‘I thought there wasn’t a place for me to be attractive’: Why learning to love my natural hair should not have been a revolution

My mom tried to warn me about the dangers of relaxers for Black hair, but I didn’t care

Looking back, I never realized the importance of my mother twisting my hair. I remember the smell of the grease and incense. I remember Mary J playing on the stereo in the background, while my mom prepared the container of beads, ballies, and barrettes for my next hairstyle. 

She was always so excited to style my hair in braids, twists, or afro puffs, telling me how cute I looked. But for some reason I never felt that cute.

I remember going to the beauty supply store with my mom while she shopped for oils and cream for her locs, and I would always stop in the relaxer aisle. While there, I would just stare at the girl on the Just For Me Relaxer kit and think how pretty she looked with straightened hair. My hair looked nothing like that.

Growing up, I attended Exton Elementary, a predominately White school in a predominately White suburb of Philadelphia. All I saw was girls with long, straight hair down their back. I remember thinking how easy their hair was. They could just straighten it, put it in buns, braid it, and it didn’t require hours of work like my hair did.

As a young Black woman trying to fit in, I begged my mom for a relaxer. And she tried to warn me about how dangerous they were for Black hair. But I didn’t care — I just wanted to fit in.

My mom finally gave in and let my grandmother relax my hair. I remember how much it burned. I remember the horrible smell. I figured that something that smelled that awful and hurt that bad must not be good for your hair, but I was desperate to look like everyone else. 

When the process was all done, and my Grandmother washed that horrible gunk out my hair, I was so excited. My hair was so laid down, and when she blew it out it was down my back just like the girls at my school.

I swore I was the cutest girl on the playground, flipping my hair over my shoulder and watching it blow in the wind. I felt more attractive, and believed that I was finally fitting in at school. Also at the time, I liked the attention I was getting from my peers.

Looking back, I saw my relaxed hair as bringing me one step closer to looking like my White classmates. I confused their compliments and fascination for praise, instead of the exoticizing it truly was.

In my eyes everything was great — until one day, as my mom was straightening my hair, she showed me the damage the relaxer was causing.

My hair in the back was so short. Just two months after I started using relaxers, my hair had turned into a bob. Only I didn’t cut my hair like that on purpose. The chemicals were just too strong for my hair to handle, and they burned and frayed my hair.

From then on, I decided to be natural. If I were to get my hair straightened, it would be done solely by the Dominicans. The Dominicans only use heat, no chemicals, and because of this, my mother and I thought that my hair would not suffer from the same issues. So once again I was happy, having straightened hair down my back. 

I kept going to the Dominican salon for a few years and the same thing kept happening. My hair kept returning to the unwanted bob cut.

Once again, my mom decided to twist my hair. I wasn’t really looking forward to this, because I was afraid I was going to stand out. When she got done though, and curled all my twists up, I was so surprised.

I actually liked how I looked without my hair straightened. I realized that I was beautiful without the relaxer in my hair. No one in my school had this hairstyle, and I began to enjoy how I would walk down the halls and people would look at me in utter confusion and amazement. I truly started loving who I was, and what God gave me.

I also realized how much of a blessing my hair truly was and is. My mother twisting my hair when I was little was important because she was trying to teach me the importance of loving my natural hair.

I thought there wasn’t a place for me to be attractive or to love myself in a world that glorifies European standards of beauty. But the love I had and still have for myself due to my natural hair is out of this world, and incomparable.

My hair is unique. During my journey, I realized that just because I did not fit in, it did not make me unattractive, but even more beautiful. I was so happy to embrace my uniqueness, and wear my fro with pride.  It took some time for me to embrace who I am, but when I look back, I am proud to see how far I’ve come.