. Long days in the salon getting a protective style put in. Exact precision to get those baby hairs on fleek. So, when I say “Don’t touch my hair,” it’s because I feel there’s a lack of respect and appreciation for what went into getting it exactly how I have it.
The short length of my hair allows for every major and minor detail of my face to be highlighted. The contrast of bleached hair against my brown skin makes me easily recognizable on and off the field. I feel confident, beautiful and fierce with this style, while simultaneously excited to continue trying new options.
When people see the fresh fade and color, and the confidence that comes along with that, they don’t see the on going journey. One that I wouldn’t change for anything. A journey that is a part of me and has brought me to a place of knowledge, acceptance, and confidence unlike anything I’ve ever had before.
As a result of my experiences, when I see young Black girls or Black women, I let them know they’re beautiful as often as I can. I hope they are showered with affirmations of their natural beauty in order to combat the subliminal messages, discrimination, and internalized racism that we so often experience. I hope they have as much information as possible to make the decision to rock whatever style works best for them. I hope they let their Black Girl Magic outshine the hate and ignorance. Most importantly, I hope their journey leads them to a place of unconditional self love, confidence, strength and acceptance. Because that’s what we all deserve.