Our Hair, Don’t Care is a series exploring the complicated relationships we, as women, hold with our hair throughout our lives. This is an installment series of women we love sharing their personal beauty journeys. Today, we’re sharing a personal essay by Slipintostyle Ellie.
From Martinique to Paris, How I Learned To Embrace (and Love) My Natural Hair
I was born and raised on the beautiful Caribbean island of Martinique and that is where my hair journey begins.
As a child, I had this very thick mane of super kinky and coarse hair. My mom tried every store bought product and natural concoction available to make my hair easier to manage. She would ask cousins to braid my hair and keep it in braids for as long as possible just so she could avoid the ordeal of doing it herself. I remember dreading shampoo days and crying buckets of tears when my mom would try to detangle my hair. Up until high school she would have me in stiff pigtails with colorful hair ties, making me look like a less cool version of Coolio in “Gangster Paradise”.
I confess, I do not have very fond memories of my hair journey as a kid but there’s one thing that kept my candle lit.
This aunt of mine was in completely awe of my hair color. I was born what they call in Martinique “a chabine”. That meant the hair on my head was the color of dark gold, the hair on my skin was yellow, my skin itself seemed to have honey hues, in other words I was born a natural blonde. I learned was a very good thing; and to me, the only positive thing about my hair.
Fast forward to my teenage years. I remember very clearly the day I got my first relaxer. It burnt my scalp and left me with very flat, limp and darker hair over the years. I looked like a whole other person, I actually didn’t like it, but at least, my hair was manageable. I would no longer have to suffer at the hands of my poor mother. The burning and itching of relaxers were a small price to pay for my newly-found peace of … hair.
Then I moved to France and my relationship with weaves and wigs began, mainly out of necessity because I simply had no one to do my hair. The most practical solution for me was to get my relaxer every two months, then have my hair in cornrows, sew in a weave and do it all over again every month. That was my 22” inch Beyoncé-Brazilian-curly weave phase. It had variations: I discovered the versatility of lace wigs and practicality of clip-ins.
As I reflect now on this period, even though I was raised in a very strong black family and grew up to be a very proud young black woman, I realize I wasn’t completely immune to the crushing weight of colorism from my home island (light skin is better and so is long flowy hair) and to the societal pressures to conform to a European standard of beauty. I even wore colored contacts for a while.
Around the start of 2017, I was over weaves and wigs, wearing them didn’t make sense to me anymore. I guess I grew tired of having to tame my nappy edges or hide them to blend them with a silly silky top closure. It got exhausting always having to worry about the wig not falling off in intimate moments or about my partner accidentally pulling on my hair. The ridiculousness had to stop. And so began my love affair with braids. I rocked them either super long or super short for two years straight. I loved them, they lasted forever, they were so practical and easy to maintain. I even decided to get rid of relaxers altogether. The natural hair movement had gained incredible momentum on social media; my brother’s girlfriend had gone natural, my brother himself was pushing me to go natural. So I started researching and learned about the potential health risks of putting chemicals in my hair and just like that it was bye-bye relaxers.
After two years of braids, I wanted a change, I wanted to wear my own hair. My natural coils were shyly trying to come to the surface after years of being of relaxed. So I bid farewell to braids and marveled at how thick my natural hair had become; it had indeed grown quite a lot. For about two or three months, I would go to the salon for a blowout every week, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with my then transitioning hair. I wore it straight and neat, all pulled back in one single tightly woven braid. I got some heat on Instagram with people telling me my hair was not groomed when actually I spent a whole morning at the salon to get it done. You can never win can you?
I soon discovered with the horrible reality of heat damage. My hair was fried literally. I was naive enough to think relaxers were the devil incarnate and blow-outs were not because they did not involve any chemicals. Boy was I wrong and uniformed.
I watched countless hours of hair tutorials on YouTube and became acutely aware of the true texture of my hair: tiny corkscrew curls not loose ones. 4C not 3B. Hair grows out, not down. Was I disappointed? Probably, which is often the always the case when you have unrealistic expectations. I tried not to overthink it and made the jump. That December, I made the decision to chopped it all off; all the dead, dry, burnt ends that had been damaged by heat. Me, the woman who had rocked long weaves and wigs and braids, would from now on have short hair.
I dreaded the reaction of my white boyfriend; not so much how he would react to my natural hair texture but more so how he would react to my short boyish cut which couldn’t be any further from stereotypical western ideals of femininity and the hairstyles he used to see me with. In the end, he told me I looked like a mushroom, which I did. We joked about it and that was it.
I was also concerned about the reaction I might get on Instagram. You don’t see a lot of fashion influencers with short natural hair on social media, in fact Tamu McPherson was the only short-haired black woman I could think of.
So how did the brands and followers react to my new do’? It was overwhelmingly positive. I even got messages from people saying that seeing me with my tapered cut was the small push they needed to take the plunge and do the big chop themselves. A black woman with short natural hair is still not as popular on the street style and influencer scene, so I’m happy to be helping to propelling that change.
The other day I joked with a fellow blogger friend about how she witnessed my hair evolution. When we were pictured together during fashion weeks, I had a different hairdo in each picture. Those photos to me are a realistic testimony of both the beauty, the complexity, the challenges of being a black woman in this world: you evolve, you change, you make mistakes, you learn from your mistakes, you grow.
Today I keep my routine relatively simple. I swear by water, a good conditioner and shea butter. I do get a professional twist out at the salon because I’m simply too busy (or maybe lazy) to do it myself every week. I’m never going back to relaxers or wigs, that is for sure and from the looks of it, not going back to long hair either. Well… I might get some long braids every now and then… who knows what the future holds, my hair has a mind of its own.
See more from Ellie on her Slipintostyle Instagram
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