"I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations" - India Arie
When I was in middle school, a boy I had a crush on said that I was cute, but that he didn’t date girls with “my kind of hair.” I was not sure what was wrong with “my kind of hair,” but presumably he meant the short kind. Although I never really understood what he meant, that comment really stuck with me, because I’ve hated my hair for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wished it were just a little bit longer. A tad bit fuller. And much, much thicker.
Although I was late to the natural hair movement, when I discovered it in 2013, I thought I had found the golden grail. After reading countless hair blogs and watching hundreds of YouTube videos, I concluded that sulfates, chemical relaxers, and heat were the cause of my short, damaged, and thin hair. All I needed to do was co-wash my tresses, use protective styles, and take some hair vitamins, and I too could have thick curly hair. All of my hair problems would be solved.
And so my natural hair journey began, but for quite the wrong reasons. I stopped getting relaxers, and within months my hair started shedding like crazy. According to my extensive online research, the place where your natural hair meets your relaxed hair is called the “point of demarcation” and it is very fragile. Intense deep conditioning is encouraged, but some women just experience more shedding than others. I was one of those women that experienced intense shedding. So after a month of my hair falling out in handfuls, a new beautician pushed me to cut my hair. Recognizing my anxiety, she tried to leave some of my relaxed hair at the top, so I didn’t feel quite as bad. After a few weeks of looking a bit crazy, one my besties sat me down with some scissors, and said, “Sweetie, that hair at the top has to go. Trust me, it will look better.” Full of fear, I finally gave in, and let her cut the last bit of relaxed hair off the top of my head. I felt a mix of emotions. I was relieved but nervous. Over the next few days, she taught me how to finger coil my new teeny weeny afro (TWA), showed me her favorite products, and introduced me to edge control. I was determined to do this right. So I changed my diet, starting working out, drinking water, cutting chemicals out of my diet and my beauty products, all to add in my hair growth (and body goals). Healthy hair comes from healthy habits, I kept reading. So being the over-achiever I am, I adopted all of the healthy habits I could.
Anytime I got depressed about my less than an inch of hair, I would just google natural hair styles, and day dream of how my hair would look in a year or two. According to all the hair blogs, you could count on about ½ inch of hair growth every month. So I expected to have a head full of bouncy moisturized curls within a year. And I just knew that within 2 years, I would be slaying my IG with all of the natural girl hair styles. All of my friends had long luscious hair after so effortlessly going natural, so I knew it was possible. I told myself that if I could just put up with my TWA for a year or so, I would have a lifetime of healthy curly hair.
But after a year, something terrible happened. My hair was growing so slow. I was definitely not getting ½ inch per month. My hair was not getting thicker and my curls were not popping like the girls in the blogs. I tried two strand twists, braid outs, and wash-and-gos and they all looked a hot mess. I felt like the natural hair movement had failed me. My hair did not have the curl all the naturals had on my IG feed. I was furious. I had done everything right. I had not put heat on my hair in over a year. I easily spent thousands of dollars on all of the latest hair care products. I was indeed a hair product junkie. And I was eating clean. I lost 30 pounds! But my hair? My God, my hair, just would not act right.
I hit a low point when I found myself single after my husband and I separated. Having short hair and a husband was one thing. But having short hair and being single was something entirely different. I’m sure that some guys prefer short hair, but my experience has always been that guys prefer longer hair—they may not care if hair is straight or curly, but they secretly want women to have hair, lots of it, and ideally not the kind you have to buy. My hair was an area of real insecurity.
Dealing with all of this anxiety and self-doubt, I met a very blunt, borderline-rude executive type, and after a few drinks, he looked at me and said, “I don’t usually like girls with natural hair. You would look so much prettier with a weave.” I wish I could say I cursed him out, threw my drink on him, or that I gave him a lecture on black beauty and respectability politics. But I did neither. I shrunk in my seat, laughed it off, and said, “Oh yeah, I was thinking about getting a weave.”
A few weeks later, I was driving an hour away to get my first full weave. Although I didn’t want to make decisions about my hair based on what I thought would attract a man, I still heard the voice of that middle school boy in my head. I justified my actions by telling myself that I was getting a protective style that would help my natural hair grow so that after a few months, my big beautiful curls would be hiding underneath. But a few months turned into an over a year, and I still had nothing to show for the thousands of dollars I spent on the best weaves, closures, and wigs that money could buy.
More importantly, after a few installs I realized I didn’t even like weaves, because I actually didn’t want bone straight Eurocentric hair. I wanted curly, kinky, textured hair and I wanted to be able to work out without worrying about looking crazy. That’s when I discovered crochet braids, and I was addicted. They are healthier for my hair, I can still workout, and they are cheaper than a weave and faster to install.
The only problem is that they don’t help me deal with the emotional and psychological baggage I have with my God-given hair. I still haven’t accepted who I truly am, because I still hated the stuff that grew out of my head. I have realized that I have fine hair that will just never be thick and full. It will never look like the girls on IG. Yes, it will grow, but it will always be thin. My TWA is not a phase. It’s my chosen hairstyle. My hair is short, and I am still beautiful. And I am learning to love the texture, length, and type of hair that grows out of my head. And I can only hope that the natural hair movement will be less about achieving someone else’s look or length, and more about accepting ourselves as we are. Naturally beautifully.