I hope she grows up to appreciate her curly hair more than I did when I was her age, is what I thought when I drove past a little black girl on a tricycle at my apartment complex. The youngster, who rocked pigtail puffs, peddled in front of a lady who appeared to be her mother. When I passed the sidewalk, they both vanished from my eyesight, but the little black girl stayed on my mind.
Twenty years ago, when I was eight, my mother styled my hair with Just for Me hair products. She would position me between her legs in the den. I sat on the floor while my brother and father sat next to her on the couch. Everyone would watch In Living Color on TV and laugh like crazy. This happened every weekend and every Monday I went to school with well moisturized two-strand twists. Did I mention my hair smelled delicious?
No matter how many compliments I received from strangers, classmates or relatives, I didn’t understand the importance of embracing my beautiful nappy hair. I loved my kinks and coils, but I just didn’t show it. Up until the age of 11, my hair wasn’t my problem. It was something my mom had to dress up in barrettes. Something my mom had to wash and detangle. Something my mom had to worry about every week. My hair wasn’t a priority for me until I had to do it myself.
I didn’t believe my hair was curly enough when I was in high school. By then I had gotten perms and tried to revert my hair back to its natural state. It took forever. My hair never looked the same, so I would pull it back into a low bun. That style made my hair dry and brittle. My hair became my problem and I was not good at nourishing it like my mother.
I didn’t know much about wash and go routines or twist outs. I didn’t know anything about essential oils or the L.O.C. (leave-in-conditioner, oil and cream) method. My hair was a beast and the only way I figured I could tame it was to straighten it or pull it back. If I knew how to show my curls some love, I would have showered it with aloe vera baths and so much more.
After years of straightening my hair, it got heat damaged. It looked healthy, but my curl pattern disappeared. Although I stopped perming it by the time I became a sophomore in high school, I kept applying heat to it every two weeks.
When I got to college, students would marvel over the texture of my hair. I thought it was like other black girls hair until I was called out. I never paid attention to my texture until college. Some students would ask me if I was mixed with other ethnic groups other than “just” black. I felt insulted. I also never knew my hair was such a major topic and conversation starter. I remember an Indian girl said she could recognize me from behind because of my “fine” hair. My Asian friend didn’t think I could get my hair into an Afro. My African-American friend said my hair looked like the wigs displayed in Korean beauty supply stores.
Girls with thick, kinky and curly hair asked me to recommend hair products to them that would make their hair “smooth and silky” too. Little did they know that I wasn’t a hair guru. They had no idea my hair just came out of hibernation. I went from the bun look to solely rocking straight hair by the time I became a freshman in college.
Fast forward to 2015. One day I looked in my bathroom mirror after washing my hair. I was very disappointed in how my hair was not curly at all. It was not how I remembered it to be when I was eight. I didn’t recognize myself anymore and felt the need to cut it all off. The feeling of losing yourself is scary, but once you regain your freedom, you begin to feel unstoppable.
It’s been two years since I did the big chop. It took me years to appreciate my natural hair. Now, I proudly wear my Afro like a halo. I also show it unconditional love. Many people think natural hair is a political statement. To me, it’s a part of my identity. I feel free when I wear my hair in twists, braids or an Afro. I feel very special to have African hair. No one on this planet has hair like wool, but descendants of Africa.
I hope the little black girl who lives at my apartment complex grows up to appreciate her curly hair. I hope she doesn’t make the same mistakes I did. If I knew better, I would have never permed my hair or straightened it excessively. I would’ve kept my curls. Maybe her mom, friends or the beautiful black sisters on Youtube can teach her, when she gets older, the proper techniques to manage her kinks and coils in a way that is fun and liberating.