I have spent roughly $16,200 on extensions over the course of the past six years. This figure does not include hair care and styling products; this reflects the cost of extensions alone. Approximately $450 every other month for wefts of hair or full lace wigs with foreign origins—Malaysia, China, Italy, Egypt, and Brazil. In college, I used to joke that where I was from changed every other month depending on the origin of my hair. I was Egyptian for the better portion of my junior and senior years.
For over a decade, I have relied upon someone else’s hair to make me feel beautiful; to have a place in this standard of beauty set by society that seemingly never meant to include people of color. Like most women, my serial use of extensions began as an interest—a simple desire for a different look—that quickly turned into a necessity. Soon, I was not confident leaving the house without 14” of hair flowing down my back. The state of health of my own hair began to decline and was seemingly less important than the health of my extensions. As far as I was concerned, I presented the weave as my natural hair, so its’ health was all that mattered. Never mind that my own hair was thinning, breaking, dull, and uneven.
In 2010, I began to wear human hair lace front wigs. I liked the freedom that wigs provided in that I could take them off at night and let my natural hair breath. They also seemed more sanitary, as I was now able to thoroughly wash and deep condition my hair, as well as tend to my scalp on a weekly basis. However, because I had been gluing hair in for so long, I really hadn’t developed a regimen for caring for my chemically processed hair outside of perming it every 6-8 weeks. I should note here, that perming is not considered a form of hair care, in that it does not improve the health of your hair. So, after transitioning from weft extensions to wigs, I was still unsure of how to really care for my own hair. My mother would advise me to wrap my hair at night, oil my scalp, and tell me to comb my hair only twice a day—when unwrapping my hair in the morning, and when wrapping it at night; “the less you manipulate your hair, the more it will grow,” she advised. My hair still continued to experience breakage. It was dry, severely damaged, and the constant friction from the wig created split ends, and the clips caused thinning around the edges of my scalp.
There was a cultural boom of people going natural in Houston, Texas—where I went to college—that began around 2009. Many of my girlfriends were saying no to chemical processing and embracing their naturally curly locs. It was around this time that a sub-culture of “Natural Speak” began, emerging with its’ own language. My girlfriends were speaking in acronyms using terms like “TWA,” and “ACV rinse,” and asking one another if they ever “co-washed” or “pre-poo’d” their hair. They spoke of things like “pineappleing” and “twist outs;” it seemed more of a vocabulary for Kamasutra than a method of hair care. All I knew was that there was a movement occurring, and black girls were defining beauty on their own terms. It was refreshing, and terrifying at the same time. Refreshing, because it seemed like an act of revolution, saying no to Western standards of beauty achieved through chemical processing and embracing our natural state as beautiful. Terrifying, because soon my peers would apply for internships and jobs in [predominantly white] corporate America, and how would their natural hair be received? Aside from locs, wearing natural hair had not been popular since around the 70s, and even locs and braids were often met with adversity in the workplace and seen as unprofessional. As far as I was concerned, blacks did not need another hurdle to jump over on the road to corporate success.
If I am truly honest, my adversity and hesitance to going natural was rooted in years of believing long, straight hair was the only look men found to be attractive on a woman. However, because my hair was so damaged, in 2011, I decided to go natural long enough to return my hair to a state of health that I hadn’t had since sixth grade. I had every intention of perming it again. Going natural seemed to be the best way to re-gain strong healthy hair. I transitioned for a year using sew-ins, and an extension process that I loved called “Urban Twists,” done through an Atlanta-based stylist at The Damn Salon. I even modeled in a few natural hair shows. After a year, when stretched, my hair was chin length, and healthy so I went to a salon and permed it again. And again, because I had not developed a hair care regimen, and because extensions were such a quick fix, I returned to wigs, and the damaged ensued.
Last March, I committed to going natural again. This time with a different mindset, and a willingness to learn my texture. This being my second trial run, I knew what I was in for and began to approach my hair with child-like curiosity, and a willingness to discover this hair that quite frankly, was foreign to me, having received my first perm at the age of five. It has been just over a year now, and I am only just now discovering the products that work for my hair, that don’t leave my locs feeling dry and brittle. While I still wear lace units on a regular basis, my natural hair is no longer being overlooked, and after ten years, I’ve finally begun to view myself as beautiful without someone else’s hair. I was aware that going natural would require a mental shift in regards to standards of beauty, but I was unaware of how emotional the experience would be. Transitioning to natural is indeed a “journey,” in every sense of the word.