"Did I tell you that I was going natural?" asked my mother.
I rolled my eyes as Ma revealed to me over the phone this summer that she was finally getting off of the "creamy crack," aka chemical hair relaxer. As her 20-something year old daughter, who has worn her hair naturally curly for the past 12 years, my knee-jerk reaction may seem a bit discouraging. However, I've heard my mom utter those nine words before only to slide right back into the hairstylist's chair for a straightening fix.
My mother got her first hair relaxer when she graduated college in 1976. After dodging my grandmother's hot comb as a child for press 'n curls, she entered high school with a huge Afro. But getting a job as a middle school teacher meant that she'd spend less time greasing up her hair with Dudley's products and more time grading papers. So, she went for a look that was "more manageable."
It didn't take much longer for Mom to experiment with other chemical-based hair treatments, as she dyed her locks auburn after settling into her first teaching gig. Though she forced her coarse hair into submission by straightening and coloring it, my mother was lost in bliss. And with her locks growing longer and curls loosening after giving birth to my brother and I, she was convinced that perms were the way to go. That is, until the Jheri Curl became popular in the '80s.
With her neck and sharp-shouldered blazers covered in curl activator "juice," she went back to hair relaxers and brought me right along for the journey. At just 10 years old, I became a part of my mother's styling routine: every two weeks at the salon for a new hairdo and every four to six weeks for perms. While I enjoyed our "mommy and me" time and getting to hear all the grown folks' business, I grew to hate the way my hair laid flat on my head, as well as the scabs that popped up from chemical burns.
Five years later, I put my foot down and told my mother that I was no longer straightening my hair. And surprisingly, she was motivated to do the same. We switched our candy curls for box braids in an effort to undo years of damage, however, Mom's disgust for "picky hair" made her give in to the relaxer.
So what was different about going natural this time around at 58 years old? After watching my hair become healthier (and bigger) while she battled breakage, psoriasis and purging her bank account for pricey hair care, she was ready for a drastic change. She sat down for her last relaxer in June and hasn't looked back yet.
No more spending countless hours in the salon for mediocre service. No more forking over $50 for a shampoo and style only to wake up the next day with a dry, flaky scalp. She's enjoying her spare time doing things that she really enjoys and wearing "protective styles," including micro braids and two-strand twists, as well as blowouts minus the chemicals. Yes, she's even learning natural hair lingo!
My mother's road to going natural has certainly had its bumps -- she's still caught up in how kinky her roots are -- but things have gotten a bit smoother since discovering the right products for her hair texture and receiving tons of compliments from colleagues and students for taking on "such a challenge." My only hope for my mother is for her to wear what she's got on top proudly because she's certainly blessed me with a great head of hair that I love.
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