…is free indeed. That was the joke I had with a friend a few days ago. She, too, is transitioning to her natural hair and experiencing the emancipation from chemical perms and all that comes with them. For those of you who aren’t quite as hip to the term “creamy crack,” it is the nickname, said tongue-in-cheek, for the sodium hydroxide-laden relaxer that literally relaxes our curls, or rather, straightens our curly hair. The reference to “crack,” as in crack cocaine, alludes to the psychologically addictive feeling of having your hair straightened and being able to manage it in ways that most of our hair textures won’t allow, i.e., we can work it like our non-black counterparts.
There is a strange twist of irony in the fact that I have exactly 18 “chapters” of my hair journey, given that my original thought was to end my journey after 18 months. That would have been this past June, but at that point, I’d adjusted to the two-textured hair life, and cutting the remaining permed hair would have still been too drastic for me—or so I thought at the time. So I continued forward until on September 6, I cut the last of my permed hair. After almost two years, I had imagined the moment as something far more awe-inspiring. I had fantasized that I’d finally replace all my clip-ons that my once-babies pulled from my ears and lost over time. I saw the kids helping me with an extensive photo shoot outside, so it was almost anti-climatic when I said to the youngest on a morning that I was enjoying my hair more than on most days, “Take a picture of my hair.” Understated. Almost too low-key, because the final picture certainly doesn’t state where my heart has been in these last 21 months.
When I began this hair journey, I wrote this prayer (you can see a glimpse of it in my first chapter):
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.
I wanted to embrace God’s plan A, but I didn’t want to lose my opportunity to witness to anyone because my hair created a distraction. I could state that honestly because, after 30+ years of straightening my hair in one way or another, I didn’t know what would grow if I simply refrained from touching up my perm. So I know, as I reflect on this prayer, that God has done an amazing work, because my natural hair journey topics are the most sought after posts on my entire blog. Of almost 500 entries, these little 18 chapters get more views than anything I’ve written in the last six years. Of course, I have mixed feelings about that, but I’m humbled and thankful that God has indeed allowed me to be a witness.
What the Lord has done through me is one thing; what the Lord has done in me is something else. I came to a realization of something rather heartless and cruel about myself: I’ve spent years judging people by their hair. Is that crazy? And it’s shameful to think of how many opportunities I’ve missed to speak with people because their hair didn’t fit the norm, whether I judged them as mulish because of too much gray, or whether too weird because they wore an afro or their locs weren’t what I thought of as tidy, or their choice of dye color left me scratching my head. I also have to wonder how many people I’ve run toward for the exact opposite reasons—people that my life would perhaps have been better off without. Judge me if you will, but you’ve done it, too. We all do. My oldest sister, as one example, has categorized natural hair—ALL natural hair—as unprofessional. This from a woman who donned an Afro and mini-skirts 30 or so years ago. And I totally disagree (with a style-dependent caveat, of course), but I understand where she’s coming from. It’s a judgment call. Nevertheless, transitioning forced me to pay more attention to my own hair—in all its phases—and to understand that though hair is one of my first visible features, it doesn’t define who I am. With or without my baseball cap, I am worth getting to know. Gray or not gray, I have something to say that is worth a listen. And as I embrace that level of grace in myself, I learn to extend it to others. Underneath that magenta dye is a face, a smile, a thought or two, and a person wholly worth receiving Christ’s love.
The Lord has also used this opportunity to improve my health. I’ve been blessed that, in spite of a diet that needed some, eh, revitalization, shall we say, and in spite of a family history that includes most the diseases that plague our people—high blood pressure, diabetes—I’ve been in good health. I cut out almost all pork and reduced my beef intake from my diet as I aged, and I added more fruit and more water. Life events, like marrying someone who was more health-conscious than me or having children whom I hope have different habits, helped some. But the bottom line is that my overall attention to my eating habits was decidedly haphazard. And haphazard isn’t good enough given my overweight condition and my family’s propensity for certain health issues. My quest with re-growing a brand new head of hair forced me to educate myself, and at the end of the day, that quest probably added years to my life. Now I’m far more conscious of what I put in my mouth and why. Now I can walk away from some previous “had-to-haves” in the name of doing something good for myself, and not look back. I add food items that I hated, like beets or spinach, to my diet very willingly because I understand how healthy they can be, and what it feels like to disguise them in my food while I drink to my good health.
So in this 21 months, the Lord has done a work. When I put pictures together, I really don’t look that different, at least to me; a person who didn’t know me might say, “Oh, look, she changed her hair.”
But I see something different.
I see skin that glows with no make-up, and an unprecedented sense of peace in those eyes. That peace isn’t just about the hair, but the hair, at this point doesn’t cause me undue stress, either.
I’m still going to replace those earrings.