My Hair Story: Every Black Girl Has One
This was so much fun to put together! Gathering all these pictures to tell my hair story actually turned into a trip down memory lane for me. For most women our major hair changes are closely connected to life experiences. I’m no different. My hair story chronicles so much life; good, bad, ups and downs. As my hair evolved, so did I.
Kindergarten graduation is by far my earliest hair memory. I clearly remember sitting on a step-stool in the kitchen strategically positioned right in front of the stove where the hot comb sat in the open gas flames. I was so excited to finally have my hair pressed. I can almost smell the hot comb now as I think about it.
What I also recall from that day is when my mother finished my hair it was long and flowing, but somehow by the end of the graduation it had shrunk to a big curl puff under my cap. “What happened to my hair?", I thought. This was quite literally my first lesson in “The shrinkage is real”.
I relaxed my hair for the first time when I was about 11 or 12 years old. A relaxer is a chemical process to make the hair more straight. Through all of adolescence I did lots of experimenting and I got pretty good at doing hair. I learned to braid, trim, cut and I even learned how to sew in a weave.
Do you remember crimping irons? And check out the swoop on top!
There was a time in my teens when the asymmetrical cut was all the rage, much thanks to Salt-N-Pepa. Here’s one of the many A-cuts I wore. And what's the A-cut without the gold bamboo earnings?
I don’t have any photo evidence of this next part but surely my hair story would not be complete if I didn’t include that I used the Rio Hair Naturalizer System that was sold on infomercials in the early 1990's. Do you remember Rio? The company gained national attention because of all the people whose hair literally fell out. Yep, I used Rio for a few months. Lucky for me, I didn't go completely bald but I did experience severe breakage. I had to do a deep cut to get rid of the damage. I promise I haven't bought a hair product from an infomercial since.
After the Rio disaster, I returned to chemically straightening my hair, a practice I continued religiously into my mid 20’s. I had figured out a hair care regimen that allowed me to grow my hair pretty long. Here was the formula:
Relaxer, shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, blow dry on cool setting only, TCB hair grease, trim, no heat, no curling iron, no flat iron, no-styling, repeat relaxer touch up every 6 to 8 weeks like clockwork.
For many years, I never strayed from this exact routine. Notice in these pictures I wore my hair straight with a blunt cut at the end. With this no-heat, no-styling approach, it grew to almost waist length.
BIG CHOP #1
I moved to Hollywood. I was cast in this amazing show with a story based in African culture. Day after day in rehearsal I observed that everywhere I turned the entire cast and crew, wore either an afro, twists or locs. I was the only person with chemically processed hair. Spending so much time with them made me realize that my hair had been chemically straightened for so long I didn’t even know what my natural hair texture was.
I began to feel disconnected from my true self. The straight hair I meticulously groomed for all those years began to feel foreign to me. It was as if the real me was buried under all that relaxed hair crying to get out. And honestly, the work involved to maintain straight hair was wearing me out anyway! While working on that show, I made the decision to go natural. This meant that all of the chemically relaxed hair would have to go.
I wore these cornrows for a few months to let my hair grow out.
Then, I went to the barber shop and asked him to cut it all off. This was just minutes out of the barber's chair. I'd never felt so free!
With the new short hair I needed new professional head shots. Finger coils.
As my hair grew I was genuinely shocked to find that it was curly! What a fun discovery that was!
I had NO CLUE how to care for my natural hair. There was lots of trial and error. This red dye would turn out to be one of the errors. While the red was exciting, it was super dry and began to break. I had to cut it all off, again.
BIG CHOP #2 (No pictures)
After big chopping all the red away, I finally learned how to care for my new curly hair. Deep conditioning, wash-n-go, leave-in with a middle part would be my go-to style for a long time.
2004 to 2014
This 10 year stretch proved to be the longest adjustment period under the sun. When I big chopped to natural, I surely felt tremendously free. What I had not anticipated was how the world (Particularly my life in corporate America) might be impacted. Only after the cut did I realize how the straight hair somehow made me more palpable to my corporate peers. For a long time I attempted to "tame" my fro at work. I slicked it back, pulled it down, head bands, whatever I could do to minimize the volume. I did that Monday to Friday. Then on the weekends, I couldn't get it big enough.
I hate to make this about race but here's my reality. I work in a highly technical field. In 20+ years of my career, I've always been the only Black woman on my teams. ALWAYS. There was only 1 time I had a Black man as a peer. Otherwise I am, to this day, the only drop of color. In this set up, there were always hair comments and the novelty questions every time I changed styles. "How did you do that with your hair?" It was a bit much to contend with all the time.
It took a very long time for me to express the freedom I felt on the inside in my workplace. But finally, I did reach a strong, honest resolve that I did not care what my peers thought. I'm damn good at my job. That is undeniable. So to hell with what they think about my sometimes unruly hair. To hell with it! I began to wear my big hair freely.
BIG CHOP #3
Then, with life transitions came another big chop; this time back to the chemicals. Ladies, you know those times when you really want something completely different? This was one of those times for sure. I had sworn I'd never chemically process my hair ever again, yet there I was. After 13 years of natural hair, I went to the salon and got a relaxer and a fun tapered cut. I'd call this a moment of temporary insanity except I honestly really enjoyed this cut. So, here's to no regrets.
This lasted less than a year and then... you guessed it. Another big chop. I wanted my curly hair back.
BIG CHOP #4
It took 3 years for my natural, unprocessed hair to grow back.
I started to blow my hair out more often. I was bored and wanted something different.
Blow dry and go.
Then, back to my curly hair, middle part. This was always home base for me.
Occasionally I would go to the salon for a flat iron. This style usually only lasted about 3 days before I washed it again and went back to curly.
My hair began to thin out. Maybe, due to age, hormones, stress, blow drying, who knows but my hair had been through a lot. You can see the thinning here.
So what's a lady to do???
Loc it up! Of course!
Yep! I decided to loc it and this brings us current. I'm in the midst of the locing process right now.
My hair is fine and curly. Because of the texture, I had doubts that it would loc but I found a loctician who was very confident he could do it so I went for it. I started locing my hair in May, 2019 with comb coils.
I really had to adjust to seeing my scalp. That is very new to me.
Budding! The locs started to form in less than 2 months.
Fresh re-twist every 4 weeks. Getting used to this.
Baby locs. Fresh re-twist. Again, this is way more scalp than I've ever been used to seeing but I'm hanging in there.
I had to dress up and go out. The struggle with the baby locs is real. LOL I pinned the side up.
Patience. Trusting the process. The locs are maturing.
(Oh, and... Go Eagles!)
Here’s where I am now. 14 months loced. Today is the first day I was barely able to make a ponytail. That's exciting! This loc journey has many uncertain moments and I knew that when I began. That's why I committed to stick with the process for at least 3 years. I don't want to quit before I see the full potential. By now you've seen I'm a fan of big chops so I needed to give myself a time goal to stick to.
That's pretty much my whole hair journey. While my natural hair has gone through some changes, I think my journey has been pretty uneventful. I've never worn wigs or weaves. I've not done too much with color except that 1 red dye job. I've only had braids 3 times in my entire life. I feel like the most extreme hair experiences I've had is the many times I've cut it all off. Which is actually kinda symbolic for how I do life. I've never shied away from a clean cut and a fresh start... with anything really.
Wow, we've covered several decades. Thanks for taking this journey with me. I hope this was fun and caused you to reflect on all the changes you've gone through with your own hair.
Maybe when I hit the 3 year mark I'll come back with a loc update. Yeah, that might be cool.