It’s April 1999. I’m standing in the bathroom of the apartment I’m sharing with my roommate. I’ve just released my hair from months of being incubated in braids.
My regimen back then was to keep my hair in what is now know as a “protective style” during the harsh winter months. And then once spring rolled around, I would release it and promptly suffocate the new growth with my relaxer of choice.
As a typical twenty-something, I was struggling financially (nothing has changed) and as I stood in front of the mirror staring at my gorgeous black tresses in its primal state, I made the decision to temporarily end my affair with relaxers.
This drastic change in normalcy wasn’t spurned by a need to make a statement or the desire to prove that I was a worthy soldier in a war of “natural vs. chemical”.
I simply couldn’t afford to maintain a style that required mandated salon visits and a level of commitment that was non-negotiatible.
I wanted to be free. As a youngster growing up in Nigeria — I attended an all girls boarding school. We were not permitted to alter our hair texture and if we broke the rules — we paid for it by being publicly massacred.
The women in charge always struck unexpectedly and it wasn’t a pretty sight. As we stood in line during assembly — we were subjected to checks that can be compared to the humiliating sessions black women endure at the airport.
Our plaited hair would be pulled and fondled in an effort to unearth any evidence that we had tampered with nature’s assignment.
I passed every time. But some of my mates weren’t always lucky. And the end result was purposely scraped hair that was so badly sheared that the only option was to shave it down completely.
A high price to pay for giving in to the bottle that contained the solution to our woes.
I didn’t surrender to the magic potion until I graduated from high school. My mother gave me permission to manipulate my hair however I chose to and of course I immediately demanded a perm.
I remember how badly it burned as I sat there stunned — wondering why I was willingly letting this happen to me.
But after the rinse which burned even more than the application — when I moved back to the chair — the sight of my glistening wet hair clinging to my scalp was an indication that my coils had been successfully disciplined.
The pain was worth it.
The ability to walk out and feel my hair obeying the wind, to be able to run my fingers though without the threat of them getting trapped and best of all feeling like the women of ABBA who to me at that time had the best looking hair I’d ever seen.
For me, it wasn’t about hating the hair I was born with — I mean I was practically revered for my imposing tresses. I had no reason to be ashamed of it. I just wanted to experience what it was like on the other side.
But years later, as I stood in front of another mirror, I was ready to go back to my roots.
Once I stopped relaxing my hair, I began to enjoy the process of what is now classified as the “transitional phase”.
Back then, there were no tutorials, blogs, vlogs, meet ups, conventions or case studies dedicated to helping me weather the blighted challenges that come with such a drastic course of action.
I was a lone warrior without any of the reinforcements that are now so readily available.
It was a lonely existence. I didn’t have access to the plethora of hair products that now douse the market space — promising to revitalize dull lifeless manes into replicated versions of biracial celebrities.
I worked with the bare minimum and it was enough. It was my hair and I did what I had to do to care for it without the interference of scheming natural hair gurus or the overly aggressive antics of natural hair nazis. Or the annoying cheerleaders expressing their validation at the sight of my well nourished Afro.
No, I was safely encased in a solitary movement that only featured me, myself and I.
Friends were cautiously supportive but would occasionally blurt out negative quips especially when I casually complained about not getting laid. The assumption was that letting my hair go had automatically reduced me to the bottom of the barrel.
Guys have the choice of any girl they want — why would they settle for a Puff Ranger?
Family members were more vocal about their disdain for my “unkempt style”. I was so damn pretty — why would I hide behind sheets of an entangled mess that suggested a questionable mental state?
There were others who simply noted my bravery. They wouldn’t be caught dead exposing their untamed edges. They respected my reasons for outing myself but they just couldn’t fathom being that militant.
Well. How the times have changed. It’s 2016 and the natural hair movement has evolved into something that weirdly leaves me bitter and point blank annoyed.
Watching the experts expertly convince newbies that they are making a decision they will never regret, and then reading the long list of requirements that need to be implemented in order to achieve each illustrated style is nothing short of fascinating.
The countless blogs and Youtube sessions that are dedicated to the wellness of women who are experiencing the after shock of being faced with their untampered textures is surprisingly hilarious.
But then — I go back to a time long ago but no so long ago when I began the journey that women are now being praised for as if it’s the most remarkable thing in the world.
A time when I was silently ridiculed and vocally mishandled because l was too eager to embrace the part of us that still dictates how we value ourselves.
I’m glad women of color are proud to walk into a space with their natural coils and not feel defeated. I’m happy to see that we are now at the cusp of not giving a fuck about what people think which in turn makes them not give a fuck.
I just wish I was afforded the same celebrated reception in 1999.
And the fact that I wasn’t makes me mock this present climate with channeled disdain hid underneath a veil of amusement.
But I will continue to accommodate this period of discovery and contentment on behalf of those who seek validation and public encouragement.
Rock on my natural hair sistas! Rock on!