I went natural because of the possibility that relaxers contributed to fibroids. The start of my journey was about my physical health. That said, the big chop was a moment of liberation I’ve sought to recreate in a subsequent big chop and two natural hair journeys. Less than one inch of tightly coiled locs against my scalp felt like freedom. It was about me and what I wanted to do with my hair for whatever reasons I chose. That freedom lasted about as long as it took to grow my hair out because what I’ve realized is that natural or relaxed, I find myself wearing my hair for other people. Let me explain.
When I was little, I wore it for my mother who took great pride in my long healthy hair and a barrette collection that rivaled a beauty supply store (you remember those blue cookie tins—I had stacks on stacks!). My mother refused to let me get a jherri curl and only relented on a relaxer when I appealed to a higher power—my grandmother. In college, I wore my hair for my cohorts. People would often identify me by my hair. Relaxed, layered, feathered and bouncy. “You know Erica?” “Erica with the great hair?” In more than one relationship, I’ve worn my hair for my boyfriend. “I like your hair long” he said. The running joke in my family was that every time someone called my name, I flipped my hair. It was funny because it was true.
While, I’ve never felt that anything about my hair was unattractive, I now realize that’s partly because no one ever expressed negative feelings about it. Having always felt ownership of my hair (I rarely let anyone else touch it, I’ve even done my own relaxers since I was about 11), no one could have told me that ownership was leased through compliments bestowed upon me by others. Am I renting my fierceness?!
Fast forward two years into my second natural journey and it’s business as usual. People around me love my hair. The problem? I’m not so sure I love it. This isn’t a texture issue. I don’t want a relaxer. I love my texture. I don’t love the length. But everyone else seems to. Let me clarify, I had the same texture during my TWA stage. I had the same texture during my awkward phase. I have always alternated between two styles, wash and go’s and twistouts. But now that my hair has a lot more length, the positive comments about my hair have significantly increased. And me? I want it short. Short and honey brown. Maybe tapered. Maybe straight with some color. I loved my chin length bob. I just want it shorter! Why haven’t I made the leap? Because deep down I know that the compliments didn’t come with short hair. So as much as I loved my TWA, despite the boredom with my current length and the fact that wash day takes way more energy than I care to exert, maybe I’m still that same little girl who liked to hear people talk about my pretty hair.
So it occurred to me, as I am sure it occurs to many women. The issue for many of us isn’t whether we are comfortable with the hair we are born with. Instead, the question is how much of that comfort lies in the hands of other people no matter what our texture. It seems to me that the me who flipped her relaxed hair and reveled in the compliments of others is no more secure than the me who hasn’t cut her natural hair for fear of losing the same.
For now, I will probably keep looking at pictures of women with short hair, colored hair, tapered hair and straight hair. I’ll liberate myself again. Especially now that I’ve put these thoughts in writing.
I am grateful for the lesson though. I consistently interact with younger girls through my mentoring program and they often admire my hair. They sometimes express a desire to be natural and I usually offer them whatever tips I think might be helpful. But I’ve realized that more than that I need to encourage them to do what makes them happy. Natural, relaxed, long or short. I want our girls to wear the hair they want for themselves. Not their mother, not their cohorts and not their boyfriends. More than anything, I need to practice what I preach to my girls.
So the question isn’t always whether a girl or woman is comfortable with her natural hair, sometimes the question is why is she comfortable with it?