My Natural Hair Journey, Chapter 1: In the Beginning

I should have waited six weeks to post this one, but it’s been the meditation obsession of my heart over the last few days, and maybe making it more public will help me get off the dime.

Approximately two years ago, my oldest daughter asked to have her hair flat-ironed, i.e. straightened from its natural state with heat to expose her length, show off curls, etc.    Previously, this was a once per year exercise for the dance recital, allowing her to wear whatever hair style was deemed appropriate for the accompanying costume.   Now, in light of her maturing into young womanhood, I remember taking down her hair and, perhaps for the first time, realizing how dry her ends were.    I had the same eye-opener when I braided the younger daughter’s hair.   After making what immediate adjustments I could (non-professional bouts with scissors, oils, etc.), I had this epiphany: I could not treat their natural hair with the same products I used to take care of my permed hair.    This realization forced me to educate myself on black hair–our natural hair–and what it took to produce a healthy,  non-chemically treated, heat-minimized head of gorgeous African-American hair.   As I read, I immediately noticed the overwhelming amount of information, not to mention products, dedicated to keeping our hair, well, our hair.    My reaction to all of this as I began to invest in the children’s hair was, “I could do this.”    I was inspired, but not convinced.   Blame it on some combination of fear and laziness.

Well, that seed has germinated for almost two years now, and after watching Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” a couple of nights ago, I finally made a decision: I will make the transition back to my natural hair in 2011.

Why’s that such a big deal?   I’m glad you asked!   🙂     It gives me an opportunity to share all that’s been marinating in my head for the last couple of years, to perhaps educate someone else, and to remind myself of where I started.    This was a HUGE decision for me for a number of reasons that I’ll elaborate on, but for now, suffice it to say that it was significant enough to me that I wrestled with it, prayed over it, and talked to my husband about it–repeatedly.    I don’t think he realized what a big decision this was for me.

I began with some thoughts about what the Lord had to say about hair.   Before the birth of Samson, his mother was given this instruction:

No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”  (Judges 13:5)

This is my hair dresser’s personal favorite, tacked to the wall of her shop:  ‘And isn’t long hair a woman’s pride and joy? For it has been given to her as a covering.’ (1 Corinthians 11: 5)

Because I embrace the Bible as, among its many purposes, a  documentation of Jewish history and culture, I don’t think of the reference to ‘long hair’ as a literal mandate, but I get it: hair is important to the Lord.    In completing my research, I even found sites where Christians debated–with passion–what the Lord says about hair loss (particularly in women) given His Word in 1st Corinthians.   It is one of the first items people notice about our person, and whether we want it to or not, it says much about us.    Moreover, whether we’d confess it or not, we judge others, in part, by the outside WAY before we take time to uncover what is underneath.    Having said that,  I do not want hair that turns more people away than it brings.    This was one of many points made in the “Good Hair” movie, which featured weaved-up rapper Eve and actresses like Nia Long (“Are We There/ Done Yet?,” “Big Momma’s House”), Vanessa Bell Calloway, and Raven-Symone (“The Cosby Show,” “That’s So Raven”).  Raven-Symone makes the point that relaxed hair (straightened permanently) is about fitting in and making others comfortable around you.     Though it stepped on my toes somewhat to hear it, she vocalized what I’ve thought every time I watch an African-American NFL cheerleader swing her overly-straightened, presumably Asian weave amongst her Caucasian counterparts, whose hair swings by its nature.    I think the same when I flip through the television and see commercials of reality television stars who look more like me, but whose hair looks like Cher’s.    I think the same when I see many African-American actresses and wives of someone who is often in the public eye with waist-length curls: is that really yours?    As a purposeful digression, I loved Patti LaBelle’s stance on weaves from her “New Attitude” days: when people asked her was the hair hers, she’d say, “It sure is.   I paid for it.”

This is the point that grabbed me: straightening our hair is as much about conformance as it is about other factors.   So, given my former insistence on chemically taking out my natural curl, have I been conforming for the sake of fitting in easily, or is this really a thought-about, prayed-over decision?     When I look at my friends who are struggling with cancer–beautiful ladies like Carol and Karen who now sport close “dos”–I realize that the continued exposure to sodium hydroxide no longer interests me.   (In one scene of the movie, a scientist shows sodium hydroxide burning through the layers of a piece of raw chicken, a sensation I’m familiar with when I’ve scratched my scalp too much before sitting in the hair dresser’s chair).   If my diet and exercise habits can change to reflect God’s best for me, why can’t my hair?

I began to put all of this down on paper in the hopes of allowing my thoughts to gel.

At the end of day, practically speaking, this is what it boils down to: the convenience, the flexibility, and the comfort zone of my currently relaxed tresses, or the health, wholeness, and less-traveled path of my natural hair?    Additionally, therein is the kicker: between hot combs as a kid, and then a perm in my teen years, I only vaguely remember what my natural hair looked and felt like.    Yes, there is that minimal growth of natural hair right before I get it re-permed, but I’ve not paid close attention to it; after all, I’m about to get rid of it.    It becomes no more to me than a signal that I need to make an appointment at the salon.

The bottom portion of my scribblings, after my pros and cons chart, was my heart, penned and poured out before the Lord:

Lord God, You know me better than I know myself.  You know the hair that I’ve had straightened since before I can remember.  Not only that, but you also know my heart’s desires and my motives.   You know my fears.   You know the people who’ll need to receive me.   You know how the enemy will attack my self-esteem and self-confidence through people.   You know my husband, his needs, his desires, and my desire to please him.   You know the time that I have and what needs to be managed in that time.    You know the ministry that will flow from me, including my personal appearance.   Bless me with wisdom.   Lead me to people.   Most of all, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, allow me to treasure Your Word that Your grace is sufficient for all my needs.   Thank You in advance, Father.   All praises to Your Holy name.

There’s so much to share, but this post has become long and my time is short.    One last thought, though: the movie ends in making a point that the obsession over hair is by no means centralized among African-American women (although we buy 80% of the products).    Consider this, my sisters in Christ of a different hue: are you really blond?   Do you hide your grey, and what does your care of your coif say about you in the larger scheme of things?   What would your hair testimony be if you simply worked with what God gave you?

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6 thoughts on “My Natural Hair Journey, Chapter 1: In the Beginning

  1. Oohhhhhhhhh! I want to give you a big hug!!! I struggle with the same kind of thing with my brunette hair turned gray. A year ago (or so) I caved and started coloring it because, frankly, a few of my relatives nagged me to do it. And everyone loves it. But my husband….doesn’t care either way and says I’m beautiful in gray. So in order to avoid the mohawk look while growing it out, I started coloring a semi-perm on just the top and letting all the underneath part grow back for less of a shock-grow out phase. But I am done! I did the last coloring before Christmas family visits (because I am a wimp at heart) and woo hoo I am going back to gray. No more coloring, no more $$$, and you know what else? I am growing it LONG like I want to and I don’t care how many stylists tell me I look better with layers or a shorter cut or or or… You’re so beautiful, Belinda! I can’t wait to hear more about your journey.

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  2. I think you bring some wonderful points that apply no matter what color our skin! I have been trying to figure out what in the world to do with my own head of hair as well, and it’s hard to find a balance. I don’t want to spend a considerable sum of money on my hair, nor a considerable amount of time on it, either. I stopped coloring years ago, and I guess when it turns grey (or SILVER, as I prefer to say!) then so it will be.

    On a side note, I’ve heard great things about that movie, too. As a matter of fact, several adoption/foster care caseworkers have recommended it to caucasion parents who are suddenly needing to know how to care for a child’s African-American hair!

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  3. Oh my goodness!! After reading this post, I almost picked up the phone and called you! 🙂 You are so very transparent. Wow! I love it. The things that women struggle with!!

    Yes, cancer has resulted in my recent natural hair style, but I’ve gotta tell you, I feel so free! Not only is that bill eliminated every 6 weeks, but my hair is so much easier to manage. For now, it’s very straight – not at all like my natural hair used to be, but even when it curls back (IF it curls back), I will continue to embrace what God gave me. I seriously regret perming Sarah’s hair almost 6 years ago. With baby girl #3 on the way, I just couldn’t imagine fooling with 3 heads on Sunday morning!! So, I took Sarah to my stylist for her first perm. It was beautiful at first, but now, it’s so very damaged and just looks unhealthy. I just told her yesterday that I think we should go back to natural/flat ironing only. Now that she’s so accustomed to her “conformation”, she’s having a hard time with the idea. 😦 We watched the “Good Hair” documentary a few months ago and it was then that I decided that I will NOT perm Camille’s hair. (And you KNOW how much hair she has!!!)

    I am impressed and touched by the way you sought God’s direction in this. What an example of “acknowledging him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6). I know you’ll make the right decision.

    You’re beautiful in so many ways, Belinda. I’ll love you in any hairstyle. I know all your loved ones feel the same (well, at least they SHOULD). Submitting to God’s workmanship and design is so hard for us women. Why is that? Isn’t he all-wise and perfectly competent. I tell my girls all the time, “God made you just the way you need to be. He made no mistakes!” What a tough lesson to learn for girls of all ages. 🙂

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    • You did call me, silly, and I’m grateful for the call and for you. You are such an inspiration to me. and our family has been praying for you each night at prayer time. I also lift you up to the Lord each time your face comes to mind (which is often, my friend!).

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  4. I just ran across your blog this morning (a friend had linked to homeschool ideas you had) and I got sucked in to reading all kinds of things. I’m a homeschool mom of 4 who dyed my hair for all of 6 months. I’m over a year into trying to go back to my natural (and pretty gray) hair. I think many people don’t like to think about this, but I felt like I became obsessed with my hair and how I looked in the very few months that I dyed it. My heart was wrong, and my focus was off. I felt like I was being fake with everyone. Even though you and I have very different types of hair, our heart struggles with this seem very similar. 🙂

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    • I’m so glad you stopped by, Becki! I’m not always sure that being able read through a number of things on one blog is a good thing–does nothing for my branding, ha ha!! But, I live an integrated life; am I not allowed an integrated blog? I simply don’t have the time to maintain 2 or more.

      As I said when I began this hair journey, the issues with hair and cultural/ societal expectations are not limited to race or ethnicity. Though our hair may be very different, for different reasons, we all have to learn to liberate ourselves from the opinions of others on hair that is “acceptable.” Blessings to you as you move forward!

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