Before I was the confident mother I am today, I was just a woman in her early 20s with a hair crisis.
My hair was falling out. It was damaged again, this time the worst ever from chemical straightening kits, called relaxers. I was scared to keep chemically treating my hair, and I was even more scared to stop.
I had never taken care of my natural hair. I had not even seen it since I was 5. I believed natural hair was nappy, ugly, and impossible to deal with. Yet, I knew something had to change.
Then my biochemist fiance talked me through the chemicals used in the straightening process. It was eye-opening, frightening, and empowering. I had never wondered how it worked. I had never questioned what I was doing to myself.
Like most women, I was conditioned to value my physical appearance more than my health.
I bought into the marketing and societal lie that my natural being was flawed and demanded extreme measures to be acceptable. As difficult as it was, I decided to stop and see how awful my hair really was. Each month I cut away more of the damaged hair until I was left with my soft coily curls. I wish that was the end of the story and that everyone embraced my change, but no.
My parents offered to pay to fix my hair. Colleagues worried I was endangering my career. Men told me I’d be beautiful once I fixed my hair. One day a bus full of kids leaned out the windows and made up a song about my nappiness.
Yet, I stuck with it. I learned new products and routines. I had many failures that eventually were replaced with successes. I began to learn the most important lesson of my life: others’ opinions only hold power over me if I let them.
I learned that there are women who can chemically treat their hair all their lives and never have problems, but I can’t live my life trying to make what works for them work for me.
I learned when I make choices to make sure I am making them because I want to, not because I don’t think I’m good enough without it.
I learned that even people who love me won’t always understand or support me, yet I still have to make the right choice for my own life.
I learned that loving myself and embracing my natural beauty impacts more than me, such as the little girl with itty bitty afro puffs told me in the grocery line, “Excuse me miss, I really like your hair.”
I wondered then how things might have been different for me if I had had just one person with hair like mine that didn’t feel the need to change it. I knew then I’d never chemically straighten my hair again.
Though it started with just hair, a ripple effect spread throughout my life.
I began questioning the food I put in my body: where it came from, what it did for me, and why I was eating it? I questioned my lack of exercise. If I was going to love myself, didn’t that mean taking care of my whole body as much as I was taking care of my hair? I questioned how I was treating the world in which I live. Before I knew it, I had a big afro, backyard chickens, a freaking homebirth, and a few half marathons under my belt.
The mother I am today, the one who can confidently make a decision and let the haters hate, is due to my hair. After that experience, my skin became so thick that by the time I had my babies, there was nothing a well meaning but worried family member or a sanctimommy could ever say or do to hurt me whether it was about birth, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, baby food, discipline, family planning, or sleeping arrangements.
I’m not a better mom because changing my hair made me crunchy.
No, I’m a better mom because changing my hair taught me to do research, question myself, hear others’ opinions, and then choose my own path. I’m proud of the mom my hair helps me be.