My Natural Hair Journey, Chapter 31: Fried, Dyed, and Laid to the Side

It’s that time again: the annual dance recital.   If you find yourself anywhere on the continuum of dance moms, you know what that means–mending, ripping, customizing, and purchasing. And though our dance studio does not require it, for our youngest, this event marks the annual straightening of the hair.

Honestly, I write this post with the same level of consternation with which I have annually straightened our daughter’s hair.   When I made a decision to go natural, that decision included a commitment to walk away from heat and other potentially damaging hair care practices, and towards water and foods that would help me grow the healthiest head of hair possible.   I have not used a blow dryer or flat iron since 2010; I am over stretching my hair in a need to show myself or others how long it is.   BUT, I am not an 11-year-old girl who is trying to discover her beauty and her individual uniqueness.   Several months back, I wrote a post regarding how my decision to sport natural hair might affect our daughters’ choices.   I continue to ponder that question, but for now, I comply–reluctantly–with the youngest’s request to have her hair straightened so that she can look a little more like most of the girls  in the recital.   Again, fitting in is important to her right now.

Our youngest’s hair is so much like my own, and in working with it, I see what my hair might have been had I not had it straightened all those years.   But as a small girl, fitting in was important to me, too.   And a perm (i.e., permanently straightened hair via chemicals–primarily lye) was a rite of passage that I was given at the age of 13.    Where my earliest introduction to hair products included a blow dryer and curling iron, thankfully, her introduction includes a “pre-poo” with conditioner and oil.

annual hair straightening shot 1

Like any fairly new natural, I have a host of everything under the sink.   Yet, I lean more toward natural staples now, and an almost ayurvedic regimen, although that wasn’t done intentionally.   Here is a shot of my “saviors” in terms of products:

annual hair straightening shot 2After the pre-poo, the co-wash, and a 20-minute deep conditioner, her hair is conditioned and ready for straightening.  I am not yet sold on this Silk Elements product for thermal protection, so any recommendations would be appreciated, but nevertheless, I realize that protection from heat–if you can’t avoid it altogether–is a must.

Straightening is all about stretching the hair to its longest possible length.   So while I straightened, I thought, “What better way to manage the humidity and hold the straighter look than to braid her hair?”

annual hair straightening shot 4

And at the end of a process that normally takes 2 days–one for as much air drying as possible, one for straightening, voila!   We have long, straight hair, and her smile just about says it all.

annual hair straightening shot 5

annual hair straightening shot 6

What is the lesson learned–at least for me?   Well, I have made one decision: I believe that this is my last time straightening her hair, even if it is only an annual event.   The fights about tangles, the “ouchs” and potential ear burning that frightens us both just make this process not worth it.   Additionally, I am reminded of my own journey to where I am now, and the years of curling iron burns, blisters from chemical perms, and otherwise semi-torturous processes to manipulate my hair.   I do not want to cultivate the idea that this is “the norm” for a black woman to attain “beauty” (according to who?)  Plus, getting back to the whole question of fitting in and discovering her own beauty, I have to ask: am I teaching her that she is beautiful as she is when I straighten her hair?  Am I teaching her to cherish her curls, her kinks, and her uniqueness while I help her conform?   Funny, other kids are intrigued with her hair; they love its springy-like capacity to stretch and recoil.   They want to know how she gets her twists to stay.   Yet, she desires her straight hair.   I guess it’s true that everyone does want what the other person has, and the grass does look greener on the other side.   But it all has to be mowed.   

Now one week later, I twisted her hair yesterday, and I loved everything about it.   Most of all, I loved a painless mom-daughter time together in which we were able to just be.   And that’s what natural hair is to me: freedom.


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