The decision to return to natural is never quite easy, nor is walking down memory lane reliving what for some are distorted memories. Even today, more than eight years after my first BIG CHOP and cutting off all relaxed ends, I feel strongly that this journey has only just begun. What I’ve learned so far, from those who had admonished me to those who have encouraged me…these experiences are only just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet every journey does have a beginning and mine was back in college, which is sort of atypical of most natural hair journeys. Sign up for classes on the first day, but also sign up for the inevitable, driving into oncoming traffic in the form of new friends, new interests, new outlooks on life. For me, sophomore year was when I’d hit a wall. Less than enthusiastic about my choice of college, I retreated into another world I’d slowly created for myself. One full of Magazines, books, and my new found passion…the Harlem Renaissance. All these elements have names, but in essence they were singular, a simple conduit for me to escape.
Before heading to class on an early morning, I picked up an issue of Elle Magazine, bypassed the countless petty ads about Chanel, Gucci and brands I could never afford, to a columnist I had grown to love. At the time Tia Williams was a beauty editor for Elle Magazine, writing from her perspective as an African American woman, mentioning on the fly how she’d tried this new product for her hair or discovered the greatest find in lipglosses. She was my ABSOLUTE idol at the time!
Every month I’d double check the masthead to make sure she was still there and had not deserted me. I’d venture this to be back in say 2000 or 2001, where to be a black girl in Elle was a MEGA deal, particularly if you’re not just posing, but you’re contributing in a way that reaches a whole new audience. I was beyond thrilled every month to read what she had to say, and one day I decided to book an appointment at a salon on her recommend list.
Once I’d gotten to the salon, and like a good little client I’d bought a picture of how I’d wanted my hair to turn out. I handed it over and watched a perplexed look wash my stylist Now, here’s where the words common and sense should’ve met for me…I’d picked a salon that specialized in NATURAL HAIR. I did NOT have natural hair. My hair was relaxed, straight, high on creme crack! Yes… and my hair stylist told me as much, but rather than lose out on money, encouraged me to try a flat twist, which regardless in the end turned out fabulous!
But that picture (which I still have today:-)) of this beautiful woman with textured hair was stuck in my head for weeks after my flat twists had gone limp and straight. It’d never occured to me until that point in the salon that other possiblities did exist out there for my hair besides the relaxer AND most importantly, that I had the power to change it! The power to change while in college is something extraordinary because it all seems so very possible, undaunting, and yet all so very exciting.
And that’s what I did. Without thinking twice. I knew I wanted this look, that woman’s hair, and this fierceness that could only be described as contagious, so I set out to get it. In a matter of 4-6 months, I went back to the salon, greeted my stylist with an ‘I told you so look,’ and enjoyed one of the most freeing experiences to date.
Afterwards I went home, hid my hair from family for a good two months before gathering the courage to unravel my teenie weenie fro. The response was what I’d expected. My parents ignored me, just down right did NOT speak to me about what I’d done. According to them I’d probably ‘grown depressed’ or simply ‘wanted attention,’ and the best way for them to deal with it, or me, was to ignore the situation completely.
It was unfortunate, but because my new hair carried with it a new attitude of confidence, it frankly did not bother me, and over time ( a good solid year!) they accepted who it was I was growing into. Some friends deserted me, other family members thought me plain ‘ol crazy, lazy and stupid, but again…there was no better relief than making a choice that involved this kind of freedom and discovery. Over night I’d begun learning more about myself, my face (you can’t hide when you first BC) my family, friends…even strangers on the street who’d stop to pay compliment.
Over the years the styles and products have come and gone, but the experience is one I’d relive again and again if I could. Through the years I’ve donned double strand twists, flat twists, braids, coils, buzz cuts, pixie cuts, dreadlocks, afro puffs, flat ironed, cornrows, and so much more. Even over this past year I’ve learned so much from new friends, new roommates, new bloggers out there who’ve been down a similar path and who are also continuing to learn…it is ALL such an incredibly humbling, eye opening, fantabulous journey that I’d encourage every brave woman to embark on this journey… share your concerns, fears and hopes with those who are willing to listen, and to do it with arms wide open, because to travel any other way would…well it just wouldn’t be as fun.