I’ve had permed hair for 15 years. On September 16, I did my big chop. The emotions I’ve been swirling in have been a revelation for me.
When I was growing up in Jamaica, the kids around me had permed or natural hair. There weren’t braid shops on every corner to get all the different styles of braiding that are available in the US today. If you wanted braids or braids with extensions, you got whatever styles your parents, friends, or family members could do. For some, that was great. For me, it was both good and bad. I could get some styles from my mom but she kept giving me what I deemed “children styles”. By age 14, I was itching to comb my own hair – yes, 14, times were different then, okay maybe, I’m aging myself here, but you get the point. The only problem was that by the time I took over styling my own hair, I began to realize that I had no idea how to care for it. It was just the typical wash and dry with a bun. I got so desperate for something different that I added permanent color to my hair with no idea what to expect. Obviously, this was not the best idea.
At age 18, when I moved to the US, I couldn’t wait to perm my hair to make it more manageable. And for the first year or so, I had an awesome stylist under whom my hair flourished. Then at age 19, I had to have surgery and from then on, my hair has never been the same. At that age, I had to cut most of my hair off which began to change my views of my hair. But for the most part, I relied heavily on various stylists to ‘fix’ my hair. My hair evolution just ranged from braids to perms with not much contribution from me in between.
Suddenly, I found myself with a little girl whose hair I was now responsible for. I knew I wanted a daughter but never considered the minute details. Suddenly, my ignorance became glaring. I barely knew how to care for my own hair, what was I supposed to do with hers, whose texture was different from mine? Fast forward 4 years, I now had another daughter with a completely different texture. About the time I started having kids, my close friends either started transitioning or going through the big chop.
I felt that I was different because I had had natural hair for most of my life so I felt that I didn’t have the same identity issues as others did since I hadn’t permed my hair to fit into mainstream madness. I didn’t know how wrong I was.
Lessons Learned from My Journey
1. For the last year and a half, I’ve barely had perms. I wore my hair under wigs or mostly in braids. I began to realize that I didn’t need perms. The more I questioned myself, I couldn’t figure why I got perms because the more research I did, I found that I could do all the same styles without the pain of perms. What was the value of perms?
2. My friends’ transitions inspired me; watching the way they wore their hairs and the way they changed became inspirations to me. I could do it too. In fact, I was doing it too. I was caring for my girls’ hairs and doing the research (YouTube, Pinterest, and lots of questions to my natural friends) into products and styles, and as I experimented I began to see my kids’ hairs flourish. Sure, there were failures but nothing that proved to be irreversible. I was feeling some proudness, lol. I became more inspired about my creativity in caring for their natural hair.
3. My hair was becoming damaged from my inconsistent maintenance and I just had no more patience for the constant pain from perms, so without realizing it, I was avoiding perms like the plague. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my scalp was changing. But I was still scared; caring for my girls’ hairs, helped me to work through that fear. Talking to my friends about their difficulties and victories with their hairs and watching their hairs flourish just continued to inspire me. Without realizing it, I had let fear start controlling me.
4. The driving force became my little girls. I didn’t grow up in this country. I had people all around me with their natural hair. I didn’t feel pressured to have long straight hair as my kids do. As my oldest became more socially aware after she started school, her comments became concerning to me. Suddenly, her hair was no longer beautiful because her ‘puff was not a ponytail’ and so it was now less than. Her styles required too much work because her friends’ hairs just hung down their backs. I tried to conquer this by changing up her hairstyles, like wearing twistouts and helping her learn how to care for her hair and see the value in being able to change hairstyles as she pleased. She thoroughly enjoyed being more independent with her hair, but the comments still lingered. I finally realized that modeling pride in my hair maybe the next option.
5. The doubts started piling up and I realized that I was just procrastinating now. So, I just made the jump – that’s me, from one extreme to the next lol – but I just decided enough was enough. I realized that I was fearful of managing my own hair. Again, I was relying on others to manage my hair. Observing my girls, I began to realize that hair is a part of our identity, even if we try to deny it. Even coming from a different culture, the same issues were true. I wasn’t taught to care for my hair and to learn about its intricacies. I didn’t want my girls growing up feeling as if they had to be dependent on others. Hair also greatly affects our self-esteem as it affects how we present our authentic selves to the world. I wanted better for my girls. So, here I am, one big chop later!
My friends warned me about the emotions that would surface. I wasn’t worried about it and have actually embraced it. I experienced joy, fear, sadness, surprise, hope, excitement, and freedom. The most lingering emotion has been freedom. Freedom to make my own choices. Freedom to be my own person. Sure, there have been lots of stares and comments, but I learnt a few years back that I can’t cater to everyone’s emotions because it was literally draining me. But the freedom to make my own choices regardless of what anyone else thinks is quite liberating. Recognizing that I am setting boundaries for myself as I pursue my overall spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical wellness is liberating. I am the model for my girls as they approach their years of puberty where the world tries to reshape them into what it wants. In my 30s, I have just found that I have no patience for things or people that don’t contribute to my values. As I work through this journey, I know that there’ll be ups and downs, but I just feel such peace at the knowledge that I am working towards the best version of myself.