When I began dating my husband, almost two decades ago, he would always say things like, “I love your curly hair,” “You should let your hair out,” or “Your hair makes you look wild. I like it!” My response was always a quick giggle and I’d swiftly change the subject. I did not want to hear anything about curly hair. Curls just were not my thing. To me, they never came out right or looked coily enough, so I just ditched the idea and got weekly blow outs.
Throughout my life, I struggled with the image of what beauty was. For most of that time, it did not include a head of curly hair. To my defense, the market was flooded with images of straight, glossy hair and little to no products to tame this wildebeest on my head. I still remember being made fun of in school, especially during those rainy or humid days, when the animal stirred. My poor mother struggled. We tried it all; hot comb on the stovetop, wired hot comb, mom-made rollers with a dryer that looked like a space contraption and finally, the inevitable… The Relaxer. I was told it was the best and “only” way to quiet the beast.
Back in the days, Paul Mitchell and Sammy were amongst the first brands that brought along some change for curly heads. Their initial products were filled with so much alcohol; however, the move generated signs of hope. With the emergence of these products, I remained undeterred from my quarterly relaxers, but they did strike a nerve. Those first days of trial were HORRIBLE! It takes time to figure out a product. If you follow the package directions, they always say use a “dime size” or a “dollop” amount. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH HAIR IS UNDER HERE?? ME NEITHER!!!
In college, I met a unicorn who would help change my view. This mythical creature came galloping into my Philosophy class with the biggest head of curls I had ever seen. She had attitude, a cascade of dark brown hair and a name I could barely pronounce. It would take months before I could properly say her name and realize the initial attitude she strode in with was just a lame gimmick. She was actually more Queen Geek than Queen Swag…lol!
My new friend was super smart, full of confidence and believed her hair had super powers. She felt very much like Samson from the biblical story Samson and Delilah. She did not straighten her hair, unless for a special and rare occasion. She did not believe in the hair salon. Those trips always lead to TWO hairdressers tugging simultaneously at her head. On regular days, a normal hair band did not grasp this great head of hair. She would use this coily, shoe lace looking gadget. I’m pretty sure it held magical strength.
During the summer months, when I found it too hot for a salon and would forego my visits for my less than impressive curls, the unicorn would say, “I like when you leave your hair curly.” I would then regress to self-deprecating comments and eye rolls. With time, my friendship with the unicorn would deepen and so would my relationship with my hair.
In the fall of 2007, five years after we first met, the unicorn dropped a bomb on me; she had found a marble sized lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was distraught. I was in complete shock. We were only 27 years old. I was five months pregnant with my first child. We don’t get breast cancer at this age. That just doesn’t happen! She was in her second year of law school. It just can’t happen. What did this mean?
While we grieved around her, my friend dismissed all chances of failure or defeat. She underwent a double mastectomy, chemo therapy and radiation like a true champ. Rather than go through the torment of watching her tendrils fall away, she did the bravest thing ever, she buzzed it all off. Those days seem so long ago in my mind.
It would be a long 4 years of pain, tears and more laughter than one would expect from the situation. Her cancer eventually spread and in the winter of 2012, she was told there was nothing they could do for her but make her last days comfortable. I immediately rushed to her side to be with her. It was around this same time that I stopped visiting the hair salon to straighten my hair. I began searching for products that would allow me to “fuss” less with my hair and spend more time on important things, such as preparing to say goodbye to someone who had become an important part of my life.
One day while visiting her, I remember telling her, “You know, I have been wearing my hair curly in Homage [pronounced ohhh-mage…it would always make us crack-up] to you.” She responded with a big smile and her signature response, “Ayooooo!” Thus began my transition. I quit the salons and blow dryers cold turkey. It was not a pretty transition. I did not do the “Big Chop,” but I did have to submit to the scissors and cut off a lot of heat damaged ends.
I began to embrace my new found hair. I loved the freedom it brought me and the questions that were always asked like, “Is that really all yours,” “Can I touch it?” It was nice not worrying about humidity and rain or the hours in the hair salon with rollers, under a dryer or waiting for my turn to be burnt crisp at the end of a blow dryer.
It has been over 4 years since I gave up the “straight life.” I admit to rare visits to the salon for a wash and set, but I much prefer my wash and go, instead. I’m so proud of my head of hair. It is such a part of my character and my identity. Being natural is extremely important to me. It is my badge of honor, a gift from my ancestors and my culture. It shows my children how proud I am to look the way I do and how confidant I am in my own skin.
My biggest curl supporter is still my husband. He recently found some old videos of us and I couldn’t help but cringe at how fried my hair looked. I made him shove those videos back in the garage. I’d like to pretend I have always loved my hair, but hey…we all have a story. The journey to self discovery must begin somewhere.
I dedicate this blog post to my unicorn, Yadisa Disla, the curliest headed girl I have ever met. She lost her battle to Breast Cancer on May 30th, 2012. Halloween was our favorite time of year, so it is fitting that I should post this today in her honor. You were a mystical creature, whose laughter and spirit will be forever missed. I love you my bone pony!
Breast Cancer is a real threat to women throughout lines of color, language, religion and financial means. As we draw a close to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, support the cause however you can. We all know someone who has been affected. Help the Fight! http://makingstrides.acsevents.org
Follow me on Instagram (mommyzbeautyrulez) and twitter (mommyzbeautyru).