I grew up in San Diego, one of the most beautiful places in the world, but also one of the most oppressive when it comes to natural hair. The accepted and most praised hairstyle in San Diego? Straight or beach waves. The color? Blond. Brunette is second best. I moved to San Diego the summer before ninth grade, a move I didn’t realize at the time would change how I felt and viewed my hair.
My grandmother owned a beauty salon in Ohio and during her yearly visits to San Diego she would take me to get my hair done. The most popular method for maintaining curly headed girls around the nation: relaxers. A chemical treatment that is left in the hair for a certain amount of time to relax the curl pattern. This was what I would have done at the salon followed by a flat iron to seal in the treatment. I always left that salon feeling so excited and beautiful. I finally had the wonderful straight tresses I so desired. I could finally fit in.
I don’t blame my grandmother for the damage this was doing to my hair. If anything, I attribute part of my love for my hair to her. She taught me the importance of caring for your hair, something that can really affect your self esteem as a woman. She also taught me the importance of expirementing and trying new hairstyles. Every visit her hair was different whether it be braids, twists, or flatironed. If you can name it, she did it. I was always fascinated by the ability of hair to change its look and wanted to know more.
It wasn’t until years later that my curiosity about natural hair was peaked. I recall seeing more and more pictures online of girls going natural. Their hair was gorgeous and voluminous, their curls practically glowing. I kept asking myself, how do I get my hair to look like that? What are they doing that I’m not and how do I get there?
That was when I discovered curly hair products. My entire life I’d used products such as suave or herbal essence, products not designed for my hair. I was so happy to discover products like Mixed Chicks, Shea Moisture, and Devacurl. However my hair was so damaged it resembled nothing of the curl it was capable of. Soon after that I began research on curly hair salons and found one in L.A., owned by celebrity hairstylist Shai Amiel. I immediately booked my appointment and made my way to LA. Shai was kind but told me something I’ll never forget. “I’ve never seen hair this damaged.” This was coming from a man who’d seen hundreds if not thousands of curly haired women and he was telling me that mine was the worst case of damage out of them all. I knew then that I needed to make a lifestyle change. It was then that I vowed to myself: no more relaxers and a year of no heat.
The next year was hard and uncomfortable. My natural hair began to grow in and contrasted so drastically from my damaged hair. It was awful and I really had to get creative then with protective hairstyles. I felt hideous at times but I knew the wait would be worth it. I was determined to save my hair and start anew. Two and a half years later my hair resembles nothing of the destroyed straw like strands it came from and I owe it all to my dedication toward hair acceptance.
Hair is such a taboo topic for black and biracial women. It’s a struggle in the workplace and a frustration in our daily lives. I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many times someone has told me, “You should straighten your hair. I want to know what it would look like.” An innocent but ignorant comment that I often translate to “Straight hair is more acceptable in society and your curls stand out too much. Better to conform.”
I’m proud of my hair and while I may experiment with colors or straightening, my curls are me and I will always choose them over everything. The Curly movement is growing and it’s so beautiful to see so many curly haired women shamelesslly showcasing their natural hair. I’m proud to be one of them and will continue to spread this knowledge and hopefully inspire others to go on a curly journey of their own. I’m curly and I’m proud. You should be too.