To begin this new year, I want to share my most recent reflection on my natural hair journey. Though I have not documented much of my experience and have refrained from sharing my reflections at my first and second year anniversaries since my big chop, I finally feel like I am at a place where I am comfortable enough to do so.
Those who have been reading my blog since the very beginning will remember my post on Miss Rizos, aka Carolina Contreras, after my visit to her salon while studying abroad three years ago. It was after my time with Carolina at her salon in Santo Domingo that prompted me to cut my hair. As my peers and I listened to Miss Rizos talk to us about the politics behind hair in the Dominican Republic, I felt inspired to be in the presence of a woman who despite being discouraged by her own family, friends and culture, chose to love her hair, a seemingly radical decision when you have curly or coily hair. I wanted to cut my hair right there in her salon so I could start over and begin the process of loving my hair. After years of blow drying and straightening my hair, unconsciously succumbing to societal and cultural pressure for Eurocentric standards of beauty, it was weak, brittle, thin and unhealthy. However, with some advice from Carolina herself, I waited until I returned home to make the life altering change. Just three days after returning home from the Dominican Republic, I woke up early one morning and headed to the salon with my only directions to my stylist the following: “Cut it all off.” I remember the rest of the day quite well: the mixture of excitement, nervousness, and sadness were heavy and I started to regret my decision before I even left the salon. I went to the bathroom multiple times that day just to look at myself in the mirror to see if my hair was really gone. I comforted myself those first few days with the thought of how happy I would be once my hair started to grow back. Little did I know; my journey would not end when my hair grew back. The journey would, in fact, only just begin.
At my first-year mark, I encountered feelings of frustration and anger. Why? I felt frustrated at how little my hair had grown in the year. Sure it grew and it grew back healthier than before, but I did not love my hair like I thought I would or how I believed I should, so I continued to seek refuge in weaves and other hairstyles with the excuse that I was only doing so to “protect” my hair. I gave myself other excuses too such as “It’s not as long as I want it to be” and “When it reaches this length then I will wear my curls out.” I now know I did so in order to avoid my hair because I was scared. Scared of touching my hair, scared of causing greater damage with my own hands, scared of having to start all over again. And so I journeyed into my second year post big chop still insecure about my hair, still not in love with my hair like I had hoped to be, and still frustrated as ever with my hair. At my second-year mark, this past May, I was happy to see that my hair was finally a length that I felt comfortable with… and yet I still found some way to resort to wearing weaves and braids in fear of damaging all the new growth I had achieved.
It wasn’t until I moved to Miami, this past June, that I finally decided to rid myself of the excuses. Not only did I feel extremely uncomfortable in 90° weather with bundles of hair that were not my own knotting and matting against my scalp, but I felt silly. I began to ask myself questions such as “Why are you doing this to yourself?” “Do you really not like your own hair that much?” And the most powerful one of them all, “When did you learn to hate yourself so much that you feel like you have no choice, no power, no control over your hair?” I felt imprisoned by the weave I wore under the Miami sun. And so, I took it out.
I wish I could say that was it. I wish I could say that I took my weave out and was immediately physically and mentally freed, but it wasn’t quite so. No longer having weaves and extensions to hide behind can only be described as another learning experience. I had to learn how to once again be comfortable with the hair that grew from my very scalp. Although this part of my journey was uncomfortable, it further enlightened me on just how badly I had damaged my sense of self and confidence in these last two years by hiding behind hair that was not my own.
Today, a little more than 30 months after my big chop, I now find myself cringing at the idea of sewing a weave on to my head in fear of not being able to recognise myself again, allowing the weave to dictate my beauty, my confidence and my sense of maturity. I saw myself as a different person with a weave in the same way I did with straightened hair: someone more beautiful, more refined, more socially acceptable for it is what many of us black and brown girls are taught. This change in mindset comes just four months after lots of trial and error, and lots of tears. But I also couldn’t have done it without the positive support I received from loved ones, specifically my partner who had his own natural hair experience, and the representation I saw around me of black and brown beauties rocking and owning their natural hair on a daily basis. It was these factors that gave me the strength to continue each day, to try again each morning and to be patient with myself and my hair as we learn our way around another again.
Although I wish it didn’t take so long for my journey to come full circle, I do realise every phase was necessary for my growth and journey to self-love. There is still much left to do in working towards loving myself and my hair unconditionally, but I rest easy knowing that my greatest challenge, recognizing the beauty in my curly hair, is behind me.