When I was around four years old, my mom and her home girl put some leftover perm in my hair "just to see what would happen." My hair was wild and on top of that I'd have the nerve to be "tender headed," which is a colloquialism for "one who screams bloody murder whenever an adult with ham hands tries to machete through her beautifully dense jungle of hair follicles with a flimsy plastic comb."
Back then, I'd rather go through life looking like little Orphan Annie then let anyone come near me with those instruments of torture called bristle brushes.
According to my mom, after they slapped about a tablespoon of relaxer on my head, my hair just "sucked it up and spit it out." It gave the billion-dollar black hair industry the middle finger. Andrews women have thick but manageable silken hair. Mine? Not so much. Kind of ironic (by Alanis Morissette's definition) that my actual last name is Combs.
Ever since then I've survived on flat irons and the kindness of stylists to get my head in order, not because I hate its instinctual unruliness, but because it's just easier to deal with tamed, like a lion.
Anyone who sees it in its natural state straight out the shower is in awe. Once a white woman at the multicultural salon I used to spend hours in couldn't contain herself when she saw me leaving after an appointment, "Wow! It didn't look anything like that before." I laughed because it was true. Like image activist Michaela Angela Davis once told me, "Black hair is magic."
Only once in my adult life have I spent some real quality time with the natural texture of my hair. It was in the hottest months of 2002 and I was working as an English and hip-hop teacher in an educational program called Summerbridge. Sweating out a $60-dollar hairdo running after middle schoolers when I was making below minimum wage just wasn't prudent.
It was during that summer that I noticed how much "blacker" everyone thought I was with an afro puff. Men on the bus called me "sister" and my mom's drum circle buddies invited me to play. My newfound camaraderie didn't last long though
When I got back to Columbia that September, a guy I sorta liked took one look at my Bantu knots and said, "I mean you knew you were coming back to school, right?" If I wasn't already planning to make an appointment with "Miss Bert," that comment sealed the deal.
But that was 10 years ago.
If you live anywhere in the world, you might have noticed it's getting warmer. This summer in Washington has been all 100-degree everything and I haven't been able to muster up the energy to maintain a heat-straightened style.
Naively I figured I'd just "let it do what it do, baby," as if my hair would simply know how to be. But just like a lion who's spent his life in captivity before getting released into the wild, my head is super confused -- not to mention unpredictable.
I didn't plan on making a statement with the stuff that grows out of my head aside from maybe "I'm fucking lazy." So I did absolutely no research into the rabbit hole that is the movement. I don't know if I'm a 5a/3b or R2-D2. I just washed my hair one day and waited.
Let me tell you: having natural hair isn't about easy. Now I have to map out appearances like a spokesmodel, planning my hair because I refuse to go out in public looking unkempt as the stranger-appointed ambassador of every black woman's hair. Instead of simply running a comb through it, now I have to part it, lube it, twist it, pin it and repeat. Good news is, my biceps are loving it. The drain in my bathroom sink, however, is not.
"Man, that takes a long time, huh?" my boyfriend asked as I started in on my hair about three hours before we were supposed to meet some folks for dinner. I just sighed as my arms took a break, falling at my sides.
The funniest thing about this whole un-experiment is how much of an expert everyone else thinks I am. "So what products do you use?" "Do you like Shea butter? "Is it soft?" I almost don't have the heart to tell them I use whatever's lying around the house -- olive oil, coconut oil, and Brita water -- because it'll probably burst some bubbles. It's the follicle embodiment of the "I'm not a doctor, I just play one on TV" meme.
Maybe next month, if the temperature stops offending me personally, I'll decide to head back to the salon, but for now I'm figuring it out on my own. Because black hair really is magic. Now you see it, now you don't.
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