Close your eyes and imagine your most special day. Any moment where you see yourself at your most beautiful. Think about every aspect…what you’re wearing, the colors, sights and sounds of where you are. Now for the most important part. How are you wearing your hair?
Up until very recently my answer would have always been straight or some version of flat-ironed, curled, wavy hair. I told myself that I love my natural hair, but when I envisioned myself on my wedding day or formal occasions, the version of myself that I saw always had straight (or some variation there of) hair.
How many of us happily rock our twist-outs, but for job interviews, special occasions (and yes our wedding days) have straightened our hair? I’ve been natural for almost 10 years and would be the first to tell you that I was a proud member of #TeamNatural, but in the last couple of years I had to face some hard truths about what I truly felt was beautiful.
So how does the girl who’s known for her hair get here? Growing up I always wanted long hair. I was relaxed the majority of my life, and while my hair was very thick and would be great in a roller set, it never grew past my collarbone. Thanks to the cycle of relaxers and flat-ironing/curling it every other day I thought this was as far as my hair could grow. Weaves gave me the length and “hair drama” I was looking for, but I still wanted it for my own. Once I stopped relaxing my hair and fully transitioned to natural hair (a sixteen month process), I was ready to see what my hair could do.
Coconut Oil and a Dream
The first wake up call of being natural was that I didn’t have the perfect ringlet curls I saw online. In the surface this wasn’t a huge issue for me. “Laid edges” were never my goal, all I was focused on was reaching the lofty BSL (bra strap length). All of this sounds a little ridiculous as I write it, but at the time it was very serious business.
I started religiously taking hair vitamins and slathering coconut oil over my entire life. Almost 5 years into my natural hair journey I reached my goal. Also during this time shot hair campaigns for 2 of the major African-American hair care companies. If you had asked me then if I loved my hair my answer would be a resounding “yes!”
In August of 2014 everything changed. I was booked to do an appearance at a beauty event and had my hair prepped the night before in a rod set. When it came time to get me ready the next morning, the glam squad arrived and because of the length and thickness of my hair, it wasn’t dry. If you’ve never been prepped for an appearance, the closest I can compare it to is a bride before the ceremony. Someone is dressing you, applying your makeup, and finishing your hair…literally a whirlwind of activity. In the hustle and bustle I didn’t realize that my stylist (whom I had worked with for years prior) was curling my damp hair with a curling iron to make it blend with the pieces that were dry. Little did I know that at that moment, 95% of my hair was destroyed. I went to my appearance for the next two days, curls popping, and was none the wiser.
Five days later I washed my hair and learned the ugly truth, I had the dreaded “heat damage.” As soon as the water in the shower touched my hair it turned into tangled clumps. At first I thought it was because I was using a conditioner that was different from my usual. After tears and tired arms I finally finished washing my hair in the shower and started retracing my steps. I didn’t want to believe what had happened, but the only thing that had changed in my hair routine was hotel room hair prep for my appearance. I was devastated but immediately went into denial. I told myself that the damage wasn’t as bad as I thought and immediately started the process of protein treatments, youtube videos, anything I could get me hands on to “reverse” what happened. But as we all know and I had to accept, is that there is nothing you can do but cut off the damaged hair.
So here I was almost 7 years into my natural hair journey and I had to transition all over again. In retrospect I can admit I was being pretty dramatic, but my identity and career were so tied to my hair and I wondered what that would mean for me. I also was forced to take a look at myself and acknowledge that I tied my worth and beauty to the length of my hair and specifically how it looked when it was straight. Up until that point I had never walked a red carpet or done any type of major shoot/event/appearance with my hair in a wash-n-go or twist-out. I had perfected my “Joan curls” a la Tracee Ellis Ross…a frothy halo of blown out hair set on flexi-rods. Now I had a head full of hair that because it was severely damaged, wouldn’t cooperate with any of my signature looks.
Immediately I went to what I knew: wigs, half-wigs, clip-ins, pompadours…anything to camouflage my thinning hair. Oh, did I fail to mention that even though I was transitioning again I still hadn’t done a major cut yet? Yes it is as foolish as it sounds. I wasn’t ready to accept what happened, was worried about how my hair would look and be received on social media, and I also was still obsessed with keeping my hair at BSL. When I finally got a couple of trims the depression would start in again because my hair was “so short.” Thankfully around December of 2015 I was introduced to a book entitled Afro State of Mind by Lurie Daniels-Favors. It speaks on the author’s own hair journey and gives amazing insight on the psychology and damage many of us hold when it comes to textured hair. The book forced me to acknowledge and confront many issues I didn’t know that I had. How was I telling women to love themselves and their hair when I wasn’t even sure if I did? From that moment on I challenged myself to face my issues and break the last chains of mainstream beauty standards I was holding onto.
Breaking The Chains
Armed with the passion from Afro State of Mind, I entered 2016 with a new sense of purpose. I started sharing my journey back from heat damage on social media and also started showing my hair…as is. I definitely got some comments of “I liked it better before,” and the like. However the majority were overwhelmingly supportive and helped many others share their stories as well. I also got to really experience my hair in a way I never had before. When I initially transitioned, I wore wigs/extensions for 90% of the experience. I didn’t start actually styling and wearing my own hair out until it was shoulder-length, so styling it and finding my comfort level at this length was totally new for me. Determined not to fall into my old comfort zone, when I received a red carpet invite I resisted the urge to throw on a piece or do a stretched flexi-rod set, walking the carpet in a twist-out. I did photoshoots, traveled and went on auditions, all with my hair in a short twist-out or wash-n-go.
When I started to view my hair as a true part of myself, not a problem I had to fix, everything changed. I’m not going to lie and say that it is hard when old photos pop up and I see my hair from a few years ago, or that I don’t occasionally wonder how long it would be if that had never happened. Work in progress, ok? What this process has taught me however is that instead of asking why did this happen ‘to” me, to instead ask why it happened “for” me. The stylist that damaged my hair never apologized and we have never spoken or seen each other since. As hurt as I was, I never would have faced the beauty issues I was holding onto if this hadn’t happened. I would have never done the work needed to be a more whole version of myself. I’ve learned to be thankful for this latest part of my life journey and I now accept my hair in all of it’s forms and honor it and myself.
So now do I love my hair? Yeah, I think so. My hair – blown out wand curls. No Pieces.