Dear Jacia (Age 15-17),
During your matriculation in college at Clark Atlanta University, you will understand the enriching dynamics of your natural hair and how negative stereotypes will change to positive ones. The beauty, manageability, and biology of your hair will take a front seat to become your confidence. Your natural hair journey will not be explained in a mere few minutes, hours, days or weeks. This is not possible. What is possible is that your experience will color the sky in your dreams and break boundaries for black women and men. This is only small to none out of the many stories, quests, and journeys that circle around the world. You watch YouTube because of the many black hair vlogs that discuss the troubles and solutions with managing their natural hair. The journey may seem dauntless, but always remember: you owe the world nothing, and yourself everything.
While you expose yourself to another untouched and disclosed version of yourself, the hardest issue will come from learning to love your 4C hair. Twelve years old, you begged mom to let you relax your hair. Straight hair was beautiful and pulling it back into buns and ponytails made it fun to fantasize about. You thought it would be cool to have long, gone with the wind hair. Yes, Queen! She was worried that your hair would break off, because of a previous relaxing attempt when you were three to four years old. The decision was not regretful, because it taught you valuable lessons on learning to love the hair you were born with.
“Hey, maybe it could be the start of something wholesome and new.”
Your hair is tightly packed and easily breakable. Moisture and thick oils are your BFF’s (even though you believe in having multiple BFF’s). Don’t cry or be upset OR wish for long loose curls. Shrinkage is the magician and your hair is gravity defying. It’s okay, you’ll come to love that part of yourself soon enough. Trust me, there isn’t anyone in the world who doesn’t wish they could have your hair texture, because honey — they do. It’s not to be arrogant, it’s a simple fact of experience.
“Oops! You won’t find out about that till college.”
Right now, just focus on your freshman year and having fun! That 4C hair of yours is the kinkiest, tightest… and girl, most definitely the thickest out of the four hair types. Your hair works great in twist outs and Bantu knot outs. It holds shape and doesn’t fall flat when you put it through the test of time. So go outside on a hot day and let your curls hang loose. When it rains, let your puffy mane turn into a damp, frizzy mess. You’ll enjoy the release because social pressures from family and friends will keep you hemmed up. You’ll never get a chance to relax. Even with your relaxer gone. They may tell you to keep your hair braided and maintained because society has pressured them to think “straight and clean” is the standard. Don’t blame them. Love them and guide them. No one can’t handle your limitless self-expression and don’t give a fuck attitude.
At the same time, your hair is like an unruly god who only knows how to win, by letting go. Your afro worn during the middle of the day in pre-calculus hasn’t been touched since Friday and it’s Tuesday today. A semi-medium afro full of knots and relaxed ends is the last thing you will worry over. When you splash your hair with some water… it’s still dry as the Sahara Desert. Splash, repeat and don’t forget some shea moisture (original recipe… but let’s not get into the debate today) and your homemade mango butter will smooth and protect your cuticles. Maybe your hair is soaking wet and catching a cold is imminent by the end of the school day.
“Hachoo!” “Bless you.” “Thanks!”
You’ll never believe me, but people with 3B or 3C loose curls will tell you, “I wish I had your hair.” And you’ll be shocked for the first 10-20 seconds. Come back to reality for a bit and listen to your response.
“Are you sure about that? You don’t even know what maintenance is for me. Do you think you could finger-detangle and be delicate and not break off your hair all in the same wash day?”
Then they may stare at you blankly and think about their response. The detangling process includes less than of 5-7 hours of sectioning hair, washing, detangling (AGAIN), then braiding/twisting (AGAIN) and finally applying product and oil to your hair. ‘Cause, let’s face it, laziness is a real thing, and completely justifiable.
Your natural hair journey started in the middle of your sophomore year in high school, around late October into early November. You relaxed your kinky and damaged 4C hair. At 12 years old, your hair was turned into a mess of dry and brittle ends. So you took matters into your own hands. You went to Aunt Wanda’s shop and had your ends clipped bi-weekly, while the relaxer grew out. Slowly you felt the difference in your hair texture; changing into luscious buoyant curls from dry brittle hair — which was exciting for you. Plus, getting up to rock your natural hair without worrying or checking if your straight hair fell the right way after you took it out of the wrap was icing on the cake!
