In a series exploring the complicated relationships we, as women, hold with our hair throughout our lives, All the Pretty Birds introduces ‘Our Hair, Don’t Care’, an installment series of women we love sharing their personal beauty journeys.
Thick Hair Manifested
My granny always tells me the story of when my mom was pregnant with me. The one thing she hoped for, was that I had a head full of hair. I was born with a fever and they had to shave the crown of my head, my mother was livid. The devastation didn’t last long, because my mane grew thick and long. It would take multiple people to comb and plait my hair. Managing my kinky curls was a family affair. My mother, aunts and older cousin kept my hair in individual braids with barrettes most of my youth. As a young girl I’ve always felt like hair was an important part of feminine identity..
My First Lessons In Colorism
By the end of elementary school, I wanted a relaxer. Television heavily played a role in my definition of beauty. I was really into Aaliyah and Mya, who both had silky straight hair at the time. While my darker skin wasn’t an anomaly at home, my school experience was where I first learned about colorism. I often received backhanded compliments like: You’re pretty…for a dark-skinned girl.This was just another ignorant concept stained into black culture by stale American beauty standards.
As a compromise, my aunts pressed my hair sometime in primary school, this gave the short term satisfaction of straight hair that a perm would give – minus chemicals. I sat in my granny’s kitchen and we hot combed my hair. My aunt Karen would part my hair into two high pigtails. The pigtails were so long they almost touched my shoulders. I can remember her grin and her voice as we rejoiced in the kitchen. Straight hair for a black girl was a big deal because in our parents’ eyes, it makes us look “grown”, so it didn’t happen often. Moments like these were pivotal in shaping my self love and confidence as a young black girl.
The Box Perm
When I was entering middle school, my mom finally gave in and I got my first relaxer. I’d sit on the floor between her legs and my mom would relax my hair every 4 months or so. I still remember the smell of perm and the importance of not leaving it on too long. It was honestly really pretty and I loved every second of it. I didn’t see it as damaging. I was happy because my hair was lengthy and moved when I walked.
When I started high school, I think the effects of relaxers started to kick in. My hair began to shed a lot. It became thinner. I started seeing a hairstylist every two weeks. It was always early Saturday mornings. My hairstylist Miss Trish was a character. She was a charismatic, older black lady. She took care of my hair, but she would do it the way she wanted. She would cut it and style it her way, and since I knew how to do my hair, I didn’t like that.
One time, I went in for my usual relaxer and a “trim” and she cut three inches off. Another time, it was the day of my homecoming dance. I showed her a picture of how I wanted my hair for the dance and she did a completely different hairstyle. That was the last time I saw her. I began to do my hair myself again. I continued to relax and flat iron my own hair throughout high school.
Intro to Womanhood
My hair journey took a major turn when I left Houston for college in 2009. It was so much easier to find my authentic self outside of my normal setting. I began to get really interested with natural hair the more I tapped into a spiritual version of myself. I would research natural hair and wonder how my texture may look. I stopped getting relaxers altogether and began to educate myself on the subject. I spent many hours researching and following the very few naturalistas there were at the time on social media. I talked to a friend I’d made in my cultural anthropology class named Rosebeth. She had dreadlocks and encouraged me even more that my natural hair would be beautiful. I didn’t know that Rosebeth and I would still be friends almost ten years later, and that she would be an amazing photographer, capturing portraits of my family and I.
One day, (with the support of my roommate) I snipped a little piece of hair out of the center of my head. I had been without a relaxer for a few months and about an inch of my true texture was exposed. My little one inch of natural hair was gorgeous and thriving With a mixture of Youtube videos and Erykah Badus’ “New Amerykah, Pt. 2 “ album (which had just dropped at the time), I had enough courage to do what naturals call, “The Big Chop”. The process for me was about individualism, not caring what others thought of me. It was a spiritual test and pivotal moment in my adult life.
I planned to wait until summer break, cut my hair off and give myself two months to adjust before I faced campus in the Fall. I told a few people of my plans, not many were supportive. They would say things like “Why would you cut off all that hair?”. It was like they thought once I cut my hair, it would never grow back, or that I would be of less value without it. I was ready to take the chance. My mom was really supportive, and she did the big chop too a bit after me.
Big Chop aka Loser Repeller
When I got back to school, I could feel the shift. I got all kinds of confused stares, and less attention from males. In retrospect, my big chop was loser repeller. The person I was dating at the time was really supportive of my decision. I felt liberated and beautiful. Even though my hair was short, it was thick and luscious. Once my hair got long enough, I began to experiment with Marley twists and other protective hairstyles. I loved the idea of being able to have length when I wanted, and return to the fro without compromising my true essence. Then I graduated to twist outs, then to being able to put my hair in a puff. Then to more beautiful natural hairstyles.
A few semesters later, I started to see other girls walking around campus with their tiny afros. I began to get questions about my hair, and people asked for advice on how to transition. Black girls really were curious about the nature of their hair and the movement had begun. I was happy to give warm smiles and head nods to other naturals I came in contact with.
My Hair Today
I am coming up on ten years of being natural and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have struggled with getting job opportunities and I’ve had to force my mane into a tight bun to look more “professional”. I also receive prejudice comments from white people who don’t understand my texture or why my hair defies gravity. Despite all the negative reactions, I am in love with the rawness of natural hair. Don’t get me wrong, I do have frustrating days where I want to cut it all off. Natural hair is so unpredictable (much like life). Over time, I’ve fallen in love with the way I was intended to look from the very start.
I see why my family never wanted to relax my hair. Sometimes I wonder how my hair would look if I had been natural my whole life. I’ve put my hair through a lot, and it always returns to me and is so strong. I look at the pictures of past black activists with their fro’s and feel connected to the movement. I represent more than just myself with my hair, I am representing an entire community of people.
Image credit (last photo): Rosebeth Akharamen
- Our Hair, Don’t Care: Shammara Lawrence
- Our Hair, Don’t Care: Tamu McPherson
- Our Hair, Don’t Care: Anja Tyson
- Our Hair, Don’t Care: Roki Prunali