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Afro Puffs and Blowouts (part 3)

So I did it. I envisioned waking up in the morning to lustrous curls and easily picking out my hair to perfection. One of my friends tried to talk me out of it. I just didn’t see the big deal. Didn’t she understand? I wasn’t straightening it or anything… I still wanted my fro…just an easier to manage fro.

white afro

I went to my hair dresser but she wasn’t working there anymore.  I was so eager I couldn’t wait to find out where she had gone. I asked the new lady to texturize my hair.

She said she could do it. She pulled out a relaxer. I was confused…she explained that she was going to leave it in less time and that would give me the effect of a texturizer. I should have known something was wrong then. I was against harsh chemicals but after years of having natural hair I had lost sight of why I started. She protected my scalp and her hands and slathered me up with the creamy crack.

Part way through the process she started combing my hair with the relaxer in it and smoothing everything out. This made me nervous too but I didn’t say anything. All of a sudden she exclaimed that we needed to wash my hair fast. My hair was straightening quicker than she had anticipated. My hair had seemed so coarse and now it was turning into putty.

When it was all said and done she tried to puff out my hair but she was lying to herself. My hair fell down around my shoulders…all hope of the afro was gone.  She continued to style my hair like nothing was wrong and I had asked her to straighten it. I think she knew I was upset. I held back tears and entertained ideas of not paying her and making her feel as bad as I did on the inside, but instead I just commented that this was not what I had wanted.

I was heart broken.

All my years of natural growth were gone in an instant. Now I had this long- in between hair that was neither a fro or super straight. It was a little wavy and coily in different places.

After I cried and asked my friends to pray for me because I thought I would lose it- I slowly got over it. I was getting ready to take an emergency trip to Ghana to see my grandmother and I didn’t have time to worry about my hair.

I went back to Ghana for the first time in twenty years with straight hair. I was in the sun and humidity for hours. My hair blew in the wind. I played in the salt filled ocean and let the waves rush over my limp body. And my limp hair survived…I’m not really sure how. I expected it would all fall out but it was stronger than I had thought.

I hated when people complimented my straight hair in the beginning after the accident. It added insult to injury. I felt like a fraud. I didn’t know what to do. At this point in my life  I was out of school and working full-time. I felt the need to explain Why my hair was straight to all the people that knew me before the “accident”.

I kept putting my shoulder bags on and forgetting my hair was there. After it would yank I’d remember that I needed to be more careful because my hair was no longer up-it was down. It was hard to get used to it again and sometimes it just felt like it was in the way. But no pun intended, it was starting to grow on me. I was getting more compliments and I was starting to fit in with what I saw on television.

naomi

I unexpectedly ran into a guy friend from university and told him about the “accident”. again feeling the need to explain myself to my pro-natural friend. He casually said… that’s too bad I guess you’re going to have to cut it and start all over.

I’m sorry, what?

Cut my long straight hair? But it was longer than I’d ever had it. It was a bit past my shoulders and actually looked good and seemed healthy.

I quietly nodded but kept my thoughts to myself. He didn’t understand what had happened and what I’d been through. I’d spent over 5 years slowly growing it out quarter inch by quarter inch and now it was a great length. I couldn’t just –start again. No… I would ride this out…

So I decided to keep relaxing it.

I even planned to get colour contacts again like I had in high school to go with my new style. Yes, I know. I snapped. I tell a bit more about the way I snapped in my new book For Black Girls (coming soon) so I’ll just say that for a few months I forgot who I was.

When my hair started to thin significantly I came back to my senses and proceeded to wear extensions again. I was ready to go back to being natural. Straight hair was overrated and I always seemed to gravitate to big hair.

There was something about striving for an unattainable standard of beauty that wore me out inside. The more I strived the more I did not feel secure in myself.

I grew my hair out till it was long enough to cut for the second time. Once I cut it I wore extensions but this time I tried to go for more natural looking twist styles. I even kept the twist styles short on purpose so that it wouldn’t be a drastic change when I was ready to wear my hair out.

