5 Lessons I’ve Learnt About Natural Hair

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.

The Background

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. ...

On Being a Black Woman

I’d like to say that I always liked being black, but I’d be lying. I’d like to say that I always liked being dark-skinned but I’d be lying.

I’ve just started writing this piece and my fingers are already unsteady. I’ve always lived in my head; played stories out there, held long deep conversations with myself when I struggled to find someone to connect with, and wrote long beautiful poems there. I’ve been the dark-skinned oddball in the family for so long, I don’t know how to be anything else. It took a very long time – 20 years – to start to embrace my complexion. I’d also always known that I was black, but until living in the US, I really didn’t know that I was black.

I was the youngest of 5 kids, and 1 of 3 girls. I have the darkest-skin complexion of all 5 kids. I was reminded of this daily growing up; whether by familial jokes or by people on the street. I quickly learnt that skin complexion was of the utmost importance within my culture. My older sister was light-complected and was just viewed as beautiful everywhere she went. My middle sister was more caramel-complected and got close to the same responses. But me, I was told that I was too dark and when I was ready to have kids, I should be sure to find a light-complected man to improve my children’s color. Then, I was also told that I should never wear lipstick because my lips were too thick.

As a child, I did not understand the erosion that was happening to my self-esteem, starting with my own family, and extending to people that I met that felt the need to offer their opinions without being asked. By the time I was a teenager, I realized that I was subconsciously choosing partners who were light-skinned even though I found myself more attracted to dark-skinned boys. I wrote a post earlier advising that mental health in the African and Caribbean culture is nuanced because of the historical traumas we have suffered. Any person of color knows that we are not just viewed as black, we are viewed by people in our communities based on our skin-tone. We have only to listen to dancehall/reggae, soca, and hip-hop music to be reminded of this daily. I was so conditioned to look at skin color that when Destiny’s Child first came out (they were the first poster I hung on my wall), I immediately looked for the darkest-skinned girl in the group which then began my love affair with Kelly Rowland. To finally see a successful dark-skinned girl on TV changed my life. ...