From smelling the hot comb on the stove early Saturday mornings to sitting in the beauty salon with an aroma of burning hair as I waited impatiently for my monthly relaxer, I remember hating it all growing up. We called it “hair day,” because it really did – and still takes – an entire day. My coils have always been nappy and thick from a young age and I would complain constantly when my mother would try to take a hot comb through my tangles to make my mane more “acceptable”, “kept”, or “appropriate” for going out of the house.
I unpleasantly recall being burned by a hot comb all for the sake of achieving straight hair, or – if I’m being honest – trying to reach European beauty standards. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my locks were something beautiful without drastic alterations. It was something to be celebrated.
Because of the coarseness of my hair and the lack of products that were made for black women back then, my mother opted to give me a relaxer early on. And from grade school up until grad school, I spent an unfathomable amount of money, time, and pain having what some call “creamy crack” smothered on my scalp.
The product left whelps, burns, and scabs that were extremely irritating. I internalized that I needed this treatment to get a job or to fit in with society. Thankfully, there was a wave when black women clearly had had enough and decided to start wearing their hair natural, however, so many individuals saw this as “unkempt”. I even remember telling my mother that I was going to go natural and the face she made said it all. Even she didn’t understand the reasoning of not straightening my hair. However, it was an amazing transformation for me. My hair started to thrive and grow at a very rapid pace – when it usually would break off very easily with the relaxer.
With this newfound love for my hair, I would still be remiss if I didn’t say I dread washing and styling my hair till this day. It still takes all day and my arms and neck are always tired and sore after. With having such a demanding schedule, I almost can’t afford to spend an entire day doing my hair or extensive timely up-keep during the week. I will often find myself full of anxiety and dread to start the “hair day” process. I think it was this anxiety that led me to finding lasting styles to lessen the pain of upkeep, but still, find a way to express my creativity.
I truly have a passion for finding new ways to mold my hair. To start the creative process I always construct a mood-board first and foremost. I then teach myself different techniques, I watch a plethora of hair YouTube channels and will do research on other talents in my area when it comes to styling my hair. I’m obsessed with braids and cornrows as there is so much beauty in this art form. I can spend hours looking up new and creative ways of how I want my own to be expressed. I will often find a technique that I like – such as the sewing of seashells in my braids– and I will make it my own.
With this recent style, I did the hair in stages. From taking an entire day to wash, deep condition and trim my ends, to a day later setting an appointment with a braider in my hometown of Conway, Arkansas. I sent the stylist a few designs that inspired me. She looked, analyzed and created something uniquely beautiful. For the final step, I sewed in seashells while I was in New Orleans and thankfully had the help of a friend to sew the detailing in the back. The outcome was breathtaking. It was everything I had envisioned and more.
Styles such as these I find not only to be creative, but protective for my coarse locks. Although the detail of the braiding and seashells will be recognized first, I feel that the entire process is vital.
Key steps for me included making sure to comb my coils only during the washing process. Making sure to deep condition routinely with Brown Butter Beauty or Alikay, as well as clipping my ends when needed. But the top tip of all was to keep my hands off of my hair. I go for styles that have longevity and that limit upkeep from me. A quick oil on the scalp, co-wash for my braids, moisture of the hair, or design of the edges is as much as I want to do. Simply by not touching my hair, the health and length has progressed tremendously. And with going into the New Year I not only want to up the antes on designs I try, but I want to take the initiative to keep my hair extremely healthy. All in all I think it’s safe to say I’m off to a healthy yet artistic start.
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Images via Augusta Sagnelli