[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win the big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. --Jane]
By Kiesha Bowles
All journeys have a definite starting and stopping point, so where exactly does a natural hair journey take someone? For me, it was down a road to self-discovery.
For years prior to my decision to go natural, I had been in a very complicated relationship with my hair. We’d been through breakups, makeups, and a little bit of everything in between. I think it’s safe to say that what we had was a love hate kind of deal, but mostly hate.
Growing up my hair was extremely coarse. It wouldn’t stay straight, and no matter what I did I couldn’t get it to grow. I was teased on a regular basis, and as a result, I had a lot of issues with my self-esteem. I remember being envious of my white friends for having long straight hair that grew down their backs. I was jealous that they didn’t have to get relaxers that burned their scalps, and at times It made me resent being black.
I did a little bit of everything to try and change my texture. I hot combed, I relaxed, and at one point I even had a Jheri Curl, but nothing seemed to work; in fact it caused more harm than good, damaging my ends and causing breakage.
By high school, I’d had enough with my hair. I decided that if it wouldn’t cooperate with me I would just hide it under weaves and wigs. Initially the wigs were a last resort for bad hair days, but over time I became dependent on them, it was like a sick addiction that I couldn’t shake.
I didn’t feel beautiful without them and they actually began to consume my life. I wouldn’t leave the house without one, my boyfriend of four years had never seen me without one, and I honestly didn’t like looking at my reflection in the mirror without one.
The wigs gave me confidence. They gave me the long flowy hair that I was unable to grow on my own, and when I wore them I transformed into a completely different person. I felt like a model and it really was a high, but at the end of the day when the wigs disappeared, so did my self-esteem.
The fake hair was only a temporary fix for a much deeper issue; one that I didn’t even know existed until much later in life. I was suffering from an undiagnosed form of body dysmorphic disorder.
The final straw for me was when I got married and moved in with my husband. I was excited to be a newlywed, but I was still afraid to let him see the real me, afraid that he would find me as unattractive as I found myself. As beautiful as the wigs made me feel, I was tired of them, and I just wanted to genuinely be comfortable in my own skin.
In mid-2008, I was introduced to the natural hair movement. I had heard of it before, but this was the first time that I truly started paying attention. I was noticing more and more women with coily, afro textured hair and something about them intrigued me. It was amazing to me that they could look so beautiful openly sporting the same thick, kinky locs that I had tried so hard my entire life to get rid of.
As I did more research on natural hair, looking up videos on Youtube and searching for pictures online, something inside of me started to change. I no longer wanted to cover up the kinks; I wanted to set them free and allow them to run wild.
April 12, 2008 was the day that I took my life back. My husband was at work, and I had been looking at natural hair videos online. I finally came to the decision that once and for all I was going to do it; I was going to go natural!
I ran into the bathroom, grabbed a pair of clippers, and I did one of the most drastic things that I’ve ever done in my life: I shaved my head. As I watched the relaxed ends fall to the ground I felt liberated, empowered. I was a butterfly trapped inside of a cocoon, and with every with every strand I cut, a layer was shed until finally I was free; spreading my wings for the first time and finally taking in what a beautiful creature I was.
I stared in the mirror for what seemed like an eternity. I was completely, totally, bald.
For someone who had struggled with image for years, this should have been traumatic; instead it opened up my eyes. For the first time since early childhood I was able to stare at my reflection and really enjoy what I saw looking back. Rather than the distorted image I had grown so accustomed to, I really, truly saw me!
I embraced my hair for what it was rather than trying to transform it into something that it was never meant to be, and instead of resenting my African American heritage I was proud, and honored that I had been blessed with a hair texture so unique.
The problem was never with my hair. The problem was with the warped views that society had given me about my hair, and once I was able to break free of those views my life began to change.
It’s been 4-and-a-half years since I embarked upon my natural hair journey and I haven’t once looked back. I’m still known to occasionally don a wig or two but now when I wear them, it’s simply because I feel like switching up my look; not because I’m ashamed of what’s underneath.
Since my journey began I’ve grown into a stronger, more confident woman; a proud woman who highly encourages women of all backgrounds to accept themselves; to love themselves, because each and every one of us is a remarkable being.
The starting point to my journey was at an all time low, so to answer my initial question: “Where does a natural hair journey take someone?” Well, to be honest I’m still traveling on mine. For now, I assume that it can take you anywhere you choose, but I’ll be sure to let you know exactly where I wind up, as soon as I get there!