Learning To Love Myself Through My Natural Hair Journey
Representation really does matter
Hey there Richsters!
If there is one thing I take most seriously about my role as a mom, it's being be the best possible example to my daughter that I can be. I want her to know that she is strong, valued, loved, beautiful, and that her milk chocolate complexion is something to be loved-- that includes loving her hair.
Admittedly, before the turn of the "natural hair movement" around 2010, sure I liked my hair, but I didn't LOVE my hair the way I do now. It took me going through years of thinking my hair way too thick, that it needed to avoid water (now we know that's definitely not true), and that braids were the only way to make my hair grow (though it barely did, due to lack of proper care).
Thanks to the internet at large, my natural hair journey has been one of growth, self acceptance, educated consumer decisions, and informed hair care choices that I can pass on to my children.
Before the Movement
Growing up, I'd always considered hair to be a something that I really didn't have any control over. Now looking back, what's most disappointing of all is that I considered myself as someone who didn't have "good hair". Or at least, that's what I was raised to believe; not by my mother (to her hair was just hair), but by society around me.
With 3 girls, I think it's now safe to say my proud Nigerian mother, didn't know much about caring for our thick 4C curls (outside of washes, and cornrows). It's not her fault. Back then there really wasn't much interest in properly caring for your "natural" hair outside of getting relaxers.
Growing Up Natural
I attended a predominantly white private school in Baltimore from 6th grade through my senior year of high school (ages 10-17). There were exactly 6 black girls in my entire graduating class, including myself. Keep in mind, at that time being "natural" wasn't cool or nearly as popular as it is now. Everyone had a relaxer except for me, and those who didn't need relaxers (i.e. my white classmates/friends) had straight or loose curly hair that effortlessly cascaded down their backs. I despised the fact that my hair never fell flat. Braids and single twists (with my own hair) were my favorite hairstyles-- then they weren't labeled "protective styles;" they were simply the hairstyle I got when I wanted the freedom to have "laid" hair that could be freely manipulated (like the girls with perms). So as often as my mother would allow, I would invest the 10-13 hour sit-time to get my hair braided, so that I could also have hair that laid down my back so I could "fit in" with my peers.
Throughout my teenage years my mother refused to let me get a perm. I hated it at the time, but looking back, it was one of best things she could have done for me in learning to accept myself. Unfortunately, lessons like this are never learned in the moment when they're most needed. But it's better to learn them later than not at all.
I spent a good portion of my teens disliking so many parts of my blackness: how my skin got blackberry dark in Summer sun, that may hair grew outward instead of laying downward, that I had a hippy-figure compared to those of my thin compadres; shoot-- even the fact that I didn't have a high arch in my foot was something that I despised. This is why representation matters. I spent so much time comparing the things that I couldn't control because I couldn't see the celebration of beauty in those who looked like me.
My parent's wouldn't have understood even if I had tried to tell them. For them "school was not a fashion show," and their position was always "brains over beauty." Not that they never told me that I was beautiful, I just don't think they realized just how different I felt. I'm hoping that through my experience that things will be a bit different for my kids.
A Relaxed Mess
With my mom's unwillingness to budge, I didn't get my first perm until my senior year of high school. It was the senior prom after all; I wanted to feel cute l and go out with a bang-- so I planned to perm my hair, designed a custom Nigerian outfit, and scheduled an appointment to get my eyebrows waxed. Now, what I actually got the day of prom fell wayyyyy short of my expectations: the hairdresser didn't style my hair the way I wanted, my custom designed outfit from Nigeria came in five sizes too big and needed to be altered to a different design, and the lady who waxed my eyebrows overheated the wax-- ultimately burning me, and ripping off some of the skin from my brow line in the process.
I'll try to find some pictures. But in the meantime, just know that beauty has it's price... and apparently having eyebrows was mine.
After senior prom I quickly realized that the relaxed-hair life was not one that I wanted to live. Perming my hair was expensive and it needed to be done every 4-6 weeks (probably explains why my mom never wanted to do it). lol I hated the application process: it burned my scalp, I couldn't scratch my head whenever I wanted, and it always had to be styled in order to look nice. But as you may (or may not) know, once the ball of perming your hair is put into motion, it's a hard one to stop. That is unless you want to deal with breakage, and ugly straggly ends among other things. So though I wasn't as happy with my relaxed hair as I thought I'd be, I continued to relax my hair through college. At least, up until my junior year of college when I studied abroad in Spain.
I know, you're probably thinking, "the Spanish helped you love your hair?" Well, no. But the struggle to find a decent black hair dresser certainly did. The struggle was so real that I wasn't able to keep up with my routine relaxers. So once I found someone to do my hair I opted to get my hair braided and put up in weaves instead. When I got back to the States, the lack of upkeep to my relaxer resulted in some hair damage. In order to correct it, I decided to do a pixie cut. The decision was quite simple since they were in trend at the time (thank you Rihanna!).
I kept my hair in a pixie cut for about 6 months, each time opting to cut it a bit shorter. Until one day when I was at work and I decided that I didn't want to have to deal with hair anymore. Done. I scheduled an appointment with the barber that same day.
Short Hair, Don't Care 2011 I gained freedom. That was the year I cut all my hair off. I loved it. Everything about it. And surprisingly enough (given all the emphasis that society put on having long flowing hair), I never felt more awesome. I felt like a [borderline] bald, bold, beautiful, badass! Like I was rebel, but I was really just coming into who I was supposed to be. Later that same year I turned 23. 23 was a great year for me: one of discovery, creativity, bold actions, and challenging myself; all of which in turn lead to some really life-turning opportunities like working with Ebony Magazine, networking with some cool new people, leaving a job I hated, and diving into some creative passions (like making/designing jewelry) that I'd left behind when I left for college. I looked amazing, but more importantly, I felt confident in who I was and what I wanted for myself. I learned that my hair didn't define me, and certainly didn't make me more or less beautiful.
Two years after my big chop I finally got the urge to start growing my hair out again. But this time things were different. The hair world was changing, the total love of one's blackness was starting to emerge. Thanks to the discovery of YouTube, the natural hair movement, and fabulous blogs/natural hair influencers like Naptural85 and Mahogony Curls at the age of 24 I discovered the true beauty of my tresses.
Life changed. And this time around, so did my journey as a naturalista.
Check out my post on doing my hair by myself for the first time- I'm No Longer a Do-It-Yourself Hair Virgin.
Living Afroliciously (yeah, I made that up)
It took me 23 years to learn that my hair doesn't define my beauty, or that afros aren't "wack". I'm grateful for the lessons that were learned in this time. With God's guidance I'm to raise our children to love themselves in their natural state; to celebrate their the history, and the culture behind it all (thank God for my husband, Nick who is pro-natural everything). lol And while Arria has a beautiful head of long curls (at age two, she's already living out all my #hairgoals), I want her to know that she'd be just as lovely without it.
Crazy as the state of the world is right now (I mean seriously, an unqualified reality TV star is our 45th president), and blatant racism has started to show its face again-- there will be some who won't appreciate my children for who they are. There also may not be many opportunities for my kids to see people who look like them where we currently live, but I'm glad to be raising them in a time that supports our mission of raising them to love their blackness. Natural festivals like Curlfest (taking place this weekend, the 21st), and AfroPunk (happening in August) showcase beautiful melanin people coming together in celebration of their uniqueness. I am VERY much looking forward to toting our two big-haired babes around the park, as we take in the glory of all the melanin mamis (and papis) rocking their crowns. Who among you will be there? We'd love to connect with you!
On that note, I'll end this post here, but I'd love to know: what was your experience of natural hair like growing up? Please share in the comments below or on IG. Until the next time, #LiveRi¢h and Happy Dream Chasing!
Teaching Arria to love herself - Fro and all
#TeamNatural #NaturalHairJourney #NaturalHair #LiveRichHair #selflove #50ReasonsILoveMyBlacknes #loveandhappiness #mommyoftwo #mymom #mommy #momlife #momoftwo #4c #growingup #ArriaReid #JaiyceReid #momspiration #NewMom