It’s a common story that when women are going through a serious life change, they change their hair as well. It could be a breakup, the end of a friendship, the death of a loved one or the simple desire for something different. In my case, I was preparing for the biggest change of my life—a new job and a move across the country. And for me, it wasn’t accompanied by a haircut or a color change. I made the decision to stop relaxing my hair and embrace my natural curls. I’d been debating it for a while, and I figured that if I had a new role and a new home, a new look couldn’t hurt.
I know what you’re thinking—it’s just hair. But that’s the thing, for me and plenty of black women and Afro-Latinas like me, it’s not just hair. It’s an important part of our lives, and managing it takes an immense amount of time. To keep thick, coarse, curly hair healthy, you must be willing to commit and find a stylist who’s willing to help. Getting a relaxer in the hopes of making hair more manageable doesn’t diminish the commitment. It requires sitting in a salon chair for a major process: brushing creamy white paste onto the roots of newly grown curls, washing it out, deep-conditioning the scalp for about 40 minutes, two hours under the hair dryer with a roller set and then finally a blowout. All told it takes about four to five hours and has to be repeated every six to eight weeks. And I did this for 17 years of my life. I honestly can’t believe it.
I struggled to remember why I ever started it in the first place, and then it hit me. Pain. I remember hating my head of bountiful curls as a kid because of how much it hurt to detangle them and how long the process took. There wasn’t a detangling spray or comb on the planet that could stop the tears rolling down my cheeks or stop me from flinching every two seconds. I think the guilt of seeing her child in pain finally hit my mother. When she asked me if I wanted straight hair, I nodded my head ferociously and she booked my first relaxer appointment.
Now that I’m a lot older, I see the importance of my hair in a different light—it breaks boundaries. I know women who get relaxers for reasons much more serious than temporary physical pain. They face internal pain due to societal pressures around their natural hair, mainly because Euro-centric features tend to be considered more beautiful and desirable. When women aren’t hired for jobs because of their natural hair, and children sent to the principal’s office for hairstyles deemed inappropriate, that is instilled in them for the rest of their lives.
This isn’t to say that you should stop straightening your hair or that you should prefer curls. It’s your hair and it’s important for you to be satisfied with the way it makes you feel. I currently have about four inches of my curls back, and I’ve decided not to make the big chop and cut off my relaxed ends. I’m enjoying the process and I’m enjoying the way I look and the way I view my hair. If there’s anything I hope to get out of this experience other than healthy, beautiful curls, it’s to get a conversation going about how society views girls with hair like mine and why that needs to be changed.