My grandmother relaxed my hair when I was in the 7th grade — without my mother's knowledge or consent, as far as I know. I don't remember being particularly excited or afraid of the process, and like many little black girls, it was somewhat of a rite of passage. I was ultimately ushered into the phase of my life that included waking up first thing in the morning on Saturdays for bi-weekly wash and sets at the Dominican salon.
Most of the girls I hung out with, including my cousins who were close in age, all had relaxed hair. That's just the way things were. I was always acutely aware that not even a mist of water could touch my hair, EVER, or it'd all be ruined. I had put far too much time, money, and effort into it. I knew early on that there was always a ritual surrounding my mane. It wasn't just hair. It wasn't an afterthought. It needed to manipulated, plans were scheduled around hair appointments, plans were canceled if my coif was not on point. Once those kinks and thick curls began to make their monthly debut at my hairline, I was making plans to get rid of them.
The weaves came in around high school, I believe. I can honestly say at this point, I truly believed that I would never wear my own hair out again. I loved it. Weave gave me length, my hair was hidden away and I could fry the hell out of it. At this point I was still chemically straightening my hair, despite only leaving out a sliver of my natural hair for everyone to see. That was probably the longest phase in my hair evolution.
I never remembered what my really hair looked and felt like. I spent most of my life changing it. I think that is what really began to trouble me. It's strange to think you truly know everything about yourself, but not much about your own hair. I had no clue about the natural texture, its true thickness (which I am now discovering is unbelievable — my hair laughs at your standard hair clip), what it looks like when wet, what nourishes it. I haven't gained the courage to chop off all of the relaxed ends either, and perhaps that's just me clinging to the familiar. It seems small and insignificant considering so much of my hair has grown out, but I'm just not ready. I'd like to be clear though, I don't regret any of it, and when I miss a weave, I do find my way back to it. I find it interesting that I can look at periods in my life as it relates to my hair and wonder if it exposes something about myself.
As it relates to my imaginary mini-me, I would like to say that as a single gal, keenly focused on shaping my career, who is still not totally sold on motherhood, I don't know if having a daughter is even in my future. And I completely believe that what's in your head matters way more than what's on it. Still, I'm trying to figure out how to balance the idea of telling my little girl that she should feel comfortable looking and wearing her hair anyway she wants while being a shining example that the hair you have is perfect just the way it is. I do think though that the visibility of natural hair will be helpful, I never thought I'd see the day when Target would give kinky/curly-haired girls an aisle of their own, so I imagine ubiquity will definitely be on her side. Or maybe I'm just doing it for me, my 7th grade self. And although my mom would never relax my daughters hair, I'd want my mini-me to have the language, the gall to say, "No, I don't want that done to my hair." I imagine her being quite sassy, after all.
There are so many aspects of our culture that make little black girls feel uncomfortable with the way that they look and I think that if I decide to have my own, I'd spend my existence, my entire being trying to mitigate as much of it as possible. I think my decision to stop relaxing my hair at this particular moment in my life was about discovery really. Funny to think so much uncharted territory could live right on top of your head. Everyday I feel more and more comfortable with my own hair, though I have yet to do anything beyond a bun with it, for the most part. What it's really all about is choice. Fully formed decisions not made out of insecurity or someone elses beauty ideals, or fear. And if I have a daughter, I want her to fully understand that.
Image: Shannon D. Pruitt/Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr