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GettingKinky:MyJourneyToNaturalHair

Shana Antoine
4y Wellington, FL, United States Story
Getting Kinky: My Journey To Natural Hair

                                                                                         Credit: Art by Ariel (http://keturahariel.com/)

Being a woman—and being a black woman at that—does come with its fair share of “trials and tribulations”. As I’ve grown older, I learned to look back and reflect on one of the many things that seem to set black people aside from other races: our hair. Hair is quite important in the black community: if you have it, and I mean a lot of it, you are applauded as if genetics had nothing to do with it. And if you don’t? Well, that’s all right because according to the ignorant, it is not the norm for black people (more specifically black girls) to be able to grow lengthy, flowing hair anyway. The tightly-coiled curls of our hair were often viewed as undesirable—the tighter your hair is, referred to as “nappy”, the worse. We come from a group that should be proud of how far we’ve come as a people, embracing all that makes us unique, but I find that we are not entirely there yet.

In 1991, I became the newest addition to an already established Haitian family of four. As I approached seven years old, we packed our bags, moving from our suburban apartment in Chicago, Illinois to the place I’ve become oh so familiar with: the Sunshine State. Upon moving to South Florida, I was presented with so many things to which I was unaccustomed. The accent was a bit different, not to mention I did not understand some of the lingo—in the Windy City, we sat “Indian style,” not “criss-cross applesauce.” The air felt strangely warm and moist on my birthday. Mind you, I was born on December 12th. The leaves were all green, and still attached to the trees (palm trees, Floridians called them, and they would sail in the wind like star-shaped kites against the clear azure of the sky). But in moving here, I did discover one thing most fascinating: movable hair.

But doesn’t all hair move, you say? Sure, it does. But as a brainwashed child who was always shown by the media and those around me that fairer skin and looser hair defined beauty within our race, it was a concept I could not grasp. Movable hair took on its own form. It pirouetted when presented to the wind, never refusing to dance along with it. Necks did not break when attempting to whip it back and forth, in the words of Willow. Movable hair was free-spirited—something you either had or you didn’t—and from my observations, black people seemed to lack it. I felt that my people were stuck with a stubborn billow of hair that declined when asked to dance by the sweet breeze. It stood upright and resilient against anything that tried to cross paths with it.

A cousin of mine introduced me to movable hair. Hell, she didn’t simply introduce me, she showed me that it was something possible to obtain. While we swam around in the community pool for hours upon hours, her hair still retained its silk-like consistency, while mine soaked up the water until it transformed into a shrunken, coiled cap that stuck to my scalp. I was used to my hair, yes, and it had never really bothered me before, but as I gazed at hers—it floated gracefully above the water’s surface—I knew that I wanted that experience. I wanted to give my hair the opportunity to sway in the water with me rather than shrinking away in fear.

Do you want a perm? My mother asked me and my sister this. She had never asked before, but could see in both of our eyes as we gaped at my cousin’s tresses that we yearned for what would soon be a chemical disaster to our hair. We nodded eagerly. One box of Just For Me relaxer and an hour later, I had that bouncy, swinging, long, shiny hair that I had wanted. It hung past my neck, and for once, I felt its warmth. I could not stop touching it, playing with it, rocking it. I finally looked like the Barbie dolls I had, darker-skinned or not. Combs admired my hair, too. No longer did they attack the strands in battle. They simply ran their fingers through in bliss, just as I had.

And my friends? Oh, did they love it. I always had an assorted group of friends. Those of the same race complimented me, saying it’s about time that I’d gotten a relaxer. It was the equivalent of a girl’s first period in our race, and I had finally become a woman. Other groups were satisfied and more understanding, too. No more dealing with questions like, “did you cut your hair?!” after a mere droplet of water came in contact with my crimps. Those uninformed of the ways of black hair did not understand the concept of shrinkage. Sheep are nice, but no longer did I have to hear of my hair constantly being compared to them. I blended into the crowd of movable hair. But in time, it began to resent me.

Addicts of relaxers typically reapply them every six to eight weeks—this periodic abuse endured by my hair is what led to its demise.  It started to break, fall, thin (well, you get the point). That “bliss” that I felt before lasted maybe a year. Of course the fact that I was slowly but surely losing my hair was still not enough to stop me from using the product. I did fear becoming the “three-finger ponytail” kind of girl (“Three-finger ponytail” is a term typically used by some men to demean black females. It claims that these girls do not have enough hair for use in a hair tie, the result resembling three fingers protruding out of the back of their heads as opposed to a nice, dangling ponytail). I turned to extensions—they were always meant to give my hair a break, not necessarily to make it appear longer—in an attempt to return my hair back to its glory. I can tell you now that after thirteen years, it helped, but didn’t work all too well. Hence starts my journey to natural hair.

My decision to “go natural” began mid-2011. Now, natural hair meant reverting back to the matted, stubborn poof that I’d been blessed with at birth. Challenge accepted. At that point, anything was better than the barely-there hair I received from these No-Lye products (could this be a double entendre? To ensure that makers of relaxers are being honest when they say you’ll have long, flowing, healthy hair? No lie, my ass). I decided to wear braided extensions continuously in that time in order to relax my hair without use of a relaxer. I began to see new growth, as I always had, but this time I did not plan to straighten or torture it. I embraced the growing puff ball and nurtured it as a momma would her baby, feeding, grooming, and cleansing it with all things natural.

