(Originally published on August 31, 2012)
Sometimes the hardest thing about getting where you want to be is just taking that first step.
It wasn’t the easiest decision to come to. Not because I’m overly concerned about my appearance but because I just have no idea where to start. At the same time, what would I look like for the next year or two? (Especially since I will also be trying to shed off the extra pounds that came as a result of being pregnant for practically two years). How would I manage my thick mane with little to no assistance from a professional? I mean, that was going to be my biggest challenge—the fact that I have no idea how to manage it or even what products would work best. Nevertheless, I will not continue to allow that to be the factor that prevents me from starting this new process of becoming a more whole me. I realize how much more vibrant and free I will feel as a person as a result of this, so I will not quit!
Fortunately for me, I did not grow up in a beauty-crazed environment. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to look presentable or even being glamorous. I’m just saying that I did not grow up with the systematic thinking of: “Omg, it’s Friday! Gotta get my hair done!” That wasn’t my life, and I count it a privilege only because I believe it would make what I’m about to do that much more difficult. As a matter of fact, I think going through with this will spark a whole new side of me that will want to step out more and try new things.
Even though I only get relaxers once or twice a year—three times if I’m feeling sexy—I’ve decided that I will not be getting them anymore. I’ve always hated the process anyway. So I’m not sure why I’ve gotten them for this long. I guess the saying is true: If you knew better, you’d do better. And I truly did not realize how harmful these chemicals were for my hair. I suppose it comes from the fact that I grew up getting them before I was able to comprehend the damage that was actually being done. I was probably the tender age of 6, if not younger, when I received my first relaxer. So I definitely have zero memories of what my natural, God-given hair texture is like. I can’t blame my mom though; back then my hair was probably 10x thicker than it is no—and that’s speaking volumes because this chick has a healthy head of thickness! I remember breaking the bristles from brushes and combs and even the teeth from the blow-dryer comb as it connected to my roots. I used to think this was a negative thing and I probably would have been too embarrassed to say it years ago—fearing it meant that my hair was what they like to classify as “nappy.” But as the years have gone on, I realize that my thick hair is far from nappy and is actually a beautiful, beautiful thing. Besides, I’ll probably never go bald *wink* And the fact that my hair is thick is not even something that a chemically-invasive relaxer could take away. Not only have people complimented my hair more over the years that I’ve reduced the amount of chemicals I put in, but some have even considered it “good hair”! (But that’s a whole other topic).
For as long as I can remember, I’ve never really “liked” my hair. There were a number of reasons for this: one could have simply just been the common trap many of us fall into of thinking, “Well if only my hair looked like THAT!” Second, on both sides of my family the women have beautiful hair in every sense of the word. With a strong Native American heritage from both sides, I have a number of cousins whose hair flows down their backs—some to their butts even! The texture is smooth and silky and could be the envy of everyone around. Not only did my sisters and I miss out on these genes! We were constantly being compared to our relatives whose hair was “better” than ours. I have countless memories of my father criticizing my hair in front of others while he stroked the ponytail of one of my cousins, saying, “THIS is what men like.” So like it or not, maybe—just maybe—I developed some kind of complex? I mean, I’m not a psychologist or anything, so that’s just a thought. Really, I honestly don’t believe I wanted what they had; I could easily say someone else’s hair was beautiful and not have a hint of jealousy in my tone. However, I think that I simply started to really believe that my hair was awful because of the criticism people like my father gave me.
I’ll never forget a time we went to visit my dad; I was probably ten years old or so. Now my hair is naturally an auburn, sandy-brown color with gold highlights running through. It changes colors with the seasons and can also darken depending on the products I’m using. As I hopped out of the car and ran to embrace him, he stopped me in my tracks—grabbing my bushy ponytail—demanding an answer out of me for why my hair was multicolored. Not only was I confused, but I had no idea how to answer this. According to him it looked foolish and was yet another thing my mother was doing wrong. Obviously, I realize how ridiculous this is now and I love that my hair has all different shades of brown! But at ten…how many of us would have felt good about ourselves walking away from that situation? You get the picture.
It probably started when I was 16 or so…I just no longer felt “right” getting relaxers. They burned so bad and in the words of many stylists, “my hair never ‘took’ like it was supposed to.” And it seemed like the stylists never knew just how much hair they were working with until they had set my hair on fire with the relaxer. But what was I to do? I didn’t know how to style my hair. I wasn’t taught how to manage or care for my hair, so having a relaxer just made things more manageable. I struggled less in between the process of acquiring new-growth that met with the processed portion of my hair when I got relaxers. But still, they didn’t seem to be what made me feel beautiful.
