This was the conversation I had with my mother last week. It was the same variation of a conversation I’ve had with her over the last few years that I’ve been thinking about getting rid of my relaxed mane for a natural ‘do. Ever since college when my feminist theory class opened my eyes to the way women are pressured to look a certain way. Ever since India.Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair.” Ever since I started making friends who had heads full of beautiful, healthy, natural hair. My Twitter timeline is full of them. I admire them that much more because I know that making the decision to go natural takes courage. All the natural hair websites I’ve been perusing warn of objections from family and boyfriends about your new hairstyle. When I was almost at the point of making the transition in 2007, my mom and sister said I would look “nappy,” “like an African.” Their insinuation was that I’d look . . . ugly.
But I remember when I was a little girl and everyone used to say I had hair like Chaka Khan. I had so much hair, it hurt Grama’s hands to comb through it and braid it. So she started taking me down to Miss Ernestine’s for a press and curl. I must’ve been about six when I started going over to her house and down to the basement where she had that dreaded hot comb that sizzled when it hit my kinky ‘fro.
I had beautiful hair.
Then mom started putting something called Wave Nouveau in my hair, back when it was in the pink bottles. To make it more manageable. It made me look like I had a Jheri curl! I was straight outta Compton looking like Eazy-E at 10 years old. I don’t know why or when, but by the time I was 12, I was getting that creamy crack relaxer in my hair every 4-6 weeks.
Hair is a big deal for the women in my family. When we all get together, we inspect each other’s edges. “When was the last time you got a perm?” my aunt asks. I shrug. “Maybe 2 weeks ago.” “You look nappy,” she says, scrunching up her face. Well, hello to you too, Auntie.
Every time I made some statement about even cutting my hair, all hell would break loose. There would be a cacophony of dissent, with my mom; sister; aunt; grandmother and cousins all yelling at me about how many years it’s taken to grow my hair this long and why would I be crazy enough to cut it?
When I was 16, I got my first weave. I thought I was the shit. THE SHIT. I walked around school like couldn’t nobody touch me. Or my hair. I had all the boys in the yard. And I liked it that way. But the superficiality of wearing fake hair wore off on me pretty quickly. After a while, I decided: no more ponytails or Yaki straight to make me look like a video vixen. So I’ve been getting a relaxer and roller wrap for the past seven years, with the occasional roller set or bob haircut.
I remember one time I got a short bob haircut. It was 2005. My boyfriend (and soon to be fiance) K had implored me not to cut my hair. “Why?” I asked him. “Because I like you the way I met you: skinny and with long hair.” This is what he told me right before he went out of town for 2 weeks. When he came back, I had cut off four inches of my hair. He wouldn’t talk to me for a couple days. But he got used to it. I teased him by saying, “at least I’m still skinny.”
Fast forward. No faster.
I’ve been sick off and on this month. So I haven’t made it to the hairdresser. Actually, I haven’t gotten a relaxer in two months. I’ve just been greasing my scalp, putting a few curls in, and brushing it back with a headband. I started wondering once more, what it would be like if I just cut it all off and started growing it out sans-relaxer. Would it be soft and curly? Or stiff and coarse? Would it revert back to my Chaka Khan hair days? Could I brave the hot comb once again?
I told my mom what I was contemplating.
Me: I’ve decided to grow out my natural hair.
Mom: Do you want to keep the rocket scientist?
Me: Not if he cares that much about my hair!
I said it with strength and confidence, but inside I was a little panicked. So I called the rocket scientist.
Me: Baby. I’m thinking about changing my hair. I’m going to go natural.
The Rocket Scientist: I knew this was coming.
Me: Oh, you must have been reading my Twitter.
The Rocket Scientist: You’ve been talking about changing your hair for a while now.
Me: I think I’ll get braids first to grow it out.
The Rocket Scientist: Braids would be . . . interesting.
Me: So does that mean you wouldn’t like them?
The Rocket Scientist: I don’t know. I’ve never had a girlfriend with braids. Send me some pictures.
I did. Send him the pictures, I mean. I tried to act like I didn’t care what he was going to say. This was MY decision! Not his. But my mom’s question lingered in my ears.
The next day, the rocket scientist called me on his lunch break.
The Rocket Scientist: I like the braids.
The Rocket Scientist: Babe, I support you with whatever you want to do with your hair. I’m not THAT shallow.
Me: And this is why I love you.
Tomorrow, I’m going to the hairdresser, not to get a relaxer and a roller wrap, but to get a head full of braids for the first time. Instead of doing the “big chop” and wear a baby afro, I’m taking baby steps to grow my hair out underneath the braids. I think I’m going to go with the micro braids. I just hope I can stand being in the chair for 8 hours!
How did I finally make the decision, you ask? I had to remind myself that 2010 is the year of happy. MY happy. Not anyone else’s.