I trimmed the ends off my hair today, and it got me thinking about hair, of course. All sorts of tangents about hair. I remember when I was about 5, in kindergarten, and I took my scissors at school and cut off my bangs. I’m sure everyone has done this. I’m sure my son will do this eventually. I put the hair in a baggie full of water and kept it in my desk at school until someone found out. I don’t remember my mom being too angry about it, just the usual amount. But I really wanted to see if my hair would grow if I kept it in water.
I remember the first time I got my hair professionally straightened. I don’t remember how old I was, but I vaguely remember the salon, and how strange it felt to have “white people” hair – flowing and wavy and moving when I moved, not stiff and wool-like. And it was so smooth and silky.
There were times my mom tried to straighten my hair at home. Not the same outcome at all. My mom was in charge of my hair for a long time, and sometimes after she would work on my hair for hours, I would undo it all, which of course made her quite upset. During those hours I would read a book, or watch TV. I think my mom did my hair for me until at least tenth grade, because I remember I had to watch animal farm for school, and I did so, between her knees on the floor.
After that, I started doing my hair myself. Usually regular, loose braids that were simple and efficient, and meant I didn’t have to struggle to deal with it every day. There was a time when I was 16 when I did just keep it in a tie every day when I went to work at the museum. I would try to sleep on it a certain way after my shower at night so that it would be flat and smooth.
My mom was awesome with the hot irons. There were a couple of times when she would use the curler to smooth my hair into ringlets instead of the kinks it’s usually in. I felt so beautiful and grown up.
There was also a phase in my life, I think when I was 10 – 12 years old, when my mom would put extensions in my hair. We’d go to Walmart and pick out all the colours that I wanted – reds and golds and browns. I could have hair whatever colour and length that I wanted, and it was smooth and shiny and moved when I moved. White people hair!
At one point, I think just when I entered grade 10 at a new city school, we started wearing wigs. I had to make sure I brushed it and kept it on its stand properly. But somehow I didn’t really like the way I felt less beautiful without the wig, and that the kids at school would laugh at me if they knew what my hair really looked like. At least I wasn’t one of only three or four coloured kids at this school, but I still didn’t have any black friends.
We were dog breeders, so every now and then my mom would trim our hair with the dog clippers – and the last time I remember this was when I was 12. I wanted my hair completely shaved off. I think it was my idea, anyway. We had been chemically treating it, and it wasn’t looking too good. From the time I was twelve until I was almost 22, I didn’t cut my hair again.
I thought I was looking after it. I would wash it, and put some sort of moisturizer into it while I braided it. At some point I started using pure olive oil in an effort to be more natural. Then I would leave it for a few weeks and do it all over again. But I never went to the salon – too expensive! Not enough time! I knew all I needed to know, anyway.
And my hair grew. And grew, and grew. I was so pleased to see the new inch or two of hair at the end of every month. I honestly thought I was doing great. But then I started living with black people, and making black friends, and among other comments about my lack of blackness, one recurring subject was my lack of knowledge about hair. What were they talking about? My hair was great! I was keeping it natural, and it was growing and growing. Still though, I wondered.
For my wedding day, when I was almost 22, I wanted to do something special. I thought about how nice it had been when I was a preschooler, to have that shiny, flowy hair, and I decided I wanted to get my hair flat ironed. Not relaxed, never again! But just a nice, smooth look for those timeless pictures. I knew I needed a professional.
To avoid any wedding day fiascos, I decided to have a pre-trial of a salon. I called around, trying to find a studio that specialized in black hair. Google wasn’t much help at all. I thought I did find a place, at a mall close to my house. They insisted that their hairdresser knew what she was doing and had worked with black hair before. Boy, do I wish I hadn’t gone there! After a couple of hours, they nearly burned off all my hair and insisted that they couldn’t get the job done without a ton of product several more hours, and two people working on my hair at one time. After a while, they gave up, and referred me on. I was angry and discouraged. I just wanted to have flowy hair for my wedding! Why would they lie about being able to work with black hair?
This time, I was more cautious, and I went to see Lena at Curious Hair in Tuscany. She gave me a no-cost trial, and she got a bit of my hair shiny and smooth in five minutes, with just a water bottle, a blow dryer, and a comb. On my wedding day, she was able to get it done in an hour, and not to brag, but I looked pretty hot. One little girl thought I was a princess. Lena referred me to a studio run by an actual black lady, Julzz Creations.
Before I went to her, I had been doing some research on how to care for my hair. I also wanted to do a better job caring for my son’s hair than I had been. My friends had recommended some products for me to try, and some methods to help my hair become more manageable. I didn’t really do what they said for a while, but I am glad I got the information. Julzz taught me all about black hair, and helped me figure out what I had been doing wrong. Apparently my hair was pretty darn dry, which was something I couldn’t understand. At this point, my marriage was falling apart and I wanted to do something drastic, so I decided I would relax my hair, so I could enjoy flowy locks for a while, and then, when the roots started to grow in, I was going to shave it all off.
I couldn’t get a bone-straight relaxer, so it was still a bit hard to manage, but I did get to enjoy the kind of hair I wanted for a while. I tried to find a place where I could donate my hair, since it was past my shoulders, but no one wants my kind of hair, and it’s actually pretty expensive and difficult to try to find a place to donate anyway.
Over my lunch break at a new job, I did exactly what I had intended and shaved it all off. Twelve years of hair, just gone. I can’t believe how free I felt! I didn’t have to fight with it anymore. This thing I had been holding on to for more than half my life, was gone! I had invested in some hair products and was determined to start over the right way. My coworkers weren’t quite sure what to make of me when I returned to my shift, but I felt fantastic.
Ever since then, I’ve been using products made for kinky hair, like Shea Moisture and Essations. I still struggle with thoughts of chopping it all off sometimes, especially when it entered that in-between-phase of being too long to manage but too short to braid. But I’m trying to see it as my crowning glory, a gift from God. I’m finally starting to notice more media promote natural, black-person hair in all it’s kinky, coily glory, instead of only black women with straight, smooth hair. Finally, my kind of hair is starting to be seen as beautiful. I even wore my hair poofy and natural to work a few times. The natural hair I’ve been given is beautiful, even if there are times I wonder what God was thinking when He designed hair like mine. I’ve even stopped envying my son his beautiful loose ringlets, perfectly between my tight kinks and his dad’s toothbrush straight hair.
That was about a year and a half ago. And you know what? My hair is almost half the length now that it was when I got it shaved off. I’ve been more or less looking after it, but these past few months I’ve made it a ritual, and a habit, and I’m actually seeing the results. My hair is shinier, and easier to comb, and more manageable than I ever though possible. I have been fighting with whether to go back to Lena to get my ends done, since now I know what dry ends actually look like, and mine were becoming a real problem. But I didn’t have room in my budget. So, I did it myself. I’ve lost a couple inches again, but now I know it will grow back stronger, faster, and better than ever. And I don’t have to have white people hair to be beautiful. If I hold on to it, I will lose it. If I let it go, I will gain it.