A Journey of Trial and Error: How I Transitioned for Ten Years
by Antoinette, Around the Way Curls
You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you that I once had long, straight, blonde hair but it’s true. Not only that, I also didn’t acknowledge or really grasp the fact that my hair was curly until I was about 15. This has truly been a journey but I finally feel settled in and at home with where I am at and who I am. This post is dedicated to those transitioning, feeling lost, frustrated and tempted to go back to the crack. Know that there are currently and were plenty of folks right where you are. Just keep your eyes on the prize because it will all be worth it in the end.
Crack Head Years
Let’s start from the beginning. My momma is Italian and my father is African American. Growing up, my father did my hair every single morning. It was our morning ritual. He specialized in braids and twists and detangling but he could never tame the frizz that ran rampant throughout my sister and my hair. By the time we came home from school we resembled little troll dolls.
Finally, my mother sought advice from ‘the ladies at work’. She worked with mostly black women and their suggestion was of course to relax our hair
. My father, not really knowing any better followed in line with his own family practices went along with it. My sister, because she is older was the first one to experience the creamy crack. I remember so distinctly how happy she was when she got it. My mother marveled at how well it worked and how it got rid of all the pesky frizz that haunted her.
With this new discovery my sister was now allowed to wear her down and out, in roller sets, half up half down and just about any style that wasn’t too grown. I was so jealous. I looked at her relaxer as a rights of passage into womanhood. I hated walking to school in pigtails while her long locks cascaded down her back. So, I incessantly begged and pleaded for a relaxer until finally my mother caved in and I remained relaxed for about 5 years.
While I was in the seventh grade my parents were going through a hard divorce and maintaining my relaxer was probably the last thing on their minds so I was only relaxing about once a year. I was also going through a weird phase where I wanted to be Puerto Rican and even spoke with a slight accent. (Identity crisis much?) So, I would wet my hair, add a ton of mouse and literally scrunch the life out of it. This horrible style and phase lasted for about a year and a half.
In high school, I met a girl named Beth Lewis. She was older than me, also white and black and had the most beautiful bouncy, full curls in the world. Tracee Eliss Ross would have envied her. We befriended each other and she introduced me to her holistic lifestyle. I would always compliment her on her hair and moan and groan about how I wished my hair would bemore like hers. Finally, she said to me, “You’re black and white right? Well then… your hair is like mine. You know your hair would be curly if you stopped straightening
I felt like an idiot. The truth was that I did not know. I hadn’t put together that the thing I referred to as ‘new growth’ and pressed out everyday was actually my own curl pattern. It was as if it was completely detached from me is some way and a condition that needed to be treated, much like a common cold or infection. I had no ownership of it. In my mind, it was on my head, but it wasn’t mine. Shamed, I vowed to never relax my hair again.
Making the Switch
Transitioning was hard. I went from being the girl with all the ‘hang time’ to the girl who needed to get a touch up. I still straightened my hair from time to time but I danced growing up so after class, I looked a hot mess. I felt hideous. I would look in the mirror and cry and was always tempted to go back to my relaxer. Head wraps became my go to style but I was lucky because the Neo-Soul era had just struck hard in Philly so I fit right in.
I finally decided to big chop
after a meeting with Dr. Gregory Carr, currently the African America Studies head at Howard University of whom I worked with and mentored under in high school. His lecture for the evening was all about black beauty standards within America and how most Black women are only deemed and only deem themselves beautiful after they alter the way they look. I sat there beginning to sink in my seat, wearing an ankh ring while clinching “Souls of Black Folk” by DuBios and rocking a head wrap that I was wearing only to hide the fact that I was too embarrassed and too shallow to expose my true self. That evening, I went home and with a pair of child safety scissors cut my relaxer out.
You may think that a big chop leaves every woman feeling empowered like Angela Basset in Waiting to Exhale but I was still struggling with the way I looked. I cried all night after I cut it. Some tears were because I missed my old self, some were because I was going to miss the attention my being “light skin with long hair’ got me and some were because I was coming to terms with how truly shallow and unaware of myself I had been up until that point.
Despite the fact that I was now completely relaxer free, I still didn’t have a clue about how to take care of my hair. For a while, I only use water on my hair…no shampoo, no conditioner, nothing. Then I got a little smarter and started to use conditioner until finally I was leaving in non-leave-in conditioner to counter the breakage I was experiencing. I don’t know of any leave-in conditioner that existed back then so that was the next best thing.
I truly didn’t have a clue. All I knew was that Kelis’s hair was killing the game at that time and that I wanted to look like her. So, I of course, dyed my hair bright blonde that eventually turned orange from a bad dye job and horrible upkeep on my part. After a couple months, I started to experience even more breakage that I foolishly attributed to wetting my hair everyday so I decided to go back to straightening it with hot irons. The initial results and overall straight look made my hair appear to be healthier but eventually the constant heat only exacerbated the problem. I was forced to cut it again. But this time, instead of a big chop I opted for something a little more gradual.
Back to the Basics
After about another year and some change I was finally back to brown, using non-leave-in conditioner as a leave-in and a high school graduate. I went my entire college career still struggling with how to master my hair, dealing with constant breakage and in the end having to chop inches off.
It wasn’t until I graduated from college and Shanti, the other half of Around the Way Curls started the facebook group A Curl’s Best Friend (the original name of our blog) did I begin to have any idea on how to care for my hair. There, I learned about porosity, the importance of protecting your hair at night, leave-in conditioners, protein treatments and all that jazz. The group was so helpful and was becoming more and more popular that I pushed Shanti to create a blog and told her that I would help her with the setup and act as a behind the scenes logistics and technical assistant. But the social media, research for postings and actual posting proved very early on to be too much for one person to handle so I came on board as co-editor of the blog. So really, I owe a lot of thanks to Shanti because the inception of Around the Way Curls is really what forced me to do the research and learn how to take care of my hair. This is also the first time that I feel like I have settled into my regimen, am no longer in transition and am experiencing length retention. I’m now 25 and started this journey when I was 15 but I’m finally comfortable with where I am and I am proud that I didn’t give up.
So, let this be a source of encouragement and a lesson for all those transitioning. Use the tools and resources available to you like The Transitioning Movement. It will surely make your transition a lot smoother than mine.
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