Although its been almost 15 years, I still remember the time I lost my hair because of a bad relaxer. It was 1997 and I was 14 and going to this hair dresser down the street from where I lived in Milwaukee. Unlike other hair dressers I had been to in the past, she knew how to give me style that was appropriate for my age, meaning that when I came out of her shop I left feeling grown up instead of like a little kid.
However, I began to notice that my hair seemed to need a relaxer a lot quicker than it had before. I also noticed that it was thinning out. My mother noticed it to. She took me to her hair dresser, who I had been to before, and she told me that my hair was falling out due to being over-processed. I did not like the sound of that. But rather than cut it off and start over, I waited it out. I got braids and after taking them down, I waited a few months before getting another relaxer so I could give my hair a break. Slowly but surely it started growing back, but it was not very long. It never really was. But still, at least, I was not bald-headed.
Over the next few years, my hair just kind of existed. I mean, it was not unhealthy but it sure was not stellar. I guess somewhere down the line I just accepted that this was the way it was, but deep down inside I longed to have long, flowing hair. I envied my sisters and other black girls around me who were able to grow their hair past their shoulders aimlessly. I wanted that for myself but did not know how to get it.
After moving out of state for college in 2001, it took me a few years to find a hair dresser I really liked. By the end of my sophomore year, I found a lady who was pretty good at keeping my hair healthy and stylish, but then she went and cut off nearly half of my hair. I was so irate, I did not know what to do. But she said that I needed it because my ends were so badly damaged, which was true, I had been having problems with them for months. So I suck it up and after a few months, my length was back where it was before.
Over the next few years, I went back and forth between me losing my hair and then growing it out to a certain length and plateauing before I would start losing it again. I have never dyed my hair, I didn’t wear a lot of extensions or put a whole lot of product in it, but something was not working. Somewhere in between my senior year in undergrad and first year in seminary in 2006, however, I started seeing another hair dresser who thought that maybe it was time for me to give up my relaxer and go natural. It was not that I was diametrically opposed to the idea, actually I had tried to do it numerous times before, but I could not get over the fact that not having a relaxer would mean that my hair was not straight. I did not want to walk around with a fro or nappy hair, so I resisted even though my hair remained trapped in this vicious cycle.
But then the hair dresser I was seeing informed me that she was leaving the salon and referred me to someone else. I was okay with that, and she was a good stylist. Yet from the moment that I started seeing her, she kept saying that the sides of my hair were frail and thin, and that she wanted to cut them off and leave the back long. Now I don’t know much about hair styling, but in my mind, what she was describing was a mullet. She assured me that it would not look like that at all, so I let her cut it. And guess what; it looked like a mullet! I tried to hide the sides behind headbands but there was not much else I could do because it looked bad.
So, I decided to get the rest of my hair cut, by someone else mind you, and give this natural thing a try…again! By then it was 2007. Knowing myself and my tendencies all too well, I just kept my hair braided during the transitioning period and cut it off in between me getting it braided again. It took less than six months for my natural hair to grow out long enough for me to feel okay with cutting off the relaxer and sporting a short fro for a while. Honestly, I loved my new style, but I was still self-conscious about my hair not being straight.
I was having an identity crisis about my hair in its new state, so as soon as it grew out long enough, I started flat ironing it. There were times when I would twist it or wash and go, but for the most part, I kept it flat ironed. Although I could tell my hair was healthier as a result of me getting rid of the relaxer, and it was growing a bit longer a bit faster, my ends were still breaking off every once and a while. And I would get so frustrated because I could not figure out what I was doing that caused my hair to react this way, or at least, I did not want to admit that I needed to lay up on the heat as well. I thought I could have the best of both worlds and would pride myself in being able to have my hair curly one day and straight the next.
Then I got married and got pregnant. That was in 2009. Half way through my pregnancy, the ends of my hair broke off again, but by time my daughter was born they had come back stronger than ever. For the first time in my life, my hair was noticeably past my shoulders and I loved it. Of course, I continued to keep it flat ironed, after having a baby the last thing I wanted to do was put up with the fuss of my own hair. However, right before my daughter turned one in 2011, my hair started to break again and I knew that it was not breaking from the pregnancy, I had already experienced that. No this was something different.
And so, I decided to lay off the heat for a few months. I wore my hair in protective styling, kept it conditioned, and did whatever I could to keep it healthy. After two months of wearing it like this, I could tell that it had grown quite a bit, at least the front and sides of my hair had. When I went to my hair dresser, however, she told me that the breakage in the back of my hair was even worse than it was before and recommended that I get it cut. So I did, knowing that in a few months it would be back.
That was November of 2011, and after three months of no noticeable difference or growth, I knew something was wrong. You may think that I did not get myself a whole lot of time here, but I know my hair, and I know that it grows back quickly. On top of that, I saw that even more of my hair was breaking off. I instantly knew what I needed to do; I needed to stop flat-ironing my hair.
But here was the thing, because I had flat-ironed my hair so much, most of my ends were straight even without heat. So I cut them off myself, yes I am a little impatient, and basically started the process of growing out my natural hair all over again. And it has been a process that has required a lot of hard work. I have to keep my hair moisturized and conditioned on just about a daily basis because my hair has a tendency to get a little dry and brittle when I don’t which means more breakage. I have invested in essential oils and frequent youtube videos and blogs to get advice about what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. Even though it has taken a lot of time, the results have paid off. My hair has come back! Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus! And my flat irons are at the bottom of my linen closet buried out of eye sight.
I am grateful for the strides that I have made with my natural hair, but I have to be careful and understand that no matter what I do with it that I am not my hair! This knowledge has been key in me transitioning from a relaxer to being natural, from wearing it straight to keeping it curly and everywhere else in between. As black women, and women in general, we get so tied up in our looks and ideas of who we should be, what we should look like based on what society says. But who we are runs much deeper than these things. We are mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, cousins, friends, pastors, neighbors, leaders, bankers, nurses, and so much more. We are loved, favored, blessed, talented, resourced, intelligent, beautiful and powerful. We are the image of God, expressed through Christ. So our identity, my identity, ought to come through these things. Not our hair!