I was natural again for a year or two and my hair was growing fast and looking good until one day I discovered that the whole middle section of my hair had broken off. I had been travelling and swimming in pools and salt water and washing my hair with protein shampoo.  I found out way later that my hair was protein sensitive and that I had to avoid things like that unless I wanted to be bald. All my time in the sun had been damaging my hair and I had no idea. The sad thing was I didn’t know I had no idea how to take proper care of my hair. I thought I was doing alright because I could style it.

Somewhere along my long journey someone had mentioned that I had a bald patch in my hair. They speculated on what it could be. I went to the dermatologist to find out what was wrong with my head. She told me I had –hot comb alopecia! I was confused again. A hot comb had not touched my hair in a long long time so how could I be loosing my hair because of that?

I decided to do my own research and realized this was a generalized term that they had come up with for black women that were losing their hair in the 60’s. They had noticed that a lot of black women had this condition and decided it was because they were using hot combs. The theory was that someone how the heat and grease burned the roots of the hair or clogged the hair follicles and caused hair loss.

The more I researched the more I realized how stupid that term was. In reality I had something called follicular dystrophy. Basically the chemicals, heavy braids, tight twists and hairstyles had cause scarring on my scalp. Some women have no hair on the edges of their head because of tight ponytails and wraps. This is called traction alopecia. So after all of what I went through I also had sustained permanent damage to my head.

Was it worth it? Nope.  It’s not worth it to look cute if you’re going to end up bald for looking cute. Think about that. It may not happen to everyone but over time it can happen. I noticed it when I was around 27. So those of you in your teens be careful and don’t think it can’t happen to you.

I’m so careful with my hair now that I don’t lose hair anymore. The dermatologist told me to be thankfully my hair was so thick to begin with because I had lots of hair left. She said that someone women come to see her with no hair left.

In the end  of my ordeal I  learned something very valuable…

I needed to accept myself and my kind of beauty. If I had just accepted myself and my hair originally I never would have gone for the texturizer from hell. I wouldn’t have lost 5 years of growth. I wouldn’t have started relaxing again. I wouldn’t have gotten permanent scalp damage. It just wasn’t worth it.

I would have learned how to take care of my hair sooner.

Sometimes losing something you value is the only way to appreciate it. I didn’t want to loose the rest of what I had.

I used to complain growing up about the size of my breasts. I wanted them to be smaller. You probably think I’m crazy right now but I had a good reason. I was very athletic and my brother told me that girls with large breasts weren’t good sprinters. When I had to have surgery to remove two tumors from one of them at 21 I realized how dumb I was. I was so scared that I might have cancer. Having breasts seemed like a great deal then.

There were times when my acne was bad and I wished I had different skin. Then I watched a video of young boy that had some disorder that caused his skin to literally fall off. He was in constant pain and needed special treatment just to have a bath.

Time and again I’ve been confronted with the shallowness of my problems. Imagine suddenly losing the thing you don’t like about yourself in an accident or through illness. It changes your perspective. What if we could just accept ourselves and be grateful for what we had? How would life be different?

I finally got to the point where I realized I had to be radical about accepting myself if I was going to prevent something like the accident  from happening again.

So I decided to give up all fake hair completely.  I don’t remember the last extension hair style I had…I just remember that one day I decided I would never again go back to a black beauty supply store to buy hair.

I grew up on braided hairstyles and I loved them on myself and others. It was fun rocking waist length hair at random times during the year. I do miss the braids once in a while but then I remind myself about the alternative…I remember how much I enjoy feeling free and light and playing with my hair. I sleep comfortably now and don’t have to worry about my braids being filthy as I try to preserve the hairstyle by keeping them from getting wet. I think about the the hair loss I went through and how that can start all over again if i’m not careful. The thoughts help me sober up quick. It’s fun looking different every now and then but I remind myself about embracing me.

 

(That’s not all- I’ll tell you what I learned next week!)

For Black Girls book

 

 

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