Time to get my head on straight!

Time to get my head on straight!

After twenty-three years of chemical straightening I’ve returned to my natural hair texture. HUZZAH!

If you have the time and the patience, bear with me. Those of you who’ve read my previous post on the subject, know that I’ve got some major feelings tied up in this hair bid’ness. My shrink already has her hands full with all my other neuroses so this long, rambling blog post serves as stand-in therapy on this issue.

After years of ambivalence, I was motivated to make the change once and for all, when The Man of Mans and I began planning our move to California. One of the first things we had to figure out was we how would afford life in a pricey state on a single income while carrying the cost of my return to school.  We had some major trimming to do budget-wise,  so we began by making a spreadsheet of all our current expenses. When we added up the cost of all of my salon appointments, including taxes and tips, I was spending close to $1500 per year to relax my hair!

DAAAAAG!

Fifteen hundred dollars could cover our moving expenses. It would pay for my books. Fifteen hundred dollars would take of all my long-distance bills to friends and family. For fifteen hundred dollars, I could attend three national conference. I could buy the family a new computer. I could take my son to a major league baseball game every weekend,  enroll him in an amazing summer camp or we could take a family trip together. There were so many other uses for the money I was spending on relaxers.

It wasn’t worth it.

I’m happy to spend money on my personal care and grooming. But having straight hair hadn’t felt like an investment for quite sometime. It didn’t make me feel good, figuratively or literally. The terrible sting of chemicals on my scalp left me feeling ashamed and resentful. I was straightening my hair, not because I because it made me feel beautiful but because it made me feel safe, inconspicuous. Relaxers made my head uncontroversial. Appeasing others at my own expense is not the person I want to be. But the memory of hurtful things people used to say about my natural hair still loomed large. I was scared.

I realized that this was probably one of those situations where I’d have to face my fears in order to get past them. It was time to invest my money and my energy into better things. I cancelled my next standing appointment at the salon. I was going natural! I felt strong and empowered…for almost ten whole minutes.

Then I panicked.

It had been so long! I didn’t really remember my natural texture. I didn’t know what to do!  Did I just let it grow? Did I need a weave or wigs? Special products? New shampoo? OMG, what?!

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that my head wasn’t going to break out in nappy curls that second. With the exception of some faint kinking at the roots, my hair was still straight. I literally had to grow into this change, which meant I had time to figure stuff out.

I went to the Internet and Googled something like “RELAXED TO NATURAL OMGHAIRFLAIL!”  Bam!  A myriad of websites, blogs and vlogs about the wonderful world of natural black-people hair.

I knew of women who went natural by doing what’s know as The Big Chop. Essentially it means cutting off all your relaxed hair at once and re-growing it from scratch. That scared the crap out of me. My hair wasn’t spectacular…but I needed it. Otherwise, I’d just be a head and face which…ACK and…I couldn’t and…NO!

A second Google search revealed that going natural without a Big Chop is totally a thing. I could let the natural texture grow in while doing “mini-chops” every few weeks to gradually remove my relaxed hair. It would take a long time – a year, maybe two – to rid myself of all the processed hair. It would also be far more challenging to maintain the health of two radically different hair textures. But the alternative was super-short and that was NOT EVER HAPPENING. So I got myself a pair of trimming scissors and settled in for the long transition.

It took about ten weeks before I really started to notice a substantial change in my hair. My new growth was dense, extremely curly and kind of coarse. Managing my naps while the rest of my hair was straight was tough. My hair started snapping off at the place where the two textures met (typical during transition). I started styling my hair in flat twists and up dos. The styles keep my fragile hair reasonably protected and help conceal some of the transitional awkwardness.

Something I heard time and again from women in the natural hair community was that changing my hair was an emotional journey and I might be surprised by what came out of the experience. That was totally true. I would vacillate from one emotional state to another: fear, excitement, fear, joy, fear, fear, pride, fear, absolute terror, fear, wonderment, fear.

One day, I was in the shower, washing my emerging coils and I thought ‘I like these.’ It was nice and very new not to feel at odds with the kink. Suddenly I was overcome by curiosity. I really wanted to see what that hair would looked like all on it’s own. I got out of the shower, found my scissors and cut the relaxer off a discreet lock of hair near the nape of my neck. Once they were free, my natural strands popped back toward my scalp like a tightly wound spring. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘that’s my hair.’

