I started my journey back in 1996. At the time, perms were still in full swing. My love of perms was not.
Why: Because applying a perm meant waiting 8 hours at a hair salon, enduring three hours of chemical burn and then being burned again by french oven irons. This was not my idea of beauty or showing love for myself. More often than not, beauticians loved to leave perms on longer than what was recommended by the manufacturers to get my hair straight. Emerging from a shampoo bowl with half my hair washed down the drain was not my idea of healthy. In my opinion, many beauticians and the system that churned them out were not knowledgeable about African American hair.
The words nappy, kinky and bad hair were still being used to adversely describe most clients with textured hair by good beauticians. This was unsettling and hurtful. I did not hear these words from braid aestheticians or from barbers. Assimilated looks were a powerful trend. Black comedians, employers and most of the community seem to be on the war path against textured hair.
It seemed that overlooking the damage to health and esteem was enforced en masse to push the latest perms and straightening products. My journey to natural hair halted when I could not get a job. My natural hair had become an obstacle to gain employment in mainstream, conservative places. I finally gave in. My hair broke right after perming, but I was employed.
In 2001, I had attempted to go natural again. This was during a time sew-in weaves were huge, Black actors were pushing their own flat-iron hair looks( Tia and Tamara) and sew-in weaves were helping them to reinforce the look. I did not agree with the flat ironing or sew-in weaves. Flat ironing was expensive, often led to scarred skin and caused my ends to break. Sew-ins were a nice cosmetic alternative to glued tracks, but were unnecessarily expensive. Both were just another form of torture. To this day I can’t stand to hear anything frying in a cast iron skillet. It is the exact noise flat irons make when applied to chemically treated hair.
I found freedom during my summer vacations to explore natural hair styles, but could not stand the unnecessary rude attention I received from public and various in-laws/family members. For my next job, I arrived hair straightened, broken and pulled into a bun to hide the damage. ‘Look a certain way and receive a paycheck seemed to be the established pattern.’
By 2006, I was itching to go natural again. It was an undeniable itch. I braided my hair for transition and began to grow the perm out once in for all. This time my textured hair was here to stay. I was denied jobs because employers thought I was going to be a social-politically angry female, an outspoken lesbian advocate or a Black Power supremacist, heheheheh. My husband was very supportive and told me if they jump to conclusions about your personality, based on your hair, then you don’t want to work there to begin with.
I applied and was accepted for an interview at a hypermart retail chain and for a product demonstrator, both hiring managers admitted I looked great on paper, my college education would mean higher pay, stable work history, my clothes looked professional but my natural hair was not the look the companies were going for. It was written in both manuals that hair had to be in a conservative hair style. I was flat out told my natural hair was not symbolic of a conservative hair style. After the interviews, an assistant manager from the hypermart called back and wondered why I had not shown up for work. She was sure I had been hired. I gave her the reason and all she could muster in response was a sigh.
What was with all these lame reasons and why was I being filtered out? Lots of people have different textured hair. Turns out some fashionistas, media and various companies were not helping by misinforming the public on the latest trends. Example-I had heard of a certain magazine that sent one of their consultants to a seminar for a group of corporate professionals. The consultant told the participants that Afros were a no-no and considered inappropriate for a corporate job. After the seminar, the participants, a bunch of Black American lawyers with natural hairstyles, informed the fashionista and her parent company that this was a grave error. The lawyers questioned why should anyone’s well maintained natural hair be considered inappropriate. The magazine apologized, feigned responsibility by saying the fashionista was spouting her own agenda and, later, the magazine disowned the woman. ( See just some of the Afro myths that circulated.)
While in college, I made use of ethnic berets, wraps and scarves to resume my natural journey. A professor for art history responded very angrily towards my head gear. When one student wore his baseball caps to class and another student wore berets to class, to cover a surgical scar, she stopped paying unnecessary, negative attention to me.
By the time I was in grad school, I was no longer in transitional styles and my TWA had grown into a lion ‘s mane. There was no concealing it under a cap or beret now. I am a quiet person and like blending into a crowd. After all, most people walk around with their natural hair and nobody looks twice at them. This time coming out into the public was a positive thing for me. The trends had changed and people were more accepting of natural hair. More women were curious about how to maintain it, how to transition from chemicals and I received compliments. These women were surprised when I said I try to leave my hair alone as much as possible. I wash, condition my hair and eat healthy. I do not stress it with rough handling or harsh chemicals. ( Hot curling, flat ironing, hot combing, texture altering chemicals, dying, artificial/processed chemicals ruin my hair and most aren’t made to work with textured hair. In my opinion, most hair chemicals, treatments and styles are made to weaken, alter, conquer, ruin and brutalize textured hair.)
I am a bit older & wiser, I have worked with advertising and design enough to know not to follow the products some companies push, but find/make the things that work for me. There are a few unconscionable trends that are pushed by some rather financially desperate, irresponsible companies and as soon as they have exhausted the trend, they jump to another. These trends do not often have the consumer’s best interest at heart. It is usually what is important to the company. This year skinny is in and next year thick bodies will be in. The cycle continues so long as it profits for them. Along with the trend change will come diet plans, fashion ensembles will be churned out to go with it, relabeled colognes and perfumes will flood the market, re-titled exercise regimes will be pushed, more medical treatments will be endorsed by (not necessarily medical) doctors to maintain the look and new lifestyles to promote use of the products that look will be touted. None of it, I can guarantee, will have been researched and developed with your best interests at heart.
In 1980’s, young Blacks wore natural hair styles and texture altering chemicals that complimented curly hair.
The 90’s, perms, ultra sleek flat styles, and hip length hair styles were the norm.
In the new millennia, the styles took their toll and short hair do’s were back (long-term use of some perms can thin, damage your hair and scalp….some did it for style..others saw perms becoming more hazardous and expensive ).
The artificial resistance becomes less and less as people from various cultures ditch the artificial straight look to return to their own natural textures. People now have more artistic freedom to explore natural and cosmetic hairstyles. Straightening agents and styles are starting to take their rightful place as cosmetic alternatives and not a tool to force mainstream consumerism and assimilation.