Come April of the following year, I did my “big chop,” cutting off all remnants of relaxed hair. I ended up with a two-inch afro and for the first time in years, I could see my beautiful, coiled cap again. Yes, the transition was quite shocking at first, but I had faith. I apologized to my hair, caressing it from roots to ends. “This time will be different,” I swore, beginning my hair care routine of washing my hair once a week, using a leave-in conditioner, and twisting it up with coconut oil for safekeeping. Going natural presented me with a number of new hairstyles—not only afros, but twists, fro-hawks, braids, up-dos etc.—and compliments upon compliments.

“Welcome to the natural side,” my sister praised me. I smiled in return.

I have been completely natural for a few years now and I have no regrets. Straightened with a straightener (rather than some chemically mutated, yogurt-looking mixture), my hair is longer than it had ever been before. It is empowering and as I look back, I cannot see how I didn’t appreciate such beautiful kinks before. It’s a movement. Many black women have taken and are taking the journey that I also chose to trek. My mother has dreads, down past her bra-straps. My sister, my inspiration, has a beautiful ‘fro and offers me guidance for maintaining my own. I am saddened that we are a people that have to go natural, rather than accept it in the first place. I never saw a black Barbie doll with an afro as a child. Commercials on television always told me of how long, silky, straight hair—or even curly hair, so long as it was lengthy—was necessary. Kids around me always spoke of how being what they called “nappy-headed” was a terrible thing. Grey Livingston once said that, "beauty comes as much from the mind as from the eye." I can only hope for more black women, and women from all backgrounds at that, to feel this way about their natural selves. And come on, ladies: it’s just hair. In all honesty, I can say that I prefer being a little on the kinkier side any day.


6 replies

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  • SDinKC09
    4y ago

    What a nice article! I began my natural journey after admiring others who had given up their perms. It seemed like such a brave thing to do! A friend then uttered the life altering words that helped me make up my mind: 'Why do we have to be mad at the hair God gave us?' Why indeed! Here I was, just past 50 and I didn't even know what my hair looked like without being relaxed. Well that was about to change! I decided that it was high time I become aquainted with my natural tresses and learn to love them. That was 3 yrs ago and I haven't looked back. My hubby was/is my biggest supporter. He was so encouraging as I grew out my relaxed hair and scoured the internet to learn how to best care for it. I have never received as many compliments on my hair (surprisingly often more by non-Blacks than otherwise) as I have since I started rocking my twist-outs. When I see girls and teens with curly hair I make it a point to compliment them and tell them that their hair is beautiful just the way it is. We need to get past what almost seems to be a culture of self-loathing for what makes us unique and beautiful - our textured tresses!

    What a nice article! I began my natural journey after admiring others who had given up their perms. It seemed like such a brave thing to do! A friend then uttered the life altering words that helped me make up my mind: 'Why do we have to be mad at the hair God gave us?' Why indeed! Here I was, just past 50 and I didn't even know what my hair looked like without being relaxed. Well that was about to change! I decided that it was high time I become aquainted with my natural tresses and learn to love them. That was 3 yrs ago and I haven't looked back. My hubby was/is my biggest supporter. He was so encouraging as I grew out my relaxed hair and scoured the internet to learn how to best care for it. I have never received as many compliments on my hair (surprisingly often more by non-Blacks than otherwise) as I have since I started rocking my twist-outs. When I see girls and teens with curly hair I make it a point to compliment them and tell them that their hair is beautiful just the way it is. We need to get past what almost seems to be a culture of self-loathing for what makes us unique and beautiful - our textured tresses!

    • Shana Antoine
      4y ago Wellington, FL, United States

      Beautifully written! I couldn't agree more. <3

      Beautifully written! I couldn't agree more. <3

    • babinewyear
      4y ago

      Well said. Every other race lives with their natural hair primping, prodding and chemicals. We do need to appreciate having hair and being natural. God knows there's enough chemicals out there.

      Well said. Every other race lives with their natural hair primping, prodding and chemicals. We do need to appreciate having hair and being natural. God knows there's enough chemicals out there.

  • babinewyear
    4y ago

    I, too have been battling/dealing/trying to accept my natural-ness and living in NYC with it's humidity and still trying to work out, has its many challenges. It's been a year of me being natural and still a huge work in progress.

    I, too have been battling/dealing/trying to accept my natural-ness and living in NYC with it's humidity and still trying to work out, has its many challenges. It's been a year of me being natural and still a huge work in progress.

    • Shana Antoine
      4y ago Wellington, FL, United States

      Congratulations on taking that leap! It takes some getting used to, as you've already experienced, but being natural really does teach you to accept yourself. Embrace everything that makes you, you! <3

      Congratulations on taking that leap! It takes some getting used to, as you've already experienced, but being natural really does teach you to accept yourself. Embrace everything that makes you, you! <3

      • babinewyear
        4y ago

        Thanks Shana, this means a lot coming from another Haitian. Mezi Anpil.

        Thanks Shana, this means a lot coming from another Haitian. Mezi Anpil.


Shana Antoine is an aspiring yogi with a passion for writing. Whether she's outdoors jotting in her journal or gathering scraps around the house for her next "project," she remains attuned to her artsy side. And the girl makes a mean cheesecake.

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