My experience with relaxing my hair was actually not a bad one. Instead, it allowed for me to understand how to care for my hair. Though before I get into the details, I wanted to touch on something first:
Many women with natural hair turn to relaxers to conform (knowingly, or unknowingly) to the beauty standard that “straight hair is beautiful”, and that nappy hair is ugly. There are so many young girls out there that never even had the chance to appreciate their coils before the idea that they had “bad hair” was forced on them.
I know I was very lucky in that those views were never really pushed on me. While it could be true that I was influenced subconsciously by the media’s portrayal of beauty, in my day to day life, people were telling me the opposite. Like I said in Part 1, I was always being encouraged to wear my hair out, and then there was my mother who kept telling me how lucky I was to have so much hair; that women would kill to have my hair. Because of this, it had never occurred to me other people might think my hair in itself was ugly.
It’s a subtle difference, but I was more concerned with how people would judge me, not my hair. I thought that if I tried to wear my hair out, I wouldn’t be able to pull it off properly. Then, as a result, people would look at me and think, does she even know what she’s doing with her hair? or that’s not how it’s supposed to be done..
When I finally relaxed my hair, there was never a question on what look I was trying to pull off, and it was much more difficult for a style to go wrong.
That first day, when we got my hair relaxed, my mom would not stop poking fun at my vanity. It was a windy day, and I was in awe every time the breeze would kick up. Then where ever we went, I would tilt my head and look into anything that could provide me with a reflection. It was 50 times worse than when I had my hair flat ironed.
Then there were the compliments. Oh man, the compliments. On Facebook, in person, everywhere! There were of course, many heartbroken people who were crushed to see the smoothing of my curls, but the overall reception of my relaxed hair was so good that I didn’t once doubt my choice.
So Summer passed, then in Fall of 2011, I moved to New York City. (I swear, this was not nearly as glamorous as it sounds.. but another story, for another day.)
In all reality, had I been doing the same things I was doing to my hair back home, my relaxed hair probably would have broken and fell off inch by inch. But that didn’t happen, because I met an amazing person who is still one of my closest friends today.
Growing up, I had never befriended another person with hair like mine, and the moment we met, she probably saw that I had no idea what I was doing. Actually, I know she saw I had no idea what I was doing, because she basically flat-out told me so.
In that year, we went to beauty supply stores together, she set me up with a wash regimen, showed me how to wrap my hair for bed, and told me when I needed to get my roots done. She taught me that because our hair was in a relaxed state, we needed to put in the extra effort so it wouldn’t get damaged. (Seems like common sense now, but at the time, this was all so foreign.) This “Education” she provided me with set me up with the foundation for how I take care of my Natural hair. In fact, I still use some of the same products she introduced me to!
I actually think that thanks to her, my hair was less prone to breakage and dryness while relaxed, than it was when I was in high school. Overall, my hair was as healthy as you could call it with all the chemicals in it.
The brilliant thing about getting my hair relaxed in New York, was how cheap it was. I would pay $50 – $60 maximum each touch up, and not feel put out, even as a jobless student. The low cost was because there were so many different places to go, so the market was more competitive. I would type in Hair Relaxing into google maps, and bam, my options would light up all over the screen.
Back in Vancouver, hair relaxers were more of a specialty. That, and it was hard to find a hairstylist who had even half the experience in doing the treatment as someone in New York did. There just aren’t as many black people here.
So when I moved back home a year later, and when my kinky roots began to show, my options were well over a hundred dollars.
Between the cost, my general laziness, and my mom and grandma telling me to leave it be, and let my natural hair grow back, I never ended up booking an appointment to get my hair relaxed again. Instead, I fell back into a routine that was similar to the one I had kept before I left. The only difference was that I had begun to wash, blow-dry, and straighten my hair by myself.
The thing was, I would still resort to hiding my hair in buns and headbands. I was feeling as though month by month, as my new growth came in, that my hair was growing more and more unmanageable again.
Around this time, my mom was getting really into Googling things about natural hair. When I’d come home from work, she’d tell me about things that seemed strange at the time like, “Teenie Weenie Afros”, and putting Olive Oil mixtures on her head.
All of the natural hair care talk went completely over my head. I thought it was great for her, but it didn’t seem like something for me. I didn’t identify with the styles or textures she showed me, since they were all 4c, and super short, so I encouraged her to do her thing, but I would keep doing mine.
If only I had then realized the potential in what she was researching.. But like I said, I was stubborn.