I wanted that hair and only that hair. But I was still terrified of The Big Chop. It was too drastic. Yes, it would grow out eventually but it would take months, years even to regain any significant length. What if I looked awful in the meantime?

Yet every time I put my hands in my hair my curiosity grew. What was going on up there? The darn relaxer was in my way, distorting my texture and altering my curl pattern. I began trimming more aggressively. I cut off more near my neck. I went back to YouTube and watched videos of other women who had big chopped. Many had been afraid going into it, but they all seemed so happy once it was done. I began to think maybe, just maybe I could do it too.

Of course I’d have to find someone to do the chopping. It was one thing to self-cut small sections of my hair but no way could I shear the my entire head without making a hash of it. I didn’t want to see my old stylist for fear they would try to talk me out of my natural plans. After careful consideration, I asked my mom if she would do it during my next visit to her place. She instantly agreed to help, because my mom is lovely that way.

But even after I made the decision, I still had a great deal of anxiety about having super-short hair. (This is where I get a little heavy. I appreciate that you’ve stayed with me this long. Hang in a little longer, ‘kay?)

I was worried about what others would think. But when I told people my plans, I received an outpouring of enthusiastic support. My partner was uber-excited for me. My friends sent me pictures of women rocking short, stylish afros. I certainly didn’t have to worry about being shunned by my loved ones.

I was very concerned about the fact I didn’t know what I’d look like. A super-short style would change the dynamics of my face, even my body and who knew what the results would be. I might be less attractive. And then it struck me, in a super-clear moment of disempowering shame that thought of being unattractive, scares the crap out of me.

I legit love clothes and make-up and all that look-y look dress up stuff. I adored styling my dolls as a little girl and now that I’m grown, I’m like my own doll, except way better because I’m not plastic. I’m a real person with thoughts, a heart, a soul and a life. Score!

But even though I enjoy clothing and grooming myself (in ways that are very much line with conventional notions of femininity) I also feel I’m expected, if not to attain, to at least strive toward certain beauty standards. I should want to be pretty and if I can’t be, I should feel badly about it. There are times when I really do feel that my right to be seen, to be heard and to take up space in a room is proportional to my perceived level of attractiveness.

I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. I constantly hear people, especially women apologize and castigate themselves because they’re the “wrong” size/shape, because they lack the expected adornments or because they’ve committed some other perceived offense, which basically amounts to “I Had The Audacity To Be Out In The World Looking Like What I Actually Look Like”. I want to tell them to stop saying those things. Sometimes I do. Which might be helpful but I realize it’s also hypocritical. The truth is I struggle with those same feelings and I know I’ve buckled under the weight of those expectations more than once. I do feel, at times, that beauty is my obligation and making myself attractive is a major clause in my contract with the rest of society. I feel like I’m always expected to care about how I look or that being pretty is something I’m supposed to want.

Except it isn’t true. It’s pervasive and I feel it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a big pile of toxic bullshit crapping all over my self worth. It gives me feelings; feelings that are very strong and very real. But the truth is, I can choose to take beauty off my list of priorities and that is totally okay.

I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago and sat down to have a serious talk with myself. I said to myself, Self…

That is some toxic nonsense! Don’t make choices based on toxic nonsense. You know you have value, no matter what you look like. This is your body and your hair and you’re allowed to do whatever you want to do with it. If you don’t love the way short hair looks on you, that’s okay. You can still love who you are. So get over yourself, Nadine. It’s just hair.’

My real self-talk wasn’t nearly that Hallmark-ish,  but the gist was there. I felt more courageous about The Big Chop. And even though I’m kind of embarrassed that I needed courage to get a haircut, that’s honestly what it took. Don’t judge me too harshly, okay?

It took two decades of hair trauma and six month of transition but I’m finally learning embrace my hair, as is. I’m becoming reacquainted with my kinky, nappy head and you know what? I really am happy I did this! I’m newly minted naturalista and I’m happy to report that so far life post-relaxer is great and not so scary.

Not so scary at all.

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Comments

  1. Natalie Joy says:

    I can’t wait to see how amazing you look in three weeks. Because you always look amazing. This time it will just be with less hair on your head.

  2. Lisa L says:

    You’re right….it’s just hair. It grows back!!

