Why I Refuse To Go Natural In 2018
by Aniyah Morinia
I sat in the salon chair at 9 years old waiting for my first relaxer. I mentally prepared myself for the burning feeling that my scalp would feel after the first 10 minutes. The Dominican hairdresser had long beautiful hair that I hoped my hair would mirror after my chemical relaxer. It didn’t. She wrapped the cape around me as I removed the hair clips and barrettes that kept my natural hair twisted and in place. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of myself I was permanently stripping to have sleek hair that could easily be styled, like the white girls I saw on TV. It wasn’t just the ease of styling that attracted me to this new hair. Boys in the movies I watched as a kid fawned over girls with luscious hair. They were popular and respected by everyone. Truth be told, I wanted that popularity and respect just as much as the next black girl waiting to get her first relaxer.
I sat in the salon chair anxiously waiting for the base that was spread throughout my scalp to ease the pain of any burns. The hairdresser divided my hair into sections and applied the white cream to the roots of my hair. I felt a cooling sensation in the beginning but the feeling was short-lived as she worked through the more coarse parts of my hair. Twenty minutes in and my scalp was on fire but I was not surprised. My family members told me how painful the process would be and it was safe to say that I underestimated the feeling. Parts of my scalp and hairline burned more than others, causing a not-so-satisfying tingling sensation all over my body.
Thirty minutes passed and I could already feel the difference in my hair texture. I went from what I now know as 4b hair to pin straight in a matter of minutes. The comb glided through my hair with ease, which was definitely an unfamiliar feeling. She washed, set, and blow-dried my hair leaving me with straight hair that was much shorter than I envisioned, but still long enough to style and make me feel beautiful. I looked like a new person, one who loosely resembled the black best friend standing behind the popular white girl in a Disney Channel movie. This newfound similarity was enough for me. Even if I didn’t look anything like the lead, my new hair made me pretty enough to make it to the background. To a clueless little girl like me, that was acceptable (20-year-old me disapproves). The hairdresser attempted to put my original hair clips back into my hair as accessories but they slipped out because of how silky-smooth my new hair was. That day, I kissed my colorful barrettes and hair clips goodbye, taking on what I knew society deemed beautiful.
What was so special about a cream that left me with scabs and erased any evidence of my natural hair? At the ripe age of nine-years-old, I was sure that straight hair was worth the temporary pain I felt in that salon chair. I knew that in the end, I would have a swinging ponytail and endless compliments. I was right. Black girls asked me if my hair was real. Latinas asked me if I was Dominican. White girls oohed and ahhed about how soft my hair was, expecting it to feel coarse like my natural hair. I was flattered, to say the least, and proud of my hair. This created a cycle of relaxers that has yet to stop.
Getting a relaxer seemed like an inevitable next step in any young black girl’s hair journey. I was surrounded by black girls who felt on top of the world with a fresh perm and mediocre at best without one. This feeling can be compared to getting your brows done and knowing that they look more like twins than sisters. My predominantly Hispanic community accepted me as one of them because I wasn’t the typical black girl who wore protective styles. Box braids, Senegalese twists and sew-ins never made it to my hair, despite its popularity with the girls I went to middle and high school with. Ironically enough, I couldn’t seem to shake the idea of adding a product to my hair that did not grow from my head naturally. The backhanded compliments about my relaxed hair were more desirable to me than being questioned about why my hair had magically reached the middle of my back overnight.
My hair has been relaxed for 11 years and I don’t plan to go back any time soon. Not because natural hair isn’t special, attractive, or empowering. Natural hair is, in fact, all of the above and so much more. But, I am scared. My new growth builds and my hair gets harder and harder to comb as I push my 8-week mark. Of course, I play with the coils at the roots of my hair, wondering what it would be like for this texture to cover my entire head. Of course, I imagine how my outfits would look with a curly fro. Yet, these mental images fade away like parts of my natural hair do as the fine tooth comb grips my coils and covers them with perm.
I look at black women on social media, television, and around my college campus, embracing their natural hair, and I desperately want to follow in their footsteps, but not enough to walk past a box of Olive Oil No-Lye Normal Hair Relaxer. Why is that? I blame it on time and money, but at the root of it all, reverting back to the hair I was born with just doesn’t feel natural. I never imagined being shamed for having a relaxer; after all, people not only respected my decision to be relaxed, they encouraged it. As we move further and further into the natural hair movement that has taken over sections at your local Walmarts and Targets, black women seem to resent women who have not transitioned. I don’t blame them for this feeling. I understand it. Relaxers and other chemically-altering products only push us closer to the Eurocentric standard of beauty that we are trying to eradicate. This concept is not lost on me. With every box of relaxer that I open up, I know that I am distancing myself from the beauty of my heritage and culture.
In due time, I will have a bouncing ponytail and endless compliments for hair that is not chemically processed. But for now, I’d like to think that I am on the waiting list for an unwavering sense of fearlessness that will protect my hair from anymore damage.