“I want style, body, and shine. A look that’s totally all mine…”
I’ll always remember listening to that jingle blare over the TV set in my grandma’s home in Brooklyn. I’d run into the lounge and rap together with the squad of Black ladies smiling at me from the Just For Me relaxer industrial, bouncing their clean, curly ponytails alongside to the beat. And I wished what they have been promoting.
At 5 years outdated, that is certainly one of my earliest recollections of equating lengthy, silky hair with magnificence. I by no means bear in mind pondering my dark-brown pores and skin was inferior — even when bullies in school tried to persuade me in any other case — however my hair was a completely totally different story. And it is one which began in the identical kitchen the place I first heard that jingle.
I by no means bear in mind pondering my dark-brown pores and skin was inferior, however my hair was a completely totally different story.
At my grandparents’ home, the kitchen was a makeshift magnificence parlor the place my Grandma Hattie, a licensed cosmetologist, would give my Aunt Tia a relaxer (and month-to-month touch-ups) from the boxed units she’d purchase from the native drugstore. I’d watch with wide-eyed surprise as Grandma Hattie utilized a smelly, white concoction (relaxer creme combined with an activator) on Aunt Tia’s roots with a brush earlier than washing it out with neutralizing shampoo. After a couple of minutes, my auntie would emerge from beneath the tap with silky strands after which sit beneath the dryer along with her hair set in enormous rollers, filling the whole home with the scent of hairspray and scorching scorching instruments. And although it took hours, my auntie ended up trying equivalent to these fashions on the entrance of the field.
Of course, I wished the identical factor. I appreciated my ponytails and beaded braids, however by the second grade, it shortly grew to become obvious that every one the favored ladies have been getting their hair straightened — particularly those at my new college in Marietta, Georgia, the place my household had simply moved. My Southern classmates had the shiniest curls and probably the most luxurious ponytails tied with ribbons that matched their colourful sneakers and tees.
Throughout elementary college, I watched as my crushes paid extra consideration to the “redbone ” ladies who both had relaxed hair that hit their shoulders or — extra hardly ever — lengthy, free waves that curled up once they acquired moist. I additionally envied the friendships that fashioned between my classmates who acquired to play with every others’ hair throughout recess. Bonds have been forming, and I wasn’t part of them.
After years of begging, my prayers have been lastly answered. Right earlier than my eighth birthday, my mother dropped me off on the native hair salon to get a press and curl. The stylist did not really feel like coping with my thick head of unprocessed hair and used a no-lye relaxer to make it extra pliable. My mother was livid, however I was thrilled. After some time, my mother additionally realized that my straighter hair was simpler to govern on these Sunday evenings when she’d spend hours braiding it. She lastly gave in to my pleading, and I acquired my first “adult” lye relaxer when I turned 10.
But in junior excessive, relaxers grew to become an extra expense — and one which fell low on the checklist of my dad and mom’ priorities after the mortgage, the automotive insurance coverage, and the utilities. If I did get one, my mother would make the type stretch for 2 months till she might afford to take me again to the salon for a touch-up. In between appointments, we might attempt our greatest to cover my roots with combovers, brush-overs, and braids — which, mockingly, took longer than they’d when my hair wasn’t relaxed.
During these highschool years, I put my hair by means of it. Honestly, it is a surprise how I nonetheless have something on my head as we speak. And as a result of I did not sustain with common appointments, I suffered much more breakage.
For the primary time in my life, I noticed 1000’s of proud, lovely Black girls round me embrace their pure hair.
When I left for Howard University at 18, the monetary pressure of my relaxer appointments began to hit my very own checking account. And I began to query whether or not I even wanted them in any respect. For the primary time in my life, I noticed 1000’s of proud, lovely Black girls round me embrace their pure hair. They have been the favored ladies in my lessons, taking senior management positions; repping their lovely Afros, twists, and locs on the Yard; and getting all the eye I felt like I would not if I wore my pure hair. Now, bonds have been forming over curl suggestions and product exchanges — you might even get a imply set of field braids or a loc re-twist in your dorm.
But lengthy hair was nonetheless my customary of magnificence, and I wasn’t prepared to provide it up simply but — irrespective of what number of hair bundles I had to purchase. By sophomore yr, I stopped utilizing relaxers as steadily and as a substitute turned to protecting kinds — together with sew-in weaves, which misplaced their goal every time I’d press my leave-out with a scalding-hot flat iron.
By the time I graduated and was gearing as much as begin my first “real” job as an editorial assistant at a serious journal, the hair beneath my weave was skinny, brief, and principally see-through. So I chopped all of it off and determined to let my hair develop in contemporary whereas sporting lengthy field braids. Whenever I took them out, I’d marvel at how wholesome my 4C curls have been getting beneath. After a strong yr of sporting braids, I determined that I was lastly able to rock a small Afro — I simply wasn’t positive the place to begin.
As a magnificence editor, I was fortunate sufficient to have a celeb hairstylist supply to teach me. On a brisk February afternoon, I met him at his house, the place he spent hours patiently displaying me stretch my ‘fro with a hairdryer by blowing the roots on the bottom warmth setting. He taught me mildew my curls by cupping my palms and pushing them up into my head. I additionally discovered do a twist-out, and I left with a bursting bag of styling merchandise and a contemporary perspective. “This is what’s growing out of our head,” he informed me. “Why shouldn’t we wear it?”
That afternoon supplied the breakthrough of a lifetime. I left my stylist’s house with loads of sensible suggestions and was met with a lot love and help from fellow naturalistas. My Aunt Lisa is at all times gracious sufficient to supply product suggestions (proper now, I’m loving Pantene Gold Series Hydrating Butter-Crème for including moisture, shine, and definition), and my teenage cousin Maddy, who swears that she’ll by no means contact a relaxer, sometimes offers me a hand with my twist-outs.
Now, I’ve proudly been sporting my pure hair for 9 months and — whereas I’m nonetheless nailing down the routine that works finest for me — I’ve by no means regretted my choice. I have good and dangerous hair days, positive, however I’m nonetheless embracing what’s mine each single day. These curls aren’t shipped from some manufacturing facility abroad or bought on the magnificence retailer down the block. They’re not altered with chemical compounds and even straightened with the GHD that is now accumulating mud beneath my sink. Are there occasions the place I really feel tempted to slap some braids in or throw on a wig? Of course — and there is nothing fallacious with that both. But the essential factor is that I’m residing my reality, and I lastly know that the hair beneath my weave — with each wonderful curl, kink, nap, and tangle — is only for me.
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