HAIR. Any black women will tell you that hair is the most important MUST HAVE accessory to any outfit. It doesn’t matter how cute you look if your head is looking beat. We put some much time, money and energy into something so mundane as hair. We can’t enjoy the pool on a hot summers day, walk in the rain, or exercise for fear we might sweat it out. Oh, and the husband better not even think about trying to touch it. We have learned a bob and weave that can rival the greatest boxers of our time! Our fascination is a billion dollar business. Weaves, dyes, relaxers are no strangers to us; regardless of the age. How many of us put our hoods to our coats on our head, or a towel so we could pretend we had long flowing hair when we were children? At some point our dreams came true. Some of us had our first perms on the first day of kindergarten accompanying our brand new lunch box, back pack and shoes. Of course we couldn’t go to school looking “nappy headed ” like our mothers didn’t care for us. I vividly remember my first perm. It made my hair more manageable for my mother, kept the kids from teasing me, as well as it began a right of passage that every young black girl experiences at some point in her youth. My day was coming where I too would be initiated into the “Processed Hair Association” , and part ways with the unpopular “Nappy Hair Brigade”.
There were 4 girls in my house so my mother, who left for work before we got up and came back when we were in bed, didn’t have time to comb all of our hair each morning. On Friday one of us would have the “luxury ” of having our hair washed and braided. Until our turn we rocked our braids past their expiration dates. I would always hear how my mom had “good hair”, and how long and beautiful her and my sisters hair was. I wanted that “good hair” too and would chase after it until I got it.
I don’t remember the exact date I realized I was black and that my hair was “different”, but I know it happened in the first grade. I was the only black kid in my class. Not only did I realize I was black, so did the white kids. I became the first grade ambassador for the whole black race. Everything that seemed “different” about me, they made sure they would ask me about it and why it was the way it was. Before long it was time for the “hair” questions. Three little fair girls with flowing hair of different colors began to discuss getting their hair washed when one of them turned around and asked me about getting my hair washed. I told them in a matter of fact way that my mom washes my hair every two weeks. Those girls eyes got so big. It was like I had told them the swat team was at the classroom door about to take them down. “You only wash your hair every two weeks? You are nasty!” I didn’t understand what the big deal was until one girl said my hair was nasty because I didn’t wash it every day. The braids with the beads that they use to be so mesmerized by were now my scarlet letter. One of the boys that was ear hustling on our conversation chimed into the conversation, “Ehh, Medusa doesn’t wash her hair!” I went home crying begging my mom to take my braids out and let me have hair like the other girls in my class. I hated my nappy hair and my braids that had branded me with the nickname of Medusa.” Something had to be done!
It wasn’t to long after that I got my first perm. I was so excited. I could “whip it” like the best of them. I rocked it with pride. All was good until my dreaded friend “New Growth” decided to come around. After my mom, in my opinion, ruined my hair, I started going to the salon. (I was my mom’s guinea pig. She learned on my head what NOT to do my sisters hair.) I have always had sensitive skin, but I would almost let the relaxer burn holes in my head before I would tell the beautician it was burning. If I said something to early it wouldn’t be straight enough. As a result I would have sores forming in my scalp. When she would spray the hair spray I was screaming to the top of my lungs…inside. Nothing would get in my way of having “good hair”.
I left for college in 1996. I was slightly in panic mode because I was going to be so far from my beautician. I was blessed to have a best friend who would be accompanying me to college who could do my hair when money was short. My hair dilemma was averted until sophomore year when she decided she was going home and wouldn’t be coming back. I tried my best to keep up with getting my hair done every two weeks, then every three. It was at that point, after MUCH thought I decided to go natural and loc my hair. The year was 1998 and it was the best decision I ever made. It was then I realized I would no longer be a slave to my hair. I no longer would endure pain to be beautiful. There was something beautiful about my chocolate skin (which is a whole other story) and the natural state of my hair. I finally found my “good hair”. A couple of years after that I would have to have chemo therapy to keep my lupus in check. I like to think that GOD was preparing me for the day I would have to do the big chop. It wasn’t as emotional as it would have been if I had not decided to go natural. After all , I am not my hair!
I think about all those years I chased after my idea of “good hair” not realizing it wasn’t my hair that need to be changed, but my attitude towards it. I think about my branding of Medusa in 1st grade. It is so funny because I tried to run away from it for so long and now I am right back where I started. I (Medusa) have been “Happy to Be Nappy” for the past 13 years.