Hair can be such a complicated thing. It’s one of the first things people see (and therefore judge) on us. I’ll admit to passing over a guy or two who may have had amazing personalities, but the hair was just meh. Whole sections of my life can pretty much be told by my hair. As a child, I had thick, coarse, hard to manage hair. My mother was tasked with taming it, and it was a very painful process of yanking and tugging with a brush and comb with a final showdown with The Hot Comb. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s literally a metal comb that you sit on the stove until it heats up, then you comb it through curly hair, thus straightening it. Pretty frightening to a six-year-old. I guess around that time my mom got a little tired of working with so much hair (she’s a short haired lady, so I don’t blame her), and I got my first chemical straightening, AKA a relaxer. This shouldn’t be confused with a perm, although growing up, I heard the terms used interchangeably. Perms make the hair curly. We wanted mine straight.
It was always great at first, right after leaving the salon. My hair would be silky smooth and bouncy. I could swim without fear of my hair curling right back up, I could braid it, I could wear bows in it, or I could just leave it alone! Of course with chemical relaxers came the damaging effects. The ends of my hair split and frayed in between visits, and no hair trim would stop it. I got chemical burns and subsequent scabs on my scalp from sitting just a moment too long. This led me to pick the scabs, and now I have a horrible habit of picking my scalp until it bleeds, even though they have long since faded.
I stopped the relaxers when I was 12, but added a blonde streak and bangs, so the damage didn’t stop. In 7th grade, I dyed it back black and decided to do a big chop. Well, let me tell you guys and gals. Never ever get your hair cut at a beauty school no matter how cheap it is. I ended up looking like Dora the Explorer for months. Luckily for me, my hair grew back to about an inch above its original height in just 2 years.
I spent the next 2 years growing it out more and allowing my hair to return to its natural state. I still got it flat ironed once a month, but I took pride in wearing my hair (mainly) like I’d been born with it. I added a bronze all-over dye when I turned 15, and as it grew out, I reveled in the ombre. But over the last 4 years of wearing long,straight hair, I got tired.
My natural afro was nothing to be scoffed at. At 17, it was big and tangled, and difficult for me to handle alone. Wet, it scrunched up and stuck out at odd intervals. Blown out and detangled, it dried up like a tumbleweed, and I just could not manage it. I was tired of straightening and dyeing, and tugging and pulling all over again. Some may say I’m not proud of my blackness for expressing such disdain for my hair, but that’s just the way it was.
I had a lot of image problems back in middle school, and I felt them coming back to haunt me every time I tried to deal with my hair again. Paying $40 for a hot press. Breaking another comb. Taking 4 hours to self-dye my hair because it’s just so much. If I couldn’t handle my hair, how could I handle everything else going on in my life?
So I chopped it off. Back and sides shaved with a dollop on top. Gone. That first chunk of hair hitting my shoulder was absolutely terrifying. Yet with each snip after, I felt lighter. Liberated. Whole. I wasn’t tied to my mom and grandma’s remarks about my “long,beautiful” hair. Short hair is beautiful and I am beautiful. Again, I had to relearn to love the person I see in the mirror. My hair has always been a reflection of me, and it will continue to be. It will change, but so will I. In the midst of it all, I am still here, being the best me I know how to be.
I realize that each person’s relationship with their hair is personal and poignant. There are so many stories behind every style, and I’ve finally come to appreciate that my story isn’t set in stone but evolving.
If you guys have your own hair stories, feel free to leave them in the comments. Let’s walk this hair journey together.