Recently, my hairstylist told me that he wished he hadn’t relaxed, blown out and chemically straightened as much natural hair as he had in his career. I told him of my natural hair journey and the near decade it took for me to embrace my natural 3C curls. “It was a different time,” we’d both conceded, as he washed hair and took me back to his chair for a wet trim.
I was twelve years old when I received my first straightening iron, and by the time I’d even considered returning to my natural curls, I was convinced the damage was far beyond repair. As a mixed-race woman (I’m half Jamaican and half Filipino), my hair is something that’s part of my identity and tells a story without words. But growing up, that’s definitely not how I saw it.
These are the words I associated with my hair – whether they came from others (hairstylists and friends alike), or were the ones I told myself, right before picking up the straightener. But somewhere along the line, our beauty standards shifted, natural hair appeared more and more in western media and I found the confidence to say enough is enough.
During that (literal) return to my roots, I realized it’s not just hair. Feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said: “Hair is hair – yet also about larger questions: self-acceptance, insecurity and what the world tells you is beautiful. For many Black women, the idea of wearing their hair naturally is unbearable.”
For me, embarking on that “unbearable” journey over two years ago was the beginning of my self-acceptance, and in the long run, my self-preservation. Accepting my hair in its natural form meant presenting my full self to others. It meant being unapologetically me. And it meant building my own self-worth.
Along with the re-growth of my coils, these words found their way to the forefront of my mind instead of the former. At one point I remember looking at a photo of myself with my dark curly hair – messy and falling in all directions – and thinking, “THIS is what I’m meant to look like.”
These days, I’m quite vocal about decolonising our beauty standards and accepting that internalised racism is more common than we think. The beauty of having been through my journey though, is knowing that we’re all capable of change, and oftentimes change is good.
So no, it’s not just hair. In my case, my hair is what makes me, me. And whatever that means in the future – whether it’s giving it the TLC it needs, wearing it naturally, or experimenting with different styles too – I look forward to looking back at my hair stages and feeling pure joy rather than regret.
By Ebony-Renee Baker