Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Nappily ever after
That's how long my addiction to the contents of Pandora's box lasted.
Affirm, Optimum, Hawaiian Silky, Motions, Dudley's, Dark & Lovely, African Pride, Just For Me, Mizani, Creme of Nature, Soft & Beautiful, Silk Elements, At One With Nature, Elasta QP, Fabulaxer, Revlon Realistic, Gentle Treatment, Isoplus, Luster's Pink, Parnevu, Organic Root Stimulator, Raveen, Summit, TCB, Ultra Sheen, Bantu, Lustrasilk, Pro-Line, Precise, All Ways Natural, Alternatives, Phytospecific, Paul Mitchell...
You name it and I've tried it. All part of the neverending quest for the Holy Grail.
If you had asked me point blank why I kept at the relaxing game for that long, you would've gotten the usual rundown of excuses that's become the cornerstone of the pledge of allegiance to the relaxer kit.
- It's easier to maintain
- I didn't have the right face shape for short hair
- Growing it all back would take forever
- Wearing it straight is simply more "professional looking" for the workplace
- Upkeep would be too expensive
I had longed to break the cycle of creamy crack consultations for years, but fear of letting go of the only routine I really ever knew would paralyze me whenever my frustrations got the better of me. Could I still be considered attractive with a natural? The question alone sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? If the barometer is held at whether members of the opposite sex pay you any attention, if women stop to pay a compliment or significant others and family members will approve, it isn't such a farfetched notion.
Growing up, I always had a love/hate relationship with my hair. Once it was beaten into submission with extreme heat, the finished product was a sight to behold. It hung down my back and swung over my shoulders with ease. The telltale coatings of Bergamot made my abundant ebony pigtails stay wrapped around my barrettes. But the sheer volume of it all would send me into tantrums. Being tender headed with tangles made for one agonizing equation. "Hold your ears" became the three word sentence I dreaded as the rattail comb sectioned off a moptop saturated with Dax pressing grease as a prep for my nemesis. The hot comb. Source of all scars borne out of not keeping still. My childhood hairdresser I affectionately call Tantie Shirley never failed to remark that I had enough hair for 3 heads since it was thicker than a frozen milkshake.
By the time I reached the seventh grade, wearing it half up/half-down in puffy plaits on the daily wasn't gonna cut the mustard in the minor leagues of public junior high. Chicks in homeroom had left the been there, done that approach of a press & curl long ago and ruled the hallways with their bounce 'n behavin' perms. I wanted to be down. I had to be initiated into the sorority of Gamma Mix Activator pronto. My pleading cries for the magic no-lye potion finally got my mom to relent at age 10 and godmother Marcia came through with the PCJ box ready to turn this lion's mane into silky strands that I could manage on my own. After all the begging, the first time around, it didn't "take." While it laid a bit flatter in the front....overall, the difference really wasn't all that noticeable. Talk about a glitch in the beauty matrix. I hit the jackpot on my second try with Tantie Shirley. Bless her old fashioned heart. She couldn't style worth a damn, but she could work a perm like you just left Orlando Pita's chair. I had the swish effect somethin' fierce! My drop curls felt like cornsilk and that lightness which allowed me to run my hands through it effortlessly was worse than any narcotic. I wanted to bottle the high forever.
The need for super-strength straightening solution only intensified in high school. I went from being used to seeing shades of me as the majority to being the minority in the racial makeup of students. It was no coincidence that the girls deemed the prettiest and got the most play from the guys all were all distant descendants of Rapunzel. The clique of the popular Black girls all were carbon copies of each other. Almost indistinguishable variations of finely textured, bone straight, nothing less than shoulder length hair. I remember overhearing an Ecuadorian classmate remark that Tonya* in our AP History class was an anomaly because sisters + long hair that didn't come from a horse's ass = utterly flabbergasting! By now, getting my hair hookup wasn't merely maintenance, it was an event. It didn't matter if my stylist said she'd "be right back" to put in an order of french fries & chicken wings while I was still left at the sink or how much my scalp felt like flames were shooting every which way, I'd grit my teeth and say it wasn't burning. No pain, no gain.
