My curls have caused many tears throughout my life. First, as a child, when my mom washed and brushed my hair no matter how gentle she tried to be. As I got older, I cried simply because of the sheer hatred I had for my hair. Every year on my birthday I blew out the candles wishing to have straight hair. I hoped every year would be the year that I would wake up with a head full of silky smooth tresses.
It (obviously) never happened.
Having curly hair was not the norm in my school and like most teenagers all I wanted was to fit in. My crazy curly mane made me different, which in middle school felt like a death sentence.
In attempt to hide and tame my curls I wore my hair in two braids every single day for years. I eventually progressed to the 2010-era side part complete with an ultra ~trendy~ side braid. I hoped no one would notice me sporting the same hairdo for years in a row, but middle school being middle school, they definitely did.
I saw my hair straight for the first time in fifth grade. My mom had decided to treat me for my first school dance. I looked in the mirror and cried. It was just like I had wished for. That was the night the mean girls were finally nice to me. No one meant any harm but comments like, “You look so much better with straight hair” and “Why don’t you wear your hair like this all the time?” stuck with me and eventually lead me to believe that straight hair made me prettier.
I was in eighth grade when I relaxed my hair for the first time. I spent five hours in the salon getting my first keratin treatment. My hair was far from straight after the treatment, but I saw it as a step in the right direction. The treatments made my hair straight enough that with practice I was able to straighten my hair by myself. A routine that usually took me almost three hours and left me with horrendously puffy, but straight hair was streamlined into a two-hour process with professional results. In less than a year I had mastered straightening my hair.
I planned my life around keeping my hair straight and avoided water at all costs. The frequent straightening killed my hair and left me with split ends. The longer I spent with straight hair, the further away my natural hair seemed.
My hair was straight all of high school up until May of my senior year. My school has a program called May Term where seniors do a project or an internship. I spent my May Term in a class with 22 five-year-old kids in a kindergarten classroom.
The little girls in that classroom ended up changing my life. A few of the girls had curly hair. Some had their parents style them into perfect ‘dos while others let their natural hair flow free. When drawing self-portraits, the curly haired girls made their curls the focus of the picture. In dance class I saw them flip and shake their curls in front of the mirror. I saw them not only accepting their hair but loving it. One day while dancing around with them I suddenly remembered that I used to be the same way. Five-year-old me was just as confident and happy as they were. When did I lose that?
That night I decided to do something I hadn’t done in years – I washed my hair and let it air dry. My curls weren’t as bouncy from all the abuse, but they were there. Luckily, the damage was reversible. It took a while, but I started to see my natural hair as beautiful – like I did when I was five.
It has now been a little over a year since kindergarteners helped me begin my journey of loving my hair. It is still a challenge for me to overcome this insecurity, and there are days that I want to cave and straighten my hair, and sometimes I do. But these days its for a special occasion, or because I want to, not because I feel like I need to hide a part of me. My curly hair is now my norm. It still makes me feel different, but different can be good.