I grew up in a culture where the little girls had long thick hair and learned how to braid and care for it early. Around 14 or 15, they would cut their hair into teenage styles and/or get a perm for the first time as a rite of passage...I never wanted to grow up. However, at 17, I was sick and tired of the bi-monthly weekend hair marathon that plagued my life. Day 1: wash, oil, and braid. Day 2: press. I had to ask myself, "why in the hell am I doing all this?" Originally, I saw a perm as a solution to my problem: if the napps were gone, I could comb my hair after washing it. However, nobody told me that perm maintenance was a pain in the ass. So I decided to get my first perm and after 2 years and 3 consecutive perms, I realized that I simply couldn't stomach the smell. So the perms stopped and my napps came back...only it wasn't the hair I knew. It was coarse and raggedy. One cousin braided extensions into my head so I wouldn't have to deal with it while I was studying in Madrid and backpacking around Europe. When I tired of those braids another cousin introduced me to the sew-in. I was confused and itchy for 2-3 months. Finally, once my safe nappies returned to me, I asked a guy from my church to start my locs. I didn't know what I was doing. I just knew I didn't have time for the weekend hair marathon anymore.
The scariest part of the ordeal was that during my pop culture exploration phase, I didn't recognize myself. I wanted me back. When I got locs, I felt like I got me back. It was a way for me to maintain the silhouette of "me" that made sense to me without all the work. However, During my hair journey, I learned quite a bit about people. It was an experiment of sorts, and these are the results:
1. Reactions I got when I had long thick hair:
"why don't you have a perm?" or "you would look so pretty with a perm."
"dang! Your hair is thick!" or "You got too much hair!"
"are you mixed?"
"You need to straighten your hair."
"You can't go swimming like that."
"You should let your hair down."
"That's not your real hair."
2. Reactions I got when I had straightened hair:
"You are so pretty."
"I thought you were pretty and then I realized it was you!"
"would you like to go to prom?"
"would you like to go out?"
"Your hair is sooooo pretty!"
"You think you better than me? You ain't cute."
3. Reactions I got when I had braided extensions:
"I want you to be my girlfriend."
"Who did your hair?"
Note: I spent the majority of that time in Madrid, so I didn't have a lot of reactions. I was usually ignored by non-American or non-African students and non-students. It was the most peace I'd experienced in life until then.
4. Reaction to the sew in (long black hair that curled at the ends).
"Is that a weave?"
"See, you're not like other girls. You know the value of hair."
"You look really nice!"
5. Reactions to my new locs:
"Are you a rasta now?"
"Are those braids?"
"You look a mess!"
"Why would you do that to yourself?"
"As long as you're happy..."
6. Reactions once the locs grew longer:
"Your hair is sooo pretty!"
"What's up Queen?"
"See, we as African peoples have to come together."
"What do you know about the 5%"
"That's not your real hair."
"Who did that?"
"Got a lighter?"
This all transpired over the course of about 9 years from 1999-2008. My conclusion:
1. people are full of shit.
2. All I really want is to recognize myself. Every once in a while, I do. The journey continues.