    I’m very excited to see your new look…you will, I’m sure look beautiful and amazing….as always :-)

  3. Debbie says:

    Oh Nadine, you’ve never been beautiful or not based on your hair or clothes or face–those are merely luscious icing on the wonderful squishy delicious cake that is YOU. In the almost 20 years I’ve known you, nothing you could’ve done or will do to the outside will change that! Can’t wait to see you in TO to see the results myself! 😉

    • Nadine says:

      First – I am TRIPPING over the thought that we’ve known each other for almost two decades! Time, where has she gone? And thank you, thank you for the kind words and the support. xo

  4. Annie says:

    I’m so proud of you. :)

    I’m slowly moving towards the point in my hair transition of being ready to chop off everything but my natural colour. I’m not ready yet, but soon I hope.

    • Nadine says:

      Thank you, Annie.

      Chopping off the hair is a hard move for some of us to make. It took me years of ambivalence before finally feeling ready to go ahead and cut. Who knows how I’ll feel when I actually do it. If you do go short, I’ve no doubt you’ll rock it. And if you don’t, well, you’ll still rock it, because you just rock.

  5. Brenda says:

    Great post, Nadine. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to freak out about the possibility that you may not look as attractive as you do now. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone AND you’re moving toward a version of femininity that is outside of convention. It’s about how the world perceives you and the space you are used to occupying. My hair grows like a dream – long, straight, silky. If I had to chop it off for whatever reason, I would most definitely freak out! And I don’t have all of the cultural baggage attached to my hair that you do. We all want to look attractive as women and feminity is often tied to hair. So it’s ok, freak out a little.
    That said, when I see black women with short hair, small dreads, or a groovy little ‘fro they so often look super confident and stylish. I don’t think the bloggers you consulted were exaggerating when they said it would be a whole transformation from the inside out. You’ll now be one of those super chic women defining beauty for yourself. And if you have a bad day- TURBANS! Nothing is more awesome than a turban on a woman, in my opinion. Whatever style you ultimately end up with, I’m sure you’ll rock it.

    • Nadine says:

      Hi Brenda. Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’ve nailed it when you say this change is both personally and socially uncomfortable. But I’m optimistic that ultimately it will be worthwhile.

      And OMG, yes to turbans and scarf headressing of any kind!

  6. WilmaJean says:

    I’m so happy I found your blog (from Already Pretty)! But I am more excited for your transition! I did it the looong way a few years ago, by flat ironing and trimming and it still took me forever to show “my roots”. So thinking about it it was harder than actually doing it. But really, it’s all about timing, when it’s right for the individual.
    Depending on where you live, peoples attitudes about our hair, still needs to catch up. Mostly our own people. So I am happy you are stepping out there and being yourself. Good luck, I will be reading here again to see how it’s going. You never know, someone else may be inspired by your actions.

    • Nadine says:

      Hi WilmaJean,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I am so happy you found my blog, because that led me to *your* blog and it’s fantastic!!! Thank you also for the encouragement and sharing some of your own hair journey. Hearing about others experiences with natural hair is so helpful and encouraging right now.

  7. corinne says:

    hey nadine, great entries on yr struggles with “good hair” – saw yr twitter profile pic and you look great. I always thought Chris Rock should do another doc, a sort of part two focused more on natural hair/history/culture – he should totally interview you:) best&cheers, c

  8. Jacs says:

    Just saw your post via Already Pretty. My goodness, if there was ever any doubt, please lay it to rest – Nadine, you’re beautiful and so is your natural hair. I must admit, I’m new to this world (is it a sub-culture? I’m not sure) of gorgeous, strong, African-American/Canadian women straightening their hair and/or using weaves. I had no idea until I saw Chris Rock’s documentary (full disclosure, I’m Caucasian, so perhaps you can forgive my ignorance).

    (I found the scenes where 1, 2 and 3 year-old girls had their hair chemically relaxed just heart-breaking; they were being given a message that their hair wasn’t good enough or didn’t fit in with someon else’s standard of beauty. All too common in this celebrity-obsessed culture but that’s another story.)

    I think Afros and braids are amazing, and the few times where I’ve been bold enough to walk up to a stranger to compliment her on her style and tell her how great it looks, I inevitably get a look of total surprise. Like, really? you like it? And yes, I really do.

    Anyway, for some reason, I felt compelled to share. Perhaps because I can’t possibly begin to understand the pressure women feel from members of their own community and I think great hair is just great hair!