For years, I hated my natural hair. I did everything that I could to hide it.
My senior year of high school, I straightened my hair one too many times until it gave up on me. I would look at my hair that I'd fried to the max with a flat iron with such disgust. This is when all my hair insecurities started to get real.
In college, I would wear extensions in my hair for months at a time. I did it so I could cover up what was lying underneath - fickle, neglected, broken, heat-damaged hair.
My family would ask me if I was just going to wear extensions my whole life. I would use the fake excuse that I loved switching up my hairstyles and extensions gave me the freedom to do that.
But truly, all of my extensions looked exactly the same - long, straight 16-inch pieces that I paid about $400 for at the beauty supply store. I shelled out another $200 every two months for someone to sew the extensions on top of my real hair. Looking back, my addiction to extensions was so expensive. It actually wasn't freeing at all. It was an unhealthy dependence upon hair (that wasn't naturally mine) to make me feel beautiful. But why didn't I love the hair that I was born with?
It took time, but since graduating from college last year, I got way more comfortable with wearing my real hair. Instead of hiding it with extensions, I'd wear it out. It could only be extension-free under one condition: It had to be straight. Curls? Nah, that wasn't me. Bone-straight hair is just what I felt the prettiest with.
Recently, I woke up for work after a packed weekend and did not have the time to spend two hours washing and flat-ironing my hair like I usually do on Sundays. My split ends were already curly, so I decided on a whim to wet the ends of my hair with water. I also coated my ends with a little bit of Macadamia's Tousled Texture Finishing Spray in hopes of creating a wavy look. I was scared shitless because I had no clue how this was going to turn out. I had never worn my hair like this before and I didn't really like it before walking out the door for work. College me wouldn't recognize this person.
That day, Cosmopolitan.com photographer Ruben Chamorro asked me if I could help test his light by taking a quick photo. I immediately denied him. I didn't want to be photographed on what I considered to be a bad hair day. He insisted, saying my hair looked so cool.
Not going to lie, I was into it. Who knew my teased, curly hair could actually look good in a photo? I got so many compliments from coworkers too. (I could barely accept them because I still wasn't comfortable with my hair.) This made me think of all the times my mom, who is a beautiful naturalista herself, had encouraged me to embrace my natural curls. I would on very rare occasions, but never for more than a day or two.
Don't get me wrong, I've always admired women who wear their curls. I'm even kind of intimidated by the natural hair community because I don't know how to do all those complicated braids, twists, and updos that are all over Insta.
But the day I wore my hair halfway curly at work was the first time I had ever felt like my curls were (kind of) pretty. I liked the feeling. I still don't really know what sparked inside of me, but it made me want to go all out and try natural hairstyles I had secretly wanted to attempt for a long time. I needed to stop letting my straight hair rule my identity. So I decided to wear my natural hair for a week.
Style: Braid Out
I wanted to start off simple, so I did a basic braid out. I frantically texted one of my friends who has the most beautiful curls in life, asking which products I should use to make sure my curls would last.
First, I washed my hair with Carol's Daughter Black Vanilla shampoo and conditioner. After parting my hair into eight sections, I lathered my hair with Carol's Daughter Hair Milk and Cantu Shea Butter Leave-in Conditioner. I braided each section