I had a relaxer from elementary school until graduate school, roughly 20 plus years. As a little girl, new growth threatened my sense that I had pretty hair but, as I got older, my relationship with my hair and the effect on my identity grew in complexity. I struggled with revealing my authentic self as it relates to my hair, meaning, I did whatever I could to conceal my new growth.
As a young woman, I remember many occasions when I would not go to an event because my edges were jacked up in my opinion. Or, I’d only go if I my gel, toothbrush and scarf would do the trick. This is when my hair was pulled back. Some of you may already know the routine: I’d wet my edges, take a toothbrush (one reserved especially for this purpose!), dip it into some clear gel and saturate my edges. Then, I’d tie a tight scarf around it and let it dry. When I removed the scarf, my edges would be shellacked in place and I’d be okay to go out. Or, if my hair was curled, I’d take a curling iron and, basically, press the edges. I remember the knot in my stomach, the anxiety rising when I just didn’t like the way that my hair was looking, yet I knew that my relaxer appointment was a week away.
Research has found that long hair is an indication of femininity (Callaghan, 1994; Cunningham, 1995) so it’s no wonder that I strove to have long, straight tresses. But, what does it mean when your natural hair does not “meet” the standards of femininity? I think we see women chasing beauty and doing whatever they can to attain it. This may explain why women do things to their hair that are harmful (e.g., result in hair loss, permanent scalp damage, etc.).
I myself suffered from alopecia and clumps of my hair would fall out in the back left part of my head. I’d stop getting a relaxer for a while, moisturize my hair and go to stylists who could straighten my hair in healthier ways. Basically, I put myself in hair rehab so that my hair would strengthen and I’d be able to go back to relaxers. This may work for other women, but when I look back, I have to ask, WHY did I so desire straight hair? Why, when my hair was falling out and I was spending a lot of money to attain a texture that just wasn’t what I was naturally blessed with? Was it because I wanted to be beautiful? Did I feel ugly in my natural state? What was driving my desire to have straight hair? Why did I look at a relaxer as a magic wand that would grant me beauty?