I have been off from work for a few days and over dinner the other night my daughter commented on my hair and asked why I straighten my hair when I go back to work.
When I am off from work for any extended period of time and/or during the hot and humid summer months I tend to not flat iron my hair. I wear it in it’s natural state, curly, with usually a headband to mask the pieces in the front that I have killed straight with my flat iron over the previous 8-9 months.
I grew up chemically straightening my hair, aka relaxing it.
I did not know any better. My mother was in charge of my hair and I did what she told me to do. Which ultimately means before I was old enough to handle a visit to the salon my mother was “straightening my hair” with the over the counter relaxing system targeted for kids known as JUST FOR ME.
When I got a little bit older, aka my mother got tired of doing my hair; she took me to the salon every three months to get my hair “professionally” straightened. I use the term professionally loosely because I am pretty sure professionals are not supposed to burn your scalp off in the process.
I later learned that the longer you kept that crap on your head and suffered through the burning the “better” your hair would be.
And so that is how I dealt with my hair for the better part of 20-years. I knew no better.
Eventually I did stop going to the salon because that shit got expensive and time consuming; even at once every three months. With little kids at home I did not have two to three hours to spend in the salon when there was laundry and grocery shopping and some attempt at a social/family life all to tend to.
Black women will spend ALL. DAY. in a salon. All day.
Not to mention, at any given time there was only one, MAYBE TWO, women in the entire salon that could “do black hair” and their schedules were ALWAYS full.
I then started doing at-home relaxers. It was way more convenient, less expensive and I was not burning the hell out of my scalp. As soon as I was tingling I was washing that crap out. My hair was never “as good” but it was manageable and I figured out, in my twenties, that that is all my mother was really after.
A child was manageable hair. Check.
I did my own relaxers for quite a few years and I was happy. But having kept my hair pretty short (since High School) I still needed someone to cut my hair. So one day I go to get my hair cut (by a white woman; just do the best you can ma’am) and she makes a comment that since I was cutting my hair so short in the back that I should consider getting a relaxer.
I politely told her my hair was relaxed and I was okay with the short length in the back. And she politely told me no, my hair was not relaxed and I should consider it.
Needless to say, I did not go back to that shop to cut my hair. And, I figured out how to cut my own pixie cut. THANK. YOU. VERY. MUCH.
I am almost certain it was that very same summer that one day I just got tired of it. My hair is thick and tough to handle – relaxer or no relaxer. And summers are humid here in NY. So I would spend the better part of an hour flat ironing the ever loving God out of my hair to walk outside for two minutes and it get frizzy. I never went swimming because it just took too much to do my hair afterwards. (No, for the most part, black people can not just go swimming and then let their hair do whatever it wants afterwards. No. It is all a process)
I’m a working mom, and I’m tired. I do not want to spend anymore time doing something I hate doing to begin with.
I could not tell you how it happened or where it started but that summer I got on a natural hair kick. I wanted to know all about the hair that comes out my head, in it’s natural state.
All the blogs. All the hashtags. All the articles.
Who knew there was so much to know about the hair that came out of my head.
I still have no idea what hair type I have, FYI. Looking back at pictures from that summer, man, I know that I thought that going natural meant that I had to wear makeup. Yikes.
Before that summer I never wore my hair natural outside of the house. If I did not go through the process of blow drying my hair and flat ironing I was not leaving the house. Period. The end. Final.
I remember wanting to just start fresh with my hair, I wanted to cut off all the straight ends. Start from scratch. I remember very vividly googling some images of a TWA (teeny weeny afro) after a “big chop” and asking my husband what he thought. He did not like it. So I did not big chop; I was going to go through the transitioning period of growing out all my relaxed/heat damaged hair.
After I felt that I had read enough articles/blogs. Followed enough naturalistas on Instagram. I just went for it. I “wore my hair” natural to work. I remember being so nervous. What would these assholes think?? I am the only black woman in the department; they’re used to me with straight hair. They finally are taking my seriously….
The men, for the most part, did not say anything. Fine.
The women, for the most part, said they loved it.
Then it came. A comment. From one of my male co-workers who inquired if I had stuck my finger in a light socket. And then, a few hours later, from another male co-worker asking if he could touch my hair.
I went home that night, re-washed my hair, blow dried it and flat ironed it. I was mortified. I remember wondering what the hell I was actually thinking. Why did I think I could do something so radical around a group of people that would never understand.
Shortly there after I had another moment. A moment of, what in the actual fuck do I care what these people who know no better think??
I was not the one who made the ignorant comment.
I am not the closed minded one.
I am not the one asking to pet someone else’s hair. (Yes, that is what it is like when someone asks to touch your hair. Do not ever ask to touch anyone else’s hair)
So usually during the summer and long weekends I am known to go all natural for periods of time. It is not such a shock to my co-workers, or anyone who sees me on a regular basis. Even though for the people who do not normally see me often, it always sparks a conversation.
Then my daughter asks me why I straighten my hair when I go back to work. And I still, I am not sure why I do. Is it because that is how I feel more comfortable? Is it because subconsciously I know they accept me with straight hair.
My daughter then tells me she likes my hair curly. As do I. And it reminds me that I want my daughter to love herself the way she is. I know she does not love her curly hair – she is still young. She wants her hair to look like her friend’s – pin straight. She is still struggling to understand she can not do with her hair what they do with their hair.
If my daughter can not see me accepting my hair and myself the way that I am, how can I expect her to accept her hair and herself the way she is.
This is who I am with short kinky/curly unknown type, hair.
And for the time being, I have packed away the flat iron and blow dryer. Maybe one day I will revisit hot tools but right now I have a daughter who needs to see her mother being her true self to counter all the garbage she sees on YouTube.