For most families of color there are two very significant things of importance to the women: "good" hair and how well you can throw down in the kitchen. It's a shame if you couldn't cook because "how ever will you keep a man?" Cooking also meant knowing how to keep that "kitchen" on the back of your head tamed. Grandma taught that your hair was your crown and glory and thanks to Madam Walker, hair days consisted of three generations of Jones women sitting around the living room television set watching Murder, She Wrote getting our hair fried and laid for the gawds. Growing up, I admired my grandmother. I would stare at her shiny, silver hair often and watched her curl it every night as I passed her foamed hair rollers wrapped in those crinkly tissue papers meant to absorb the excess Blue Magic grease she used. Sometimes she would let me comb it while we watched the old Western and karate movies. She and I had a common bond, but one thing I always admired the most about her was the family photo that sat above the fireplace. In that photo she had the biggest afro and huge glasses, just like a disco queen. I never got to meet that version of her, but I'm sure she was cool.
In reflecting on my own hair journey, I realized I had never seen my natural hair until I was 23 or at least I couldn't remember its coarseness. I didn't even know I had a curl pattern. Perms and relaxers had become the simple solution to "managing" my nappy hair. It was a "rite of passage" to get your first perm when you came of age -- which was usually seven or eight in my family. It was an answered prayer to the countless broken tooth combs, the "oohs" and the "ahhs" and the tear-stained cheeks on my tender head. It was a long-lasting solution to the temporary fix of the hot comb that left your hair straight long enough for you to go outside and have the heat and humid air puff it back up. It was a problem solved to those greasy forehead burns hiding underneath a stiff bang that never moved even if it was windy.
I went natural when it was the trendy thing to do. I transitioned for five months and in those months I wondered. "Would my natural hair mimic that of Tracee Ellis Ross or Corinne Bailey Rae? Would it eventually be long and flowy like the hair gurus sweeping the internet like Curly Nikki or Hey Fran Hey?" I wondered. So I braced myself for "the big chop" -- on a Thursday night, in my dorm room, done by my roommate -- and prepared to make my debut into the sisterhood of the kinks and curls. I felt like I was making a radical statement in my blackness while at the time being the vice-president of my campus black student union. I felt validated when passing another natural and you sort of give each other that smile and nod of approval, almost like a warm welcome.
"I braced myself for 'the big chop' and prepared to make my debut into the sisterhood of the kinks and curls.
But the truth beneath all of that lye, the dyes, the kits and the straightening systems was that a huge part of my identity had been deeply rooted in the notion that good hair meant kept hair -- that the only way to tame our hair was through the chemicals and excessive heat products. I wasn't used to feeling the rain that closely on my scalp. I wasn't used to the warmth of the sun hitting my scalp. I wasn't used to feeling the cold chill of winter breeze on my scalp. I wasn't used to not having hair. I thought my face was too fat and my head was too big to rock a TWA (or tweeny weeny Afro). I felt weird and self-conscious being bald-headed during a time when being bald-headed had a negative connotation and was fuel for several jokes cracked. I had to learn to love myself in a different way... without my "crown and glory."
Learning to love myself and take care of my hair created a ripple effect in my whole lifestyle. Before I knew it, I was eating better, being more conscious of the products I used. I was learning how to style my hair differently and as my hair grew, so did my self-esteem. I love my natural hair, my tight, undefined, 4C curls.
My choice [to go natural] is tempered with self-understanding and a healthy dose of self-love.
My choice is tempered with self-understanding and a healthy dose of self-love. The tale of my mane is a love story. It is a radical and political declaration of the love I have for myself. It's a sisterhood within me. My hair has history. It's been 'buked and it's been scorned, burnt, damaged, altered and it has survived. It's been a long journey of hair days, wash and go's, twisting and strong hands and arms. I wouldn't trade it for the creamy crack.
This post is part of HuffPost's My Natural Hair Journey blog series. Embracing one's natural hair -- especially after years of heavily styling it -- can be a truly liberating and exciting experience. It's more than just a "trend." It's a way of life! If you have a story you'd like to share, please email us at MyNaturalHairJourney@huffingtonpost.com.