I remember wearing my hair out afro-style, in high-school before anyone I know (except for one or two people) were on this whole natural-crave. Wearing my hair BIG and voluptuous is what made ME feel beautiful. I enjoyed being able to ride with the windows down and not worry about how it would mess my hair up and blow it all over my head. I loved how easy-going it made me feel and how much pride I had because my mane was wide and fluffy. Not to mention it truly showed off the bronze and golden-sandy brown color of my hair that I thought added to my uniqueness. I wasn’t quite sure where it came from, but I was happy about it.
Every time I wore my hair out like this, I was sure to receive judgmental stares and even criticism from people, sometime even members of my family. My mom would walk pass me and gently say, “Baby, why don’t you let me put a curl or two in that?” And I would think to myself, a curl wouldn’t even go in this, woman! But I knew what she meant: it wasn’t as flattering as the relaxed look I wore at times. It made me look a little on the wild side (which I didn’t mind), and it wasn’t exactly “feminine” in her opinion. I can’t blame her. She grew up in a different age and time where women were expected to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and groom themselves in a certain manner. But that wasn’t me. And I think that’s what made me feel so uncomfortable…that I knew no matter how “prim & proper” a relaxer made me appear to be, it was NOT who I was.
She’d eventually give up, knowing how stubborn I was and that I wasn’t going to change my mind, and tell me, “If that’s what you want—fine.” My dad would ask what in the world I was thinking to go out in public looking that way. Some classmates would laugh…others wanted to touch it. My friends and cousins would poke fun, thinking it was yet another one of the many tactics I chose to show how “non-girly” I was.
None of these people realized this is what made me feel closest to my authentic self.
I had a guy that I was friends with at the time, and although he turned out to be somewhat of a narcissist—one thing that I did take away from our friendship was to value everything about myself physically. See, I was used to other people pointing out my flaws, so I decided that I’d always try to beat ’em to the punch! I remember one day I made a comment about my nose being big. He said,
“Crystolyn, we’re BLACK! Most of us have big noses! So girl, get outta here with that nonsense. I wouldn’t like you if your nose was small. It wouldn’t fit your face. I think your big nose is fine just the way it is.”
Now, this may sound silly, but it was subtle incidents like this that made me view myself differently (and also adopt the attitude of “if you don’t like it, somebody will!”) I appreciate this and use it as an example because I learned all this without having to subject my body to him or anyone else for that matter.
I remember the first time I wore my hair out in a huge afro in front of him. I was expecting him to shriek and make jokes just like most other guys did–but he said,
“Wow! Your hair is like…REALLY brown! That’s amazing. Can I touch it?”
Once I realized he wasn’t making fun of me, I let him play with my hair and examine it from front to back and side to side. He said,
“I really like your hair. You should wear it like this all the time; it makes you look distinguished and elegant.”
Again, this may sound funny. And who knows, some of it could have been him just trying to “spit game”—but I learned a valuable lesson: Love Thyself!
My daughter. Yes, my Zerah. She’s the reason for me starting this new journey. No matter how much I fear the outcome or underestimate my ability to pull through successfully–looking at her–such a perfect gift from heaven, beautiful and fearless…unashamed and unbound. Yes, I will do this for my daughter. I will do this for me! I will do this for the little girl in me who longs to feel just as free and beautiful as my little girl does. And how will I be able to tell her to embrace who she is—no added ingredients—if I am not doing the same? So while this was never a conscious choice before now, I have decided to do all I can to fully embrace every single thing about me so that my daughter can learn to take pride in who she is…so that she will always be able to look to me as an example. Oh, the inspiration she gives me to be a woman at her finest.
I’ve always been hard-working. A go-getter of sorts. But now, there’s a press! There’s no time to wait to get things done. I must achieve my goals in order to have my daughter one day look me in my eyes and say, “Mommy, I want to be just like you.”
I want my daughter to forever feel as radiant and beautiful as she is right now. I don’t want something as minuscule as hair to hold her back…to inhibit her in any way. Like it did me. I don’t want her to hate her hair. Like I did.
I think my mom should be proud that I choose not to conform to the ways of this world. She may not understand it, but I’m doing this for MY daughter. Just like me, my daughter has a combination of beautiful sandy brown and golden-blonde curls on her head, and I want her to always embrace what God has given her…without looking to her left or her right and comparing herself to other girls. I know what that feels like and I don’t want that for her. You are beautiful, Zerah! Fearfully and wonderfully made just the way you are