I don't see hairstyles the same way I used to. Ever since my dermatologist told me I have cicatricial alopecia, I respond differently to various styles. Recently, I was watching the BET awards. Gabrielle Union looked stunning (as usual) in a one-shoulder, scarlet and silver dress paired with strappy sandals. But it wasn't her attire that held my attention--it was her hair. Gabrielle wore a braid style: two-strand twists so long they could've grazed her navel. They were as flawless as she looked. A long time ago (okay, fine, last month) I would've thought, "Yep, totally gonna rock that look this summer." But not anymore. Now I pause and wonder, "What would my fine hair and fragile hair follicles think of that style?"
I had joined the natural hair crusade. I was on the bandwagon and commiserating with others on the same journey about the struggle to maintain two completely different hair textures--relaxed and natural. I was hanging in there with all the other natural-hair transitioners whose videos I'd watched on YouTube. With them, I counted steadily: six months relaxer-free, eight months relaxer-free, and so on. I was down with the cause! And then, one day, I wasn't. My conviction was as pliant as a weft of the finest Indian Remy.
I became frustrated with my coarse, unwieldy hair. I had an important event coming up (okay, fine, it was Beyoncé's The Formation Tour) and wanted to look my best, but I couldn't get an immediate appointment with my hairstylist. So I called a different stylist who, as it turned out, could get me a relaxer that very same day. A relaxer! Soon, my fingers would be sliding though silky strands once more. All of my convictions about harsh chemicals, burned scalp, and embracing my natural hair went out the same window as my two-strand twist jelly as visions of bouncy tresses swirled through my head.
I did it. I got a relaxer. My hair was far shorter than I thought it would be after nine months of new growth from transitioning, but hey, at least it was shiny and straight. I sat in my car and admired myself. And then I drove home. I went into the bathroom, picked up a hand mirror, and then I saw it. There, on top of my head, was an unmistakable bald spot...
I couldn't hide from it anymore. My hair -- this pile of protein that I kept wrapped in synthetic, smothered beneath Remy, hidden under a lacefront -- should not be my enemy. Each coil is as apart of me as my hands and feet. So why the avoidance? Hair is a symbol of beauty. Many of us have been taught that hair is our crowning glory. On the flip side, the difficulties in taming our hair has caused it to be a symbol of shame and evidence of pain for some of us. As a child, I was teased terribly about my "nappy" hair. It was a relief to finally put a Jheri Curl or relaxer in my hair and pretend that I had "good" hair.
After thirty years of chemical dependence and more hairstyles that I can count, it is time to stop pretending I'm Sasha Fierce. I'm not her and I don't want to be. I want to be the best me I can be. It's been nine months since my last relaxer. Am I saying I'll never put a weave, wig, or relaxer in my hair ever again? Nope. I'm saying that in this moment, I want to see, touch, feel, and nurture my own hair.
Okay, cool. But now what? I've studied the YouTube videos and have decided on my first style. The two-strand twists look easy enough despite the fact that none of the women in the videos seem to have my exact fine, thin, kinky 4C grade of hair. Nevertheless, I've fed my brain with the fruit of knowledge that can only come from watching a million videos. I can do this...
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm a little too possessive. A little too clingy with my own hair. I sat in my stylist's chair and watched as she put the finishing touches on my weave. It was a thing of beauty. Fourteen inches of Virgin Indian Remy that was so silky smooth I secretly wished I could swath my entire body in it and wear it like a fur coat. But that would be weird.
I watched as Lisa (not her real name) flat ironed my new hair straight, meticulously ensuring that every strand was sufficiently seared at a thousand degrees.
"I love messy hair," I said, by way of warning, although she knew me well by now.
I love hair that is perfect," she replied. "Every single strand laying exactly where it should be."
Perfection is subjective, though, right? Much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder? I didn't argue. I'd been with Lisa long enough to know how this tale would end.
"I'd like my hair to be curled lightly, so that the curls will fall."
"Your curls shouldn't fall," she replied. "I'll do them tight so they last a few days."
I bit my lip. I didn't want them tight. And if I stated what I wanted, then what was there left to talk about?
When Lisa was done flat ironing my hair, she began to add curls. I watched in awe as Lisa made sure that each curl lay just so. Part of the reason for my awe was that I didn't care. Had I not made clear that I loved messy hair? Pretty sure half of Farrah Fawcett's fame had everything to do with her perfectly un-perfected hair.
I touched a curl.
"Stop it," she snapped. "It's not set."
WTF? It's my hair. My curl. We were clearly having ownership issues.
It seemed as though Lisa spent as much time tweaking as she did styling. When she was all done, my hair looked pretty damned good. It was just missing one thing.
I shook my head from side to side like a woman trying to dislodge a rabid cat clinging to her hair.
"Why would you do that?" Lisa asked, not at all amused.
I smiled. "I needed to get it the way I like it. Now," I said staring back at my reflection with satisfaction because every hair was exactly where it should be: not in its place. "It really is perfect. Thank you, Lisa."
That's what I said to myself the last time I sat in a hair braider's chair. No mas. I love braids in all their various iterations: box braids, kinky braids, Senegalese braids. Love. Love. Love! What I don't love is sitting on my behind for six to eight hours to achieve the look. When I sit in the chair with all my gear (iPhone that serves as my entertainment, bottled water, and even a sandwich or fruit for lunch) I always wonder what else could I be doing with my life?
Okay, fine. The top two can be achieved sitting in the stylist's chair. Still, I'm an antsy, on-the-go kind of girl. The days of me listening to braiders argue amongst themselves in a foreign language or listening to a child cry for hours on end are in my rearview mirror. Does this mean I'll abandon braids? Au contraire!
I have stumbled upon crochet braids. Pre-twisted hair that looks good enough to satisfy my occasional need to feel like an exotic islander has changed my life. The best part is that I can do them myself. I can wash, condition, dry, and install in three hours max. All while I'm being productive... watching a Lifetime Movie.