Wednesday, August 21, 2013


As I have written in another post, I am in the process of transitioning from chemically relaxed hair to my natural hair.  This morning it struck me that although this process involves change, it is itself a perfect metaphor for change.
I have worn my hair chemically relaxed for 30 years, and in that time, I enjoyed having a relaxer because I felt like my hair was problem-free; I liked the straightness, glossiness and body that my hair possessed.  Every six to eight weeks, I would get it touched up as new hair growth appeared and I'd be back to a completely straight head of hair.
You see, for those unfamiliar with Black hair, my hair in its natural state is very kinky or "nappy" as we call it in the Black community.  It can be difficult to comb through, particularly when wet and is not wash and wear. In other words, jumping into the shower or just deciding on the spur of the moment to wash my hair is not something easily done. It's a whole process dealing with Black hair that can be time-consuming.  Even relaxed, to wash it still involves getting it very dry and either rolling it or curling it with a curling iron. In fact, straighteners were introduced as a way to help Black people manage what had come to be seen as unruly and difficult to manage hair.  Over time though, I feel what started out as a method of convenience turned in to a subtle message of "Your hair (and by implication, you) is not good enough as it is; you need to have more attractive and easy to manage hair". Unfortunately, that easy to manage hair was very much like white hair with its straightness and sheen and so the subtle message was to become white (or in other words, to become like someone you aren't). Natural hair hearkened back to the days of slavery and since we had fought to come out of slavery and oppression, it was like everything associated with it was something of which to rid ourselves. We forgot to see ourselves as beautiful and accept our nappy hair and dark skin. However, in the 1960s, during the height of the Civil Rights movement, a lot of Blacks wore naturals. It became a symbol of their heritage and their refusal to be something that others defined for them as they simultaneously fought for even more rights.
Nevertheless, I found relaxed hair easier to deal with than natural hair, particularly as someone who sweats a lot.  Unfortunately, as I have entered menopause, sweating happens more often and I found my hair reverting from the relaxed state into its natural state a lot more quickly.  This frustrated me and I began to wonder why I was spending all this money to keep it relaxed when it would revert so quickly.
Another reason that I was led to natural hair was from a trip I took in 2006 to Israel.  For that trip, a friend braided my hair so that I didn't have to concern myself with my hair.  If you have ever been on a travel tour, you know that there isn't a lot of time when you get up in the morning for your usual routine.  You've got to get up, get packed, have your bag at the door to be loaded onto the bus and then catch a quick breakfast before being whisked away to that day's destination.  I was never one for primping and the last thing I wanted was to be bothered with my hair.  After 10 days braided, I loved it and ever since then I've thought about having my hair braided.
This is where the comparison to change as a process comes into play.  I could have worn braids as a weave but didn't want to.  If I was going to wear braids, it was going to be naturally, but I didn't want to deal with the change I would have to grow go through to get my hair into its natural state.  I knew that the process was not going to be easy or short and there would be days that my hair would not look its best as it grew out and I didn't want to deal with that.  There would also be the looks and comments of those around me; family who didn't understand the process and who would probably have comments about the way it looked.  Looks of strangers who also would wonder what the heck was going on with my hair.  If I could, I would gladly snap my fingers and go from chemically processed to natural hair immediately.  But it doesn't work that way and neither do many other changes in life. Change usually occurs as a process with some unpleasantness involved, including the comments and opinions of others who don't understand the process and usually consider themselves being helpful as they offer their unsolicited advice and opinions.  Some see natural Black hair as something only seen on the pages of National Geographic and is usually associated with those in the wilds of Africa.  A lot of times, other people will not see the value in making the change, and for many Black women, I daresay the decision is usually a very personal one. For me, that came about as a result of feeling as though I had not been true to my race over the period of about twelve years and this was one expression I could make to identify with my race and be more genuine. You see, by looking at my hair as problematic and using chemicals to relax it, I think in a way, I was denying part of who I am.  Not to mention the predominantly white setting I was in at the time in which I squelched my opinions in deference to others when there were times I should have spoken up, particularly when someone would do or say something offensive. I tolerated so much, but a part of me was dying on the inside. When I left that setting, the succeeding years (going on 2 1/2 years now) have been filled with being more true to myself and my core beliefs regardless of the acceptance or reaction of others.  (Note: Let me say, that this is not intended as a judgment against anyone who wears straight hair. We all choose what we feel is best for ourselves and my decision was and is a very personal one.)
Needless to say, the discomfort involved in any change is undoubtedly why most people avoid it, if at all possible. We all like the life of ease; even someone like myself who enjoys a challenge.  I know that the road ahead is probably going to contain some frustration, but there is a freedom that I associate with going natural. Of course, the natural hairstyle will need to be maintained as all hairstyles do.  There are days that it will probably look pretty scruffy and I might even be tempted to turn back as some women have done when it became too much for them.  But the little taste of freedom that I'm already experiencing will, I imagine, be magnified once my hair is fully transitioned.  I hope that I can stay the course to see that change come to fruition and enjoy the reward at the end, an outlook I hope to continue throughout my life when facing any kind of change.

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