“Personally I wouldn’t advise you to do it. But it’s not my choice. I’m not a fan of the look, but it’s not me looking in the mirror and it’s not me married to you… “ Ouch. These were the words of advise I received when I mentioned I wanted to go natural and cut off all my relaxed hair in 2018.
Hair, a four letter word that means nothing to a lot of people but I think in the black community it means a whole lot, and I would have to say it meant a whole lot to me :). From the time I was young, I always had long hair. I got a lot of nice compliments because of my hair, and every time I went to a salon, the stylist always said, “you have good hair or your hair is so long and lovely” or a variant of these comments. It always made me smile inside and to be honest it was something I expected. I remember the one or two times a hairstylist didn’t make a comment and internally I would be shocked haha. Anyway as you can imagine, hearing this for most of my life led me to believe that long hair was good hair and truth be told my hair did define me.
I remember having natural hair till the age of about 10 years/11 years old. I look back at my pictures from that time and my hair was full, long, curly and natural. I spent half of my primary school education in England and I was the only black girl in my class. There were only 2 other black girls in my school (including my sister). That being said I definitely stood out and knew it. I liked my classmates hair, the way they could put it in a ponytail and the way it moved. It was beautiful to me and I was not pleased that my hair could not do the same. Back home, I always admired my mum’s hair and knew that hers was different from mine. At the time I could not understand why her hair was different from mine. Hers was similar to my European classmates, it was straight, it moved, it was easily manipulated and looked like the beautiful women I saw on TV and glossy magazines.
As I grew older, I realized my mum’s hair was different because my mum had “relaxed hair” (chemically treated hair to straighten her natural curly hair and it needed to be done roughly every 2 or 3 months). I really wanted my hair to be like my mum’s hair.
I remember the first time I relaxed my hair. I was 10 years old I think. My mum and I went to the salon with the Dark and Lovely Relaxer Pink kit called “Beautiful Beginnings” which had cute, smiley black girls with straight relaxed Eurocentric hair. I sat in the salon chair and I was excited to look like the pretty girls on the relaxer box. When the whole process was done, I couldn’t stop touching my hair – I loved it. My hair was straight, long, it moved when I moved, it was soft, I could easily manipulate it, I could leave it down and it just fell on my shoulders, I could put it in a ponytail, I could do so many things to it like the other girls in my class, the celebrities in magazines and movies – I loved it. My hairdresser even gave me a new pink comb which I loved, I could comb my hair myself, easily, no pain, no wincing just my hair gliding through the comb – it was awesome. That marked the beginning of my “relaxed hair” journey, which lasted about 22 years – yikes :/
It became part of my routine, every 2/3months I would get my hair relaxed. I wasn’t doing anything unique this was common practice and I didn’t think much of it. Although I must say I often got scalp irritation almost every time I relaxed my hair and it hurt. The hairdresser would try different techniques to reduce the scalp irritation or burn (as it is called) sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. One thing was constant, I never liked the process but I did it for 22 years – ouch. Also I liked my hair the most when it was thick and full and closest to it’s natural state.
At some point in my early twenties, the natural hair movement begun and I began seeing more women with their natural curly hair. I admired them, thought they looked beautiful. In my heart I was sure, I would want to have natural hair again but probably when I was 60 years old. I often said that to people. So why did I want to wait till I was 60 years old, why didn’t I just do it. The reason is simple – I was scared about how I would look and wasn’t sure I would be pretty. I had long relaxed straight hair for most of my life and I was told I had beautiful hair constantly and so I translated that to mean that if I don’t have that hair anymore, I won’t be beautiful. I recall telling my hair dresser in Nigeria that I wanted to go natural and that I was tired of relaxing my hair, his response – laughter and he said “don’t do it”. Ouch. I continued to relax my hair. Hindsight, he may not have wanted to lose a customer hahah. I thought I wouldn’t look attractive, I was scared about how I would be viewed, I got negative feedback from some people close to me when I told them the idea. I remember when I was single, I didn’t want to change my look as I thought it may scare guys away and so when I said I will do it when I was sixty in my mind I was like by then I would be older, probably married and probably not care at all about what people think about my look. Why would I have these thoughts? Why would I be so scared to see and embrace the natural hair that grows out of my head without chemically straightening it? The answer is simple – Black natural hair – wasn’t equated to Beautiful.