I saw this photo on twitter via @BlkHistStudies which reminded me of an image of my 10 year old self and the ideas I had.
Growing up in a predominately white neighbourhood I had a bit of an identity problem, though at the time I didn’t realise it.
I remember clearly, that I wanted to put my hair in plaited pigtails like my white colleagues but the shocking reminder came when I couldn’t get my thick afro hair to “drop” like theirs could. Instead it pointed in the direction I plaited it in. My hair didn’t blow in the wind either. You can imagine, I thought there was something wrong with me and my hair.
I had no representations of my own hair around me; my dolls had lavish flowy hair, the books I read and the television shows all displayed the same image – a pretty white girl with either mid-long or long blonde or brunette hair.
My hair was different and I didn’t know how to treat it for what it really was. Instead I tried endlessly to copy the hair styles of these girls in my class because…well I knew I was the odd one out.
The first time I went to Jamaica I was eleven years old and I could say that I learned a lot about my heritage in those two weeks but it didn’t transform my opinion of my hair.
When I reached the age where my mum handed me the brush, I hastily began to use the pressing comb to get that straighter European look. Notice how many of the photos pre-November 2012 my hair was completely straight?
I think it was around year 9 about 14 years old, when I started to straighten my hair permanently with hot irons. I didn’t relax my hair, but the way I constantly straightened my hair, I might as well have. My hair flowed in the wind now. It looked good. I felt amazing. But my hair didn’t. If my hair could talk it would say, “yo cool down! I’m burning up!”
During this time, I had heard people say you’ve got nice hair, be careful of it breaking from too much heat – of course, I ignored it to be very honest even though I could see that my hair was dying.
In the height of my stubbornness, I did further damage. I got to Sixth Form College so I was about 17 years old, and started colouring my hair – that was the end of all forms of health or life in my hair. For the next two to three years, I made little effort with my hair. I was not interested in taking care of it. I liked the colours, I liked the “length” (though half of it was spilt ends), and I liked the straightened look.
When I go to my first year of university, I heard people talking about “going natural” but this made little sense to me. As I hadn’t even put relaxing chemicals in my hair, I was clearly natural. So I shrugged off the conversations and went about my business.
But, during the summer of the second year of university, one day, my friends and I met up as we were about to go on holiday. We spoke about everything and no surprise the topic of hair arose. In the discussion, there were lots of points being thrown about on the topic of natural hair and I some how considered it. Maybe because my friends had sold it to me in a way that sounded convincing, maybe because I got cussed out. I can’t remember exactly what is was that made me begin the process of change, but I suppose it was a combination of both. The fact that maintaining natural hair is a long process initially threw me off a bit, but after completely damaging my hair, I suppose a little effort wouldn’t have hurt.
This was about August 2012.
Throughout the holiday, we discussed many many many ideas on how to treat, care and maintain black natural hair. So I after some long deliberation I finally took heed and after coming back from Spain, I made a conscious effect to read up on hair blogs, and keep an eye on my hair.
Over the past year, I’ve watched my hair bloom back to a healthy state – healthier than ever before.
Not only did I make a decision to take care of my hair, I also began to eat differently, (and I’m still in the process of doing this as well). I am making more decisions on keeping, not only just my hair, but my whole body healthy.
Though there has been a long gap between photos (probably because I was in my third year of university and boy, I’d rather not record those hair styles haha) there has been a noticeable transition.
I’m still transitioning – not necessarily from relaxed to natural, but from straightened (heat damaged and chemically damaged by colorants) to natural (almost like a “free from” heat products, minus the hair dryer), I’m learning about my ‘fro how to really love it since it’s the only hair I do have.
I can look at those children’s books and think “wow, I wanted to be like that?” I got my wakeup call a number of times to realise who I was in the mirror should be the person I see in my mind not some created figure of some other reflection.
But it does make me wonder, there are many girls/women who I have seen about town or know personally who will not show their natural hair. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can do whatever you want after all it is your hair. But what worries me is the fact that some women have clung to these hairstyles and grip them tightly all year around.
Is it simply a hair style or is it deeper than that? Do some women despise their ‘fro? I remember in a conversation my uni colleagues were having about “going natural” – part of the conversation someone mentioned that she was frowned upon for going natural. My question is, what if she does go natural? Should she be ashamed of her black hair?
Do women feel as if they won’t be accepted among others if they’re embracing what’s theirs?