As I inched closer to my mid 20's, I was greeted with long-overdue follicle burnout. I had done damn near every style there was to experiment with at least once. French rolls, the "I Dream Of Jeannie" ponytail, pageboy bobs, the MC Lyte asymmetrical cut on top/shag tail in the back, finger waves, dyed cinnamon brown switched to a chestnut rinse and back to jet black, crimped, chignons, buns, pin curls, blunt cut bangs, flips, bantu knots, Casamas braids, Senegalese twists. I still had length, but the breakage and constant reliance on flat ironing every day was becoming too much of a hassle. Not to mention I was tired of shelling out money like clockwork while I lost my entire Saturday afternoon waiting at the salon among the suffocating crowds who would arrive from as early as 9:00 a.m. to get fried, dyed and laid to the side.
The decision to give chemicals the kiss off turned out to be a relatively easy choice after the last dose of gunky application of Smooth Touch in February. I just stopped heading in the direction of Flatbush Ave. when the weekend rolled around and resurrected the wash 'n wear habits usually saved exclusively for summer. Even though I spent so much time fighting the real texture of my hair, I was still able to encourage a pretty decent wave pattern from the crown, sides and back - but the front was totally ironed into oblivion and hung limp like a wet noodle. As spring came into focus, I was starting to feel the first sprouts of new growth. A bit of panic set in. It was almost a reflex to get my heavy handed Jamaican stylist of the moment on speed dial, but I let those pangs subside and continue to keep on the path started in winter.
Around this time, a friend recommended that I pay a visit to Curve in Bed Stuy as they were specialists on curly hair - specifically for women of color. I made my first appointment in early June to assess my options and plot my next step. The sister stylists recommended to begin transitioning from a still-relaxed state to being natural, I had two options. Cutting it all over in one fell swoop or in gradual increments. The thought alone of a date with Mr. Scissors right then made me lose my breath. The latter of the two was clearly what I could handle. Phase #1 had began. I left with a now collarbone-grazing cut and was advised to come back in 3 months time. I returned in the beginning of fall and everyone (myself included) was shocked at how much more growth had unfolded. More snips had brought the total span up to my ears. There wasn't much left except a few straggly ends that no kink could be coaxed out as they were pin straight. I was asked if I wanted to go ahead and get rid of them now too. But I couldn't quite bring myself to crossing that barrier, so I put it off for the next date scheduled. Sensing my apprehension, Titi & Miko offered to have me come back in the next week to do the big chop free of charge. After mulling that over for a day or two, I knew I wouldn't look a gift horse like this in the mouth considering their services didn't come cheap. So, the date was September 30, 2004. I was back in the hot seat to take the plunge. And Miko began to cut. And cut. And cut. And cut. As the clumps continued to fall around the floor, sudden chest palpitations had me descending into Dick Cheney territory. Inside I was freaking the fuck out, but I kept a weak smile plastered and let her continue to peel off the exterior layers right to the core. When she was finished, the effort to keep from barfing as the residual clusters were swept into the wastebasket overwhelmed me. Staring at my spiky blow-dried fade harkened to Grace Jones in Conan the Destroyer. Traces of the panini sandwich eaten for lunch immediately rose in chunks at the back of my throat. I wanted to start bawling. But off to the sink I was whisked for shampooing and fingerstyling. Suddenly the ooh's and ahh's started. I wanted to know what the hell was going on. A mirror was brought over and revealed the real me. Stripped of all additives and enhancements. Tiny ringlets crisscrossed all over my head like a maze of slinkys. I was amazed that this was what I was running from my whole life.
