I haven’t had a relaxer in my hair for almost 15 years. Before that, I was just as addicted to the “creamy crack” as the next Black woman. As soon as I felt that new growth coming in, I calculated the days until my next treatment. Never mind that that stuff burned the mess out of my scalp and often left scabs that took days to heal. After all was said and done, I couldn’t afford to have even one hair out of place. Not if I wanted to look “civilized” and attractive. Or at least that’s what I had been indoctrinated to believe.
Peas and Carrots
I remember when I was in fifth grade—a very impressionable age. I was at recess with a couple of my friends climbing around on the jungle gym and minding my business. A few minutes into playtime, three sixth grade girls started circling around us and for whatever reason, used me as a target for their teasing. There was one girl (I’ll call her Karen), who teased me about everything from my hand-me-down bright sweater to the thing you never say to a little Black girl: “Your hair is so nappy! Look at it. You got peas and carrots.” Apparently, the “peas” were my little tight curls on my hairline and the “carrots” were the rest of my hair which was somewhat straight, but in desperate need of a touch-up. Although we tried to ignore Karen and her friends and walk away, they followed us wherever we went. They were merciless until we finally told an adult and they received consequences for their bullying.
But that incident left more of an impact on me than I realized. From then, I became very subconscious about my hair and making sure it was always tight. That meant waking up two hours early in junior high to style my hair and make sure every single hair was sprayed into obedience, straightened, and curled just right. In fact, I became so good at doing my own hair, other girls started paying me to do theirs in high school. Let’s keep it real:
Our hair is a huge part of our identity—especially since it’s been the topic of so much controversy and political commentary over the years.
(Think the “militant” afros of the Black Power movement). You can’t blame a girl for obsessing over it.
The Turning Point
When I got married, I discovered my husband preferred straight hair. He used to hate it when I put my hair in braids. In fact, he even told me, after I mentioned that I was considering loc’ing my hair, he wouldn’t want to be seen with me because it looked like a bird’s nest—or something like that. However, once our marriage ended more than ten years ago, I realized that I had to make some major changes in my life as I tried to rediscover who I was without the title of being someone’s wife. Part of that rediscovery required making my own decisions about what to do with my hair regardless of what other people thought. You could say that starting my locs was my way of redefining who I was and uncovering the woman I really wanted to be: which was someone who didn’t allow what society defined as “acceptable” and “beautiful” to define me.
Going natural wasn’t just about following a trend for me: it was about deciding that what I thought was more important than what everyone else did.
It meant that I was going to give myself permission to be exactly who I was and not hide behind processed hair to mask whatever insecurities I had carried with me from that playground in fifth grade. It meant finding the freedom to be more authentically me. It meant being more mindful about what I put in, on and around my body in my journey to becoming healthier—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
More than a decade later, I’m so glad I made that decision. Although it started with transforming my hair, this journey has forced me out of my comfort zone, and completely changed how I think, who I associate with and what I choose to focus on. I always tell people that loc’ing my hair was one of the best decisions I ever made. It freed me to be exactly who God created me to be, and I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.
What is one change you’ve made that has made the biggest difference in your life?