A Black Lady’s Hair Journey
Imani strode into the room her head held high with a dimpled smile showing perfect teeth. Though she was born in the 1990’s, she was wearing a 1960’s look. Her sparkling cat lined eyes peeked out behind dark rimmed glasses. She sported an afro that is around four inches high after shrinkage. When her bangs are stretched out, the length of her hair doubles reaching past her chin. Yes people, shrinkage is real. Depending on the size and degree of curl, shrinkage can be 50% or even up to 75% of the true length of the hair. The natural curl pattern of black hair tightens when it’s wet so it appears to shrink. If the curl pattern is tight, it can be loosened by braiding or twisting the damp hair and allowing it to dry completely. This is called “stretching it out.”
“As a kid, I always had my hair relaxed because, my mom said that it was easier to deal with. She always said my hair was straight off the boat, like it was straight nappy,” she laughs.
Straight off the boat in African American language means straight off the slave ship.
“My mom and dad would do my hair. My dad was actually a hair stylist for a long time. He was much better at white people or black guy hair. He couldn’t do black girl hair unless it was straightened,” Imani said.
I thought that was interesting so I asked my sister, India, who has been a professional hair stylist for over twenty-six years.
“There was no focus on one type of hair. It was really all about protection and sanitation. They showed us how to properly use chemicals to straighten the hair. They also taught us how to braid. I learned more once I was licensed. The phenomenon of natural hair is amazing. It’s not my specialty at the time, but it has changed the game,” India told me.
“I hated getting my hair done. It was like the classic thing, sitting down between my mom’s legs and she would do my hair,” Imani continued.
“I know what you mean,” I said.
“She would make me go get the bucket with all the hair supplies. I hated getting it because she would pull my hair while combing it, and it was so thick, and it hurt so much because I was tender-headed.”
I knew about being tender headed. Tender headed was an old-school term used to describe someone with an unusually tender scalp. These people couldn’t handle even a minimal amount of tension on their hair without feeling a lot of pain.
“My mom would braid my hair. I used to have cornrows during the summer or for a couple of weeks at a time. I would have braids so that I would just have to get my hair done once,” Imani said.
“When did you start wearing your natural hair?” I asked.
“When I was in middle school, I decided to get dreads because I was tired of doing my hair. I was about 13,” she said.
“And your mom let you?” I asked.
“Yeah, my mom had gotten dreads in 2001, so she had her dreads at that point. My dad wasn’t excited about it. He had always been very traditional about how young women should be. My mom wanted to lock up my hair when I was a kid, but my dad said no,” Imani said.
Imani decided to do a Big Chop in high school.
Once a women made the decision to stop chemically altering her hair, or transitions from locks to another style, she has to decide what path she to take as she transitions to wearing her hair naturally. This process could take anywhere from weeks to months if she decides to gradually transition to natural hair. Or, she can choose the quicker route, also known as the “Big Chop” which means cutting the chemicals or locks out of her hair all at once. Imani has a whole slide show of her hair journey after her big chop on Instagram.
“I went crazy for a year with my hair. I was just doing everything. I had an ombre style, so it was dark and it faded into brown. I had a mohawk. I dyed it all sorts of colors. Red is a terrible color, because the moment you wash it, it fades,” Imani said.
Imani is a confident young women. She likes to big chop her hair and has been on her current hair journey after her last big chop back in 2013.
“I really liked shaving my hair because my self esteem was attached to my hair for a long time. I really liked my dreads because they were so long. My hair was so gorgeous. Shaving it off completely helped me. I don’t care as much because the cool thing about me is that I have a really cute face so it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m always gonna look good,” she laughs.
“A lot of people wouldn’t have the boldness to say that,” I said.
“I didn’t for a long time and then it was one of those things like, no one else was telling me this. So I’m going to start telling myself this,” she said.
I applaud Imani for her boldness and confidence. Kudos to her mom who raised such a strong young woman. This could be a lesson to women everywhere to embrace your natural beauty.