After the cape came off and I was left to inspect the handiwork once voila! was pronounced, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Gone was the security blanket of an incarnation that was synonymous for almost as long as anyone ever knew me. In its place was a girl staring back at me I wasn't acquainted with. Sure, the face was the same but who's that girl? The one with a close cropped curly caesar? With the apple cheeks and deep set eyes in full spotlight? I felt excited...but naked. Literally. Heading down the brownstone's steps en route to the bus ride home, I went to tuck my hair behind my right ear and realized it could just skim thru my fingertips now. This was gonna take some getting used to. A few appreciative glances on the B44 began to relax my bundle of nerves, but then the thought of pending interrogation from Mother Dearest wasn't gonna go over well. As a card carrying member of "your hair is your beauty," she's always been obsessed with lengthy locks. And for the first time ever, silence became the chastiser of choice. This turned into a recurring theme for the next 2 weeks. People I knew were shocked that I had hacked all that "pretty hair" off. I got the obligatory dose of ignorance from a few older folk who brazenly wanted to know when I was going to "fix it back" as if what comes naturally was broken. But time was the salve to this minor wound and now my ringlets are on the road to freeflowing Botticelli spirals, the naysayers are pretty much over it. (Surprise, surprise.) It was also a boon for me as it was a crash course in how to actually care for my hair. Before the main objective was just about making it look good by frying it to death. Now I took the time to put the health back and in turn, it's responded beautifully. I don't worry about running at the first sight of a raindrop. I don't avoid pushing it too hard at the gym because I didn't want to sweat my edges out. I can sleep like a normal person without a Carmen Miranda-like basket of hot rollers atop my head. Swimming pools are no longer the enemy. It released me from the baggage of trying to stay in a mold I outgrew. I realized that straightening wasn't just a preference, it was a ritual preordained before I really even had a say. And now it was time to reclaim the kinky coils I never really got to embrace. My only regret? I didn't untangle those insecure roots long ago.
- brit commented at 10/10/2005 02:06:00 PM~
i've always wanted to go to Curve, but i heard conflicting stories. i knew it was expensive, but a lot of the bad stories i heard was that their services didn't last very long. what has been your experience??
(not that it matters anymore, since i'm no longer in bklyn *sad face*)
but i'm still curious to know. hey...also, not to be all nosey, but you mentioned the b44 (which part of bklyn u in?)...i used to live right off dean & nostrand so the b44 was a part of my everyday life.
- TriniPrincess commented at 10/10/2005 02:40:00 PM~
I haven't been back to Curve since last year when I did the big chop, but their cut has helped my hair grow in a good shape. I used to be addicted to their curly pudding, but my hair takes so long to dry that I only use it occasionally and stick to the buttercreme more often. Both of the ladies recommended that I come back in a year's time, so I'm right around schedule to go back for a treatment...after I save up the money. Feeling light headed at the cash register comes with the territory. Argh!
Dean & Nostrand? Damn, you know many times I used chill over there? Lemme find out! I'm at the border of Canarsie/East Flatbush (technically Canarsie, but I claim both, heh)...where did you move to? Regardless of where the natives wind up, you know we rep all day, every day....lighters up! lol
- Berry commented at 10/10/2005 09:50:00 PM~
Okay, someone else was recommending that curly pudding. Now I want to try it. I used to be healthy hair butter addict (CD) but only use it occassionally now because the smell is strong. Now CD has followed me up from Bklyn I might have to start partronizing her again just for the effort she made to keep getting my money. LOL
- TriniPrincess commented at 10/12/2005 04:55:00 PM~
Berry, I have a jar of CD's healthy hair butter sitting in my bathroom still unopened. Is it any good? Another great brand for natural hair worth checking out is Qhemet Biologics. Their detangler is out of this world...I refuse to live without it.
- Berry commented at 10/15/2005 08:28:00 PM~
Glad I checked the comments again...thanks for the recommendations. Siddity also recommends products occassionally in her blog. I love great hair products. I personally like HHB but friends of mine with a different texture of hair don't care for it.
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