Broken Combs, Texturizer, Numb Legs and Hair Grease
Broken combs, texturizer, numb legs and hair grease. These words summarize my hair journey perfectly. As an Afro-Caribbean woman, my hair was a topic of conversation straight out of the womb. When I was born, my father knew I was his child because of his constant reminders; “You had plenty hair on your head”. No pun intended, but my hair is the root of my own self-perception.
Hard – Typically describes hair that is tangled and difficult to manage, but is commonly associated with tighter and coarse curl patterns.
Soft – This is not the feel of the hair, but is rather used to refer to looser curl patterns.
I have thick 4c hair, which means it has always been a hassle to manage. My mom, who always kept her hair short so she wouldn’t have to deal with it, was now tasked with styling her daughter’s knotty mane. On Sundays, I would sit down in-between her legs and watch a movie while she twisted my hair. At the end of this process my hair was adorned with hair clips and bubblies (hair ties with colourful balls). When my mom didn’t want to do my hair, my older cousins would sit me down and cornrow funky designs. Although this was my bi-weekly ritual made me feel beautiful, this process was torturous. Sitting still and not moving my head when all I wanted to do was watch tv was impossible. It didn’t help that I would hear comments about my hair being hard followed by the sound of the comb losing some teeth or even on rare occasions snapping in half. Because my family is diverse, we have different features. My aunts and cousins have looser curls and I would subconsciously compare myself to them and ask “How come I didn’t get their hair?” The combination of jealousy and sly microaggressions from relatives were the catalyst for my negative perception of my hair.
Texturizer – Unlike a relaxer which straightens curl pattern, a texturizer is a chemical treatment that loosens the curl pattern.
Protective Style – A hairstyle that tucks the hair away which minimizes the amount of manipulation. In addition, it protects Black hair from harsh elements that can be super drying.
Texturizer – The Bad
Before the age of 6, I never really realized that my hair was different because I was always surrounded by people of colour, in particular, Black people. When I arrived in Canada and started attending a school where I was the only Black person, I realized that I didn’t fit in. At the time, I perceived this as a negative and subconsciously began adapting to my new environment. I didn’t feel beautiful in the cornrows that my mom braided and when I didn’t do a protective style my hair would become “hard.” Despite moving to a predominantly Black school, I was still plagued with a need to fit into Eurocentric beauty standards. So, I begged and pestered my mother until she allowed me to texturize my hair. I used to flat iron my hair on special occasions only (which is problematic in its own right), but this was the big leagues. Texturizing hair was appalling to the senses. My scalp burning and the smell of my dying hair was so pungent that my nose flared and my vision became blurry due to their constant watering. “Beauty is pain” was my mantra through this. Afterward, I would finally have my desired pattern and my thick fluffy helmet was now lacking volume but was at least “soft”. There wasn’t a lot of shrinkage when it was wet and I could pass a comb through my hair without the comb bending. I felt beautiful, but as you guessed, this feeling was as temporary as the product that created it. On the packaging there should be warning labels for children who long to feel beautiful according to society and guardians who feel defeated. Here is what I wish the box stated: straight hair doesn’t mean your hair is long; the damage isn’t worth the five minutes of validation or this will not stop you from comparing yourself to other people. I realize that this wouldn’t be strategic marketing and the little girls with straight hair past their shoulders are more effective. After a year, I regretted my decision. My roots grew in and the ends were stringy and damaged. This looked and was worse than my natural hair, so what did I do? I cut it.
Numb Legs – Healing
I didn’t cut it completely; I am not that brave. But, I had to start new by cutting off the damaged ends. Now my hair was short and I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I wanted to keep my hair natural. It wasn’t possible for me to bring my hair into one ( a ponytail) and at this point I grew out of the hairstyles that my mom could do. To make the situation worse, there weren’t any tutorials on styling my hair texture (Pinterest I am looking at you). Only after the natural hair movement, did we begin to see more information on how you care and maintain Black hair. When I was 11, I was allowed to get box braids for the first time. This was when I began to appreciate my hair because I could finally achieve the length that my non-Black friends had. Box braids last longer when you have tighter curls. My curls had a purpose! However, braids did have a downside; they take forever to do. I would repeat my mantra as I lose feeling in my lower body. The longest I have ever sat down was 14 hours. To be fair, it wasn’t done by a professional; I was in the comfort of my own house and I had breaks. The numb legs are a part of the process, a sacrifice for feeling confident. Braids forced me to take care of my hair which in turn resulted in an admiration of its versatility.
Hair Grease – Confidence
I am in a stage in my life where I am not focused on the appearance or length of my hair, but rather if it is healthy and moisturized. In doing this, funny enough, my hair has grown enough to where I am comfortable leaving it out in afro. I am embracing my blackness and not trying to be palatable in order to fit in. I vividly remember the first time I left my hair out in an Afro because it was only 2 years ago. I was so anxious and scared that people would shove their hands in it without asking, but I only received compliments (and not the backhanded ones). With the help of hair grease and self love (mostly hair grease), I am comfortable with my nappy, hard 4c hair. In doing so, I carry myself with confidence and pride. I cannot speak for the entire Black community, but I am sure that these are shared experiences. Our hair is our identity; it holds the secrets of our past and it is a form of self-expression. I say all of this because if you are feeling or being told that you are undesirable because of your curl pattern, DISCARD that. Your hair is beautiful. Our hair is beautiful.
Wishing you peace, love and hair grease!