Nappily Ever After
I recently watched a movie on Netflix staring Sanaa Lathan called Nappily Ever After. She acts as a 30-something African American woman obsessed with having the perfect hair. Like many black women our hair is our glory so we press it, relax it, put weaves and braids in it and when all else fails we wear lace-front wigs in various short and long colourful styles. I have been caught in this trap for years constantly obsessed with my coiffure.
When I was nine-years-old my mother decided to manage my unmanageable hair with relaxer. A relaxer is a chemical treatment designed to permanently alter the hair's natural texture into a straightened state. A lye-based relaxer contains the active ingredient sodium hydroxide. Relaxers straighten curly hair by breaking down the bonds in the hair shaft. One day my thick and glorious mane went from kinky to completely straight and I thought it was a revelation.
Gone were the days of hair braiding and hot combs burning my scalp I had a new solution.
When I was 10 years old after a debacle with extension braids my hair started to fall out. It wasn’t the relaxer exactly but the fact that my mother kept my braids in throughout the cold Canadian winter. When she finally did remove the extension braids my hair was thin and short but still my mother would take me to the hairdresser every 4-6 weeks for my relaxer. The thing with relaxer is that when you start you think you can’t stop and the creamy crack becomes a part of your hair regiment. At that age I didn’t know what kind of damage I was really doing to my follicles. I would curl my hair with a curling iron every day and eventually started straitening it even more with a straightening iron.
At the age of 18 I would cut my hair into a shorter more manageable hairstyle. I remember crying because the hair I had worked on so hard to repair was gone again. But I liked my short sassy hairstyle it suited my face and lifestyle at the time. It remained short throughout college where I would use a home relaxer and get a neighbour to cut it in the short style. By this time relaxer was my obsession, I wanted my hair to be bone straight and I would do whatever I had to to keep it that way. I would spend almost $100 a month on upkeep and that’s not including the myriad of products, shampoos, conditions and hair moisturizers that I needed to sustain my look.
In my 30's I started noticing a trend among my family members, everyone was cutting off their hair or growing out their perms and going natural. I envied them their new hair, I wanted what they had but was too afraid of letting go of the straightness. My cousins were the first, then my mother went natural along with my sister because they knew the damage relaxer could do. I decided I wanted what they had but it was going to be a journey to get there. I tried weaves and wigs at first but they just didn’t feel like me and made me look much older than I was.
One day on a bus ride home I was admiring my bus driver’s short curls and I asked her how she made the transition. She told me she did the “Big Chop.” She referred me to the barber that did her hair and I added him on Instagram.
When I saw what he could do with natural black hair I was sold. I found the courage to make an appointment with Kwame Delfish of Hill Studio in Toronto and on October 26th 2018 I did my own “big chop.” I didn’t cry this time rather it was a freeing experience. I felt like I was shedding skin, shedding myself of the past but mostly shedding myself from the prison of relaxer that I had been in since I was a child. I was a whole new person with my natural hair, I felt like I could concur the world and if the world didn’t like the new me too bad. No longer was I a slave to society’s ideas of beauty. I was beautiful with my short kinky hair.
It’s important to remember ladies that relaxer was created a long time ago and mass produced by white people to make black people look more like them, so they didn’t feel uncomfortable with our kinky hair. It’s just another form of oppression that we as black people are feeding into every day. Black hair is a billion-dollar industry and the more we buy into it the longer it will take for us to open our eyes and realize we are perfect in our natural state.
To all those black women in the world that are a slave to relaxers, weaves, braids, wigs etc. I encourage you to let your natural hair fly free. Take the leap, do “the big chop” and change the course of your hair journey. Do it for you not for others and their image of you. Do not hide your light under a bushel or conform to the standard, set your own standard for what hair and beauty mean to you. Cutting my hair off was the best decision I have made in a long time, it’s been great for my self-esteem, mental health and wallet. There is no going back for me, I have found my Nappily Ever After and I hope you find yours.