hair therapy

I remember the first time I straightened my hair with a relaxer. I was 11- years- old, and I begged my Mom to buy me one. I remember looking at all of the Pantene commercials and how the model's long, silky, and perfect tresses shined behind the camera.The model would whip her hair and it was breathtakingly beautiful and perfect. I didn't know it at the time, but these commercials and advertising images were what defined my idea of beauty. 

Sadly, in my own culture this image of ideal beauty was (and continues to be) supported and propagated by the majority of people. I had what most would define as pelo malo or "bad hair." This loathing for natural hair went beyond my simple desire to change my look. It originated with my culture's own biases against our Afro-heritage and the deep-rooted prejudice against looking this way.

I will never forget the smell of my hair after I straightened it for the first time. It was mix of synthetic plastic and rubber. My once bouncy and shiny curls were replaced with long limp strands of wavy hair, and I couldn't have been happier. It wasn't (and still is not) uncommon for women to go great lengths to straighten and maintain their straight hair. Relaxers, straightening irons, blow dryers, heat treatments-- anything to maintain the perfect ideal beauty. Refusing to go out in the rain or work-out to help maintain this ideal was and is never questioned. At times, I would sleep with my hair wrapped in bobby pins and a scarf in hopes to wake up with my own perfect tresses.

It is hard to believe that I continued to straighten my hair for another 15 years. It wasn't until my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) saw me for the first time with my hair wet and curly. I remember making excuses and apologizing for my messy look. He was shocked and could not believe my hair was naturally curly. His next words truly impacted my attitude toward my natural hair. He looked at me and asked, "Why on earth would you go through all the trouble of straightening your beautiful curly hair?"

What?! My natural kinky curls are beautiful? I could not believe that he said that and was as shocked as he was. That comment moved me enough to begin my natural hair journey and stop straightening my hair. Almost three years later, here I am with my natural hair, several inches longer and the healthiest it has ever been. The transition has not been easy. I have shed tears and felt anxiety leaving the house for an event with my wonky curls that hadn't quite gone back to normal. But I have also felt joy once my hair grew past my shoulders.

Now that our family is expanding and our children could potentially have my type of hair, I am prepared to share my story with them. Our society has defined beauty, gender roles and perfection in a certain way and it will take some time for those attitudes to change. However, we can begin that change with how we choose to act and teach our children. We have the unique opportunity to influence a generation of new people and nurture them to embrace who they are as unique individuals. 

I am in a continual journey to grow and embrace my kinky curls. They may not look like the Pantene commercials I remember, but they are my own kind of beautiful. I no longer have pelo malo but pelo bello-- beautiful hair.