I have met a few women that do not know what color their hair is. They have died it so long (normally blond) that they have no idea what color it is. For many women with lighter colored hair, their hair darkens as they age. For those who have embraced blond and various light shades the hair they had when they started dying it and the hair they have now may be quite different.
I always thought it was strange that they did not know their hair color. I admit I felt a bit snotty about it and their obsession with being blond. What I never did was compare it to my own hair routine. I defined the straightening of my hair as taming it and keeping it neat and presentable.
What I did not think about was the fact that I do not know what my natural hair texture is. I have straightened my hair or had it straightened since I was around eight to ten. I remember going to a salon in the city, I suspect Baltimore and having to go down steps to enter. I remember being twelve and having it done in a salon. I spent years having it cared for every week. I remember the theme of the black beauty parlor and how much I hated it. For a while my mother found a lovely woman who did hair out of her home. But that was not to last forever.
For a while in college I let it grow. Finally, it became to much and I straightened it again after almost a year. I wish I had left it alone. I had a friend then, a white young male that had little interaction with black people. He assumed my hair would be course like wool. I made him touch it one day when we were walking. He was shocked at how soft and fluffy it was.
But I straightened it again and went through my life defining it as how it would look straight. Long, straight hair. That is all I ever wanted. It was what I never had. It requires work. Weekly salon trips. No walking in the rain. And when I was in my twenties I rejected all of that. I refused to avoid the rain for my hair. I wanted to own my hair.
I started to straighten it myself. That, I considered was ownership.
In a way it was. I did my own hair on my own schedule. It never thrived like it did when I was at the salon. I didn’t have the tools and products to keep it straight and flowing. But, I was tired of salons. I was tired of being teased. When I came home from college my mother took me to one place and they spent the entire time going on about my nappy head and how sensitive I was. I wanted to know why I was paying people money to insult me. I hated the environment. I had nothing to share. It was several hours of torment and by then, I was tired of being the target of vicious tongues and arguing with peoples endless desire to give me curls.
My hair has never thrived under my own care. I can get it looking okay for a few hours. But its never made it past my shoulders before it breaks. I have to keep it back in a bun for work anyway. Eventually, I accepted that long hair was not for me and it was another flaw about myself that I had little control of. In many ways I was thankful that I had given up on my looks long time ago. I’d have driven myself crazy.
But it took my own aging, my mother’s frustrating hair thinning, and an article about black women and their propensity to baldness and hair thinning to make me look at what I was doing. It would take another few months before I gathered the courage to do a simple thing.
I stopped straightening my hair. In that moment I threw away a dream. I would never have the long, straight hair that I desired. In it, I developed another one. Maybe I could grow an amazing curling mane instead. Maybe, because I had abandoned hard core hair processing as a teen and only lightly used straighter every 6-8 weeks, I had not damaged myself beyond repair. Maybe, I could come to like the hair that I had been given.
But, I had never really met that hair.
I remember being very small and my grandmother dragging a brush or comb through my hair. I’d squeal and cry out and she’d scold me for being so tender headed. I remember my babysitter brushing my hair. I remember running from people trying to comb or brush my hair because they so often hurt me. In this, I developed an understanding that I had very bad, nappy, unappealing hair.
But now, as I watch it grow in. I don’t know. If it is dry, it is hard to comb. As a child I am sure it was often dry. Hair care had made many advancements since the 80’s. As I transition from straightened hair into my natural hair, I find that I randomly have dry patches that need to be oiled. If I run a comb through it, it hurts. Once I oil it, it is fine. For you see, my hair is dry not oily.
My natural hair is also thicker. The straightening process is brutal and it strips the outer layer. Hairs are interesting and why it curls seems to depend on the way keratin is deposited over the hair. Straight hair has smooth and even deposits. Curly hair has random, causing the level of curl.
I wash my hair to hydrate it and apply fresh oil. I’ve always found the need to wash ones hair because it gets oily fascinating. I wish my hair got oily. It’d be so much easier to manage. I have the dry hair genetic lottery as well.
All of this means that I am relearning my hair. A few weeks ago, I noticed the hair at the nape of my deck had become longer then it has ever been before. Its never made it past and inch and it is now the length of my index finger.
I also had to stop brushing it. I gave my brush to my mother. I’ve used a balless pin brush for years because it didn’t catch my hair like ball tipped pin brushes do. Now, I use no brush and stick to a wide tooth comb. Brushes don’t get along with the spiraling curled texture. It will also just encourage the hair to turn into an afro instead of the spirals I am hoping for.
“I don’t brush my hair.” It is an odd thing to say, but true. I also don’t know how I will look in a year or two. How long it will take for me to have a curly mane or an afro of epic proportions. For now, I pull it back in a bun still and struggle to accept this new look. My hair is no longer neatly slicked back, but softly fluffy. It is still neat but that fluffiness will turn into curls and from there?