This is the first in a series of essays that I’m bringing to The Feisty House. As many of you know, I do love to write, but I don’t do a ton of writing on the blog, other than the WEEKLY WORD. Well recently I did an “inventory” of who my readers are (thank you for leaving your comments on the “About Me, About You” post), and it turns out many of you appreciate the written word as much (if not more) than I do. Plus it’s always nice to have someone read what I write, versus just hoarding all my thoughts in several notebooks =) Please let me know what you think about the new series. I have quite a few essays that I can’t wait to share with you all!
I never thought about my hair in elementary school. Well, I do have one memory of getting a spanking for wearing a t-shirt on my head and pretending it was my long, flowing hair. But other than that, I can’t ever remember being concerned with my hair or anyone else’s. I went to a predominantly Black school in third and fourth grade, and most girls had already gotten their relaxers, but we were all Jamaican (for the most part) and so whether relaxed or natural, we all had our hair combed into the same styles. I didn’t feel any different from the other girls. I never noticed my hair was kinkier than the slick twists my classmates wore. Even after I moved to a more mixed neighborhood in fifth grade, I still didn’t pay much attention to what my hair looked like. The difference came in middle school. That’s when I started noticing something different about my hair. And I started to hate it.
Maybe it was puberty? Knowing me back then, I doubt it that was the cause, but in middle school I started taking an interest in my own physical appearance. I realized I was shorter than everyone else, but guys liked that, so it wasn’t a bad thing. I got braces in the sixth grade–the guys did NOT like that, but I didn’t mind too much. I knew that I looked younger than everybody else did–something I am grateful for at 28, but didn’t care for at 11–and I started to realize I was one of the only girls with natural hair. When I was in the sixth grade, my mother was still styling my hair in those same four large twists (or two, or three…three twists was the worst). All the other girls were wearing their relaxed hair down their backs. Now I could see the difference between my hair texture and theirs, and I felt out of place.
I remember begging my parents for a relaxer. I remember begging my dad to let me straighten my hair. I got nowhere. I tried to do my own hair in the seventh grade, but I couldn’t manage my stiff, out-of-control (i.e. under-moisturized) afro. I snuck gel into the house, but my hair didn’t care; I would spend an entire Sunday afternoon trying to brush my hair into a slick ponytail only to cave in to defiant strands and weary arms.
I was never teased about my hair. People asked why I didn’t have a perm, but they weren’t mean. I think they felt sorry for me. They told me my hair would be super long if I permed it (I tried using that “fact” to convince my parents to give me a relaxer). They told me I’d be prettier with straight hair (that didn’t work on my parents either). My friends were nice about it; they were always touching my puff ponytail. But I was insecure about my hair. I had made up my mind that once I got older (at what age are you “older”?) I would get a perm.
In my sophomore or junior year in high school, we had a “wacky-tacky day.” I had planned to wear a pretty ridiculous outfit and but I would style my hair as I usually did–a puff ponytail. My dad had another idea though. He suggested I wear my hair in a fro. “All of it? Not just the puff?” Yes, he said, all of it. So we used a pick to fro my hair into a huge, jet black cloud. He gave me some round spectacles, and I went off to school. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of attention I received that day…from everybody. Suddenly the hair that had made me feel invisible and unattractive was the one thing everybody was talking about. The wackiest outfit didn’t hold a candle to my 12″ fro. For the first time, I heard compliments about my hair. Everyone loved it! Football players and nerds alike were completely mesmerized by it. My teachers, children of the 1960s and friends of the equal rights movement, were delighted. And I was…content. That day changed my outlook on my natural hair. I promised myself I would never, ever get a relaxer. Even now, reflecting on how I felt that day, I get emotional because I owned my hair–for the first time–and I’ve never looked back.