I know you were wondering, “why do I put myself through this?”
Especially when it came to unwrapping your hair from that satin scarf. Straight hair falling down your face, while trying to comb it to the side then adding a neat part. Trying to make sure the curls still had some bounce to it, and when it looked a little dull, mom would always come around and spray a thin layer of oil sheen and you were ready to go.
“It wasn’t for you!” I laugh at those memories now. The constant wheezing and squinting to keep your eyes from burning made the process difficult for you.
Constantly having your hair relaxed every 3-4 weeks while it was still breaking off, and constantly having your hair sweat out while sitting in its wrap before going to bed is AGG-RA-VA-TING!
“If your hair loses its curl the next day, what’s the point of having your hair done?”, you thought to yourself. It was pointless to you. So, what did you do?
You chopped off a nice
“Oh my god, I can’t believe you don’t have relaxed hair anymore. Let’s talk about this phase.” You adjusted from the preconceived notions (from white and black culture) on how your hair is supposed to entertain people, to learn to encourage yourself around others. I remember a time when Devin, a good friend at the time, explicitly told you:
“I think your natural hair looks good, but I thought you looked better with your straight hair.”
“Devin, that’s a nice thought, but I like my hair the way it is.” “Yeah, but I think you LOOK better with your straight hair.”
All your face could say was: “This MF-ER!”
Pissed was not the only word to describe that situation. You were heated like a bull seeing blood for the first time. To think a comment like that would come from your friend and another black man, at that. I laugh about it now, because his hair wasn’t going places either, now that I recall it. In that period of your life you wanted acceptance and who would have thought most of the deterrence came from close guy friends and your parents?
“Like, WHAT? Who are you my good sir, to point out my flaws and not even ask why I decided to become a better version of myself? Have you no shame?”
While the comment didn’t affect you for too long, it did leave an impression that love is opinionated and you grow and learn to beat to your own drum. After this moment, you realized that it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade people. Everyone was obsessed with straight hair and was abrasive to the idea of you stepping outside of that ideal.
Sooner or later, junior year rolled around, and your hair had finally reached a thickness that would put your sophomore year to shame.
Your thick ass afro was growing out like sunflowers standing tall in a sunlit sky.
Yet you never stopped to think about who would give you the most trouble with your hair…
MOM. *cue suspenseful music* *sighs*
Talking to mom was the hardest part because she regrets giving you a relaxer, especially when you were younger. In the end she loves the length of your pressed hair. You got the feeling that she was projecting all her hair dreams and fantasies on you. You had what she didn’t have at your age. She was teased for having short hair that didn’t fit the context of social norms during her younger years.
Your hair will not be used as an excuse for someone’s insecurities, instead, it will be upliftment to go natural. Over time feelings mature and views change to encompass an evolved identity. Now, that funky 4C afro was healthy, thick, and curly, which amazed you.
“I want to put my hair in bantu knots and once I take them out my afro will pop like the stars in the sky,” you said.
You had many failed expectations with your hair, but that’s what helped you understand what kind of hair you were given. Instead of “why couldn’t that be me?”, you learned to turn it around and encouraged girls in your age group to transition to their natural hair. You created your own reality: one where you didn’t scorn yourself for having kinky hair, but one that embraced its uniqueness and loved it till the very end.
You changed mom’s perception and helped her cut off her hair and start a natural hair journey with you. You started preaching to the choir, even though classmates, friends, and family didn’t want to hear it at first. In the end, you knew where you stood with yourself and your lovely image. This turned a once aggravating journey into one full of care and love. You noticed that everything was going to be okay, especially when all of mom’s friends asked you a million and one questions on hair maintenance. Since you were now the hair guru, and they didn’t feel like watching YouTube videos, you encouraged a new practice of love in their lives. Eventually, everything started to fall into place and you saw your confidence rise within yourself and those around you. Now, that’s how you take the negative and turn it into a positive! Life doesn’t become easier with people, but it does become easier once you understand that no one has the right answer and you have to create it for yourself. Be brave and create yourself repeatedly.
Jacia (Present Me)
Fortes fortuna adiuvat | Fortune favors the brave
(Featured Image Credit: ‘Layla’, photographed by CreativeSoul Photography/Kahran & Regis Bethencourt)