One of my favourite childhood memories is sitting between my mom’s legs while she combed my hair. I don’t remember what we talked about during those times but I remember sitting on the floor or on a hassock and hooking my arms over her legs while she wrangled my hair. My favourite look was when she would comb it in four with a part down the middle. To this day, I still love my middle part and can part my hair straight down the middle without a mirror.
I think I was in the fifth grade when I started combing my hair myself. I’m pretty sure I looked like a walking disaster at first, especially because my hair was very thick and of a decent length for a Black girl, so handling it wasn’t for the faint of heart. But eventually, I mastered it and started doing my hair ribbons and bubbles and end clips myself.
Two or three times over the next few years, my mom allowed me to get my hair pressed. Each time it happened, I would keep touching the my hair, just to feel the unaccustomed smoothness. Of course, the sleekness of the look never lasted for more than a few hours because my hair reacts swiftly to humidity so by bedtime of the day it was pressed, tying it down was no small feat.
Then a little over halfway through the eighth grade, after I had turned thirteen, my mom allowed me to start perming my hair. When it was straightened and before it was trimmed into submission, it went down almost to the middle of my back. My dad wasn’t happy at all when I first permed my hair but I loved it so I didn’t care who didn’t like it. Apparently even from then I wasn’t a believer in men having an opinion on women’s hair choices.
For the next eight years, I spent countless hours every eight weeks on a Saturday in a salon getting my new growth straightened. Over those years, I had various cuts and styles and colours. I wouldn’t say that I spent an inordinate amount of time on my hair but I suppose it was about average for a Black woman.
Then when I was about twenty-one, I cut my hair all off and went natural because of a home hair colour gone wrong – I left the colour in for over an hour when I should have washed it out after fifteen minutes. That’s a disaster for already chemically straightened hair and rather than spend four hours at the salon every week getting it treated, I decided to cut it off and start fresh. That began a stint of about two years of wearing my hair natural. I would still go to the salon for an hour or two every couple of weeks because back then, nobody who was wearing their hair natural (which were very few people) knew what to do with it. In between those times, I would throw on a headband.
Then began my first stint in corporate Jamaica and I decided that it was time to perm my hair again. Three and a half years later when I left Jamaica for California, I cut my hair all off again and went natural again. My reasoning was that salons that knew what to do with Black hair were likely few and far between where I would be living in northern California so going natural and handling my hair myself was my best bet. I returned to Jamaica from California after a year and a half and continued to do my own hair. In fact, for ten years, the only chemical that went into my hair was colour and I became a master at handling my own hair.
Corporate Jamaica absolutely hated it. Hated it! At that time, natural hair was something that only church sisters wore and many in the corporate world had a hard time accepting my hair as it was. Mostly, I’d wear it in twists and a ponytail but occasionally I’d pull out the twists and wear it long and curly. Oh, they especially didn’t like that. I remember thinking one day after a snarky hair-related comment was directed at me, “God made me with this hair and if it’s good enough for God then it’s definitely good enough for your stupid company. And if it’s not, I’ll move on.”
To be fair, Jamaican society in general was unfamiliar with the non-church sister style of natural hair, not just corporate Jamaica. During the early part of those ten years, no matter how I wore my hair other women would often approach me and ask to touch it. Other Black women! In the grocery store, on the street. They couldn’t believe that it was natural. It wasn’t unusual for me to hear, “My girl, a your hair dat?” when I was out and about. Down to the last woman, they all thought it was a weave. Eventually though, enough women got on the natural hair train that it became a generally accepted hair choice and it was no longer an issue for work or unusual in life.
Then I wanted a new look and decided to perm my again. I knew it wouldn’t last long because by that time I had been living mostly salon-free for ten years and I wasn’t trying to go back to that. But it was nice for the two years or so that it lasted. Eventually, though, I went back to natural and let it grow out but, still being corporate, I kept it mostly restrained.
Then my life changed three years ago and hair restraint was no longer important. Like my clothing style, my hair style has changed. Before I arrived in Yakutsk, I basically let my hair do whatever it wanted to. There was no workplace to consider so I didn’t have to try to put it under control. I basically use the few products that my hair loves and leave it to do what it wants. Nowadays, I keep it twisted and plaited in on itself most of the time. You would think it’s because I have a proper job now but it isn’t. Nobody at my job cares about people’s hair and in fact, everybody has their own style. One girl was wearing her hair green for months.
Mainly I keep my hair tucked and rolled because I don’t want it to become damaged due to overexposure to the elements. Even so, just before I wash it, I’ll usually wear it let out for one or two days. All that entails is me separating the twists and letting it do what it wants.
In my forty-one years, I’ve never worn a wig or a weave or braids. No matter what style I was sporting, short cut or long, my hair has always been mine. I’ve had people wanting to touch it from when I went natural back in 2001 and moved to California to just a few weeks ago here at school. I’m not a hair trendsetter by any stretch of the imagination but in general, I’ve been pretty firm on keeping my hair routine simple and as close to natural as possible. In fact, over the last couple of years, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the thought that my let-out hair pretty much looks like I stuck my finger into an electrical socket.
So you can imagine my delight when a Russian teacher said to me a few weeks ago in the teachers’ room at school, “Your hair looks like a celebration!” Delightful! I let out a burst of laughter when she said it because I couldn’t help it. No one has ever described my hair that way before and I love it. It caused me to look at my hair differently. Where I used to see a crazy mess, now I see an unrestrained expression of the that joy that lives deep inside me. It leaks out of me all over the place – through my loud laughter, through my ready smile, and apparently through my hair.
Yes, I celebrate life by chasing after it to the far reaches of the Earth, I celebrate life by jumping feet first into new experiences, and I celebrate life by abandoning myself to God’s will. And now my hair is an expression of all that celebration. Hallelujah and amen!