I took one last longing look into the mirror. There it was. My hair. The large halo of an Afro that rose high above my head and even higher around my face was about to meet its demise. Or at least, that's what it felt like to my 12-year-old self. In the coming years, I would dig deep into the far reaches of my mind to resurrect that memory, pining for that thick head of hair of days long gone, convincing myself that it existed once, but no more.
I guess you could call it a rite of passage of sorts. I was just a couple of months away from starting high school (I was born and raised in Jamaica, where our "high school" begins in the seventh grade, rather than the ninth), and so it was expected that I would begin to take the usual steps to being a "big girl". Relaxing my hair was mostly a relief to my mother, who would now only have two heads of hair to style on Sundays in preparation for the school week ahead, instead of three. Little would she expect that, at least for the first year of the seventh grade, I would wake her every morning to section my hair in straight lines for me, a skill that took a very long time for me to master.
One of the hardest things for me to get used to after my hair was relaxed for the first time was how strangely people reacted to it. While my hair had always been thick and of a considerable length, it annoyed me that so many people felt the need to comment on the length as if it was a prize, the greatest stroke of luck a girl could possibly have. I will admit, especially in those years of extremely low self-esteem and constant self-deprecation, I did find some small pleasure in the fact that, even though I was not beautiful in any other way (or so I naively thought for too long; don't worry, I know better now), at least my hair was viewed as somewhat beautiful...
It annoyed me that so many people felt the need to comment on the length of my hair as if it was a prize, the greatest stroke of luck a girl could possibly have.
For years I went through the cycle -- relax, set/wrap every night, load with products each day -- to ensure ultimate smoothness and straightness, tame every strand of new growth as they are made noticeable, run home from school with your backpack overhead so as not to be sabotaged by the impending rainfall, tame even more new growth, and repeat. It was just the process of how things were done without much thought.
I think it was my second year of university that I started to notice a noticeable shift in my hair. It was stringier than usual, breaking off at the ends at an alarming rate. I started researching a lot about how to care for it, making healthy hair my main concern. After a couple of months of being the ultimate deep-condition and cover-with-satin-at-night ninja, I found myself on a natural hair website. So began my fall into this naturalista life.
When I first decided to stop relaxing my hair on a regular basis, it was initially just supposed to be a way of giving my hair more time to recover between treatments. Eventually it hit me. If my hair needs time to "recover" between relaxing, why was I doing it in the first place? I began to delve deeper into not only how to treat my hair, but how to do so with the least amount of chemical and unnecessary additives as possible.
Despite the many statements of, "When are you going to start combing your hair again?", "Are you really going out like that?" and courtesy of an ex-boyfriend, "You know I like weaves and straight hair; you're only keeping your hair curly and natural because you know I don't find that attractive." I have been able to sift through my own destructive thoughts on beauty, health, and identity. Making a conscious effort to care for my hair led me to making a conscious effort to take care of myself holistically.
Making a conscious effort to care for my hair led me to making a conscious effort to take care of myself holistically.
My hair is no longer my crutch in a dark state of self-loathing, neither is it my crowning glory. Loving my hair as it is, has allowed me to love myself as I am, and this natural hair journey was the perfect catalyst for this state of introspection.
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.