My Natural Hair Journey: how chemical relaxer saved my hair

I decided to go natural the summer after I graduated high school in 2009. By “go natural,” I mean, I decided to stop chemically straightening my hair. I grew up without my black family in my life, so the people in my life struggled when it came to taking care of my hair. From the time my hair started growing longer, around age 5, the constant go-to for my hair was to straighten it. If it wasn’t kiddie-perms, it was me crying while my mom or grandma ripped through my thick, curly hair. I grew up hating my hair, saw it as a burden. But, it was hard not feeling this way, when everyone else was so negative toward it.

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Me at 5 years old

AS I got older, I started caring for it myself. I had my hair in braids, which I now cringe at when looking at old photos. I hit a point in my life where I really stopped carrying about how I looked and I gave up on even trying to take care of my hair. I washed it, but didn’t really put any effort into combing it. I finally begged my family to get me help with it and my aunt took to me a salon, where I got my first relaxer.

These poor women (yes, it took 2 to do my hair) worked for hours. I remember sitting on that salon hair, listening to them comment about my hair. One of them even said something about neglect. And it’s true, it was neglect from myself but also from my parental figure. Like I said, I felt like a burden on my family. So, after what felt like forever, my hair was straightened and saved. Of course, chemical relaxer is not safe for your hair. It’s all about choice, but relaxers are designed to straighten extremely curly, coiled or tightly coiled hair by breaking the disulfide bonds found within the cortex layer of the hair. The curl patterned is loosened, almost stripped down, and changes the texture of the hair.

I was in 7th grade and I was so excited by how my hair looked. It was easier to managed and got better once I discovered hair straighteners. Pin-straight hair was my go-to style through high school.

 

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Senior year of high school, wind in my hair (Photo by Hannah Yo)

Oddly enough, the first time I heard about “going natural” was while watching an episode of Tyra Banks talk show. It was an episode talking about girls starting to embrace their natural hair texture. This was back in 2009 some time, when social media was just starting to become a thing, and yes, I was all about that  Myspace life. The idea of wearing my natural hair terrified me. My life had someone always been defined by my hair. I never hair the best or even what was considered nice hair. I grew up thinking of my hair was a curse, one of the only things I inherited from my father (besides his looks apparently). In a way, my hair had been the only thing that connected me to my blackness. I never knew my father or his family. It was hard enough for my to relate to black kids, but my hair was always something I could talk about with them. So, I decided the relaxer I had gotten for senior prom was my last relaxer ever.

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Senior Prom, 2009

At the beginning of my hair journey, I decided I was going to let my hair grow before I did the “big chop.” The “big chop” is basically when you cut off all the relaxed ends of your hair when someone transitions to natural hair. The only other option is shaving it all off. And I was not about that life (also my hair is shaped weird and it was not be cute). So, I let hair grow. I still straightened my hair with an iron, but other than that, I basically just wore it in a a knitted beanie.

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Me at 18, wearing that ugly beanie

Then came time for my to do my big chop. The stylist I usually went to worked at JC Penney’s at Eastridge mall. She was the second person I went to to get my hair relaxed and had been the only person to do my hair for almost 4 years. She was always nice to me, even gave my advice when it came to my dry scalp. The first thing she asked me was when was the last time I had relaxed my hair. I told it was almost a year ago and that I was going natural. She didn’t really seem pleased because my hair was such a pain in the ass to comb and cut at that point. I told her to cut all the bad stuff out and she did and this was the result:

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The result of my big chop, me at 18, 2010

This was the shortest my hair had been in probably 10 years. It was strange at first, but when it was wet, it actually turned into a fro instead of a stringy mess. Also seven years since that day and I have never gone back. Its actually been almost 4 years since I last straightened my hair. My hair journey is like every other hair journey: self acceptance. I was tired of trying to cover who I was, cover my blackness. As trivial as it might seem to people, I feel it is important to share these types of stories, just in case someone else out there is struggling. I went natural for the health my hair and the acceptance of myself. And even though getting my hair chemically straightened way back when I was 12 wasn’t necessarily good, it was a huge wake up call for me. After that, I started caring about how I looked and that mattered when it came time to admitting I had depression.

Whether or not you wear your hair natural or straighten it or dye it pink do it because you want to and not because your feel pressured to look a certain way. Natural hair, to me, for black women, is so beautiful. It doesn’t matter what texture you hair. My hair is hard to manage, but girls with my hair texture seem to get the most attention in the natural hair community. This isn’t fair because girls should feel welcomed in the community their are a part of, despite their hair texture. All natural hair is beautiful, all black hair is beautiful.

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me at 17, still getting my hair relaxed at that point
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Around 19, my curls started to show more
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around 20/21 years old, hair is completely natural, no relaxed hair
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21/22 years old, hair has been completely natural for about 3-4 years at this point
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Hair as a February 2016

Women who inspired me to go natural:

Corinne Bailey Rae

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Solange Knowles

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India Arie

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Whitney White aka Naptural85

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