“[I] felt like the weight of the world was literally cascading on [my] shoulders”
For as long as I can remember growing up, my hair had always been the villain in my personal beauty journey– something that I had to conquer in order to maintain. As an African-American child growing up in the 90’s, not many examples of beautiful, thick, natural hair full of curls graced the TV screen, but plenty of advertisements for perms and relaxers that can make your hair bone straight and manageable, did. So, here I was, a little girl who felt like the weight of the world was literally cascading on her shoulders, tempted by the long and lovely straight hair perms could provide. I begged my mother for a perm treatment and after trying to “manage” my hair for years, she caved in, and my hair was finally straight like the girls I saw on TV.
“I treated my hair like it had to be whipped into shape.”
For years, I permed my hair faithfully at the kitchen sink every six weeks like clockwork. This process was a normal routine for my mom and I: she would apply the perm to my hair, I would run around the house with a burning scalp to let it “sit in” and work its magic, we would wash it out, treat my scalp for the inevitable burns and scabs, and try to keep it straight until my next treatment in six weeks. At the time, this was the solution to all of my hair problems, and I was able to have “manageable” hair that everyone loved.
I treated my hair like it had to be whipped into shape, trying to mimic other girls whose textures were completely different from my own. At overnight summer camp, instead of embracing my natural texture, I wanted to be like the other girls who were able to wash their hair in the shower like in a shampoo commercial. Then, there were the hair stylists who saw my hair as a challenge, as I sat in the salon for hours waiting to get my hair done, being left for last out of all of the customers due to how “unruly and thick” my hair was.
On one end, my hair was beautifully thick, versatile, strong – the standard of Black hair to some. But on the other end of the spectrum to others, my hair was defiant, unruly, needed to be tamed – these were the mixed messages I received about my hair in various ways throughout my life that shaped the way I felt about it.
“I had to stop punishing my hair for being what it was and start embracing it for being what it was meant to be.”
When I was diagnosed with Tinea Versicolor and severe dandruff in my late teen’s, embracing my natural hair wasn’t just an idea, but a necessity. I had to stop punishing my hair for being what it was and start embracing it for being what it was meant to be. So, in college, I stopped perming and flat ironing my hair and begin to transition to more natural styles and products. Wash days turned into 3 to 4-hour sessions of sectioning, washing, deep conditioning and styling my own hair, but eventually, after seeing the first set of curls sprout from my own head, I never looked back.
Years later, my hair and I still don’t always agree. I am still treating my scalp condition regularly, using a combination of natural hair products and styles that allow my hair and scalp to breathe properly. My hair still needs time and patience, but I embrace that this journey is about giving my hair and myself grace, moving past the trauma and messages others have projected onto me. My hair is bold, beautiful, strong, versatile, at times unruly – all of the above all at once, but it is no longer the villain in my story. With a little patience, grace and agility, my hair has now become the sidekick in my personal beauty journey.
Blair Bedford is a writer and media professional based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Follow her on Instagram at @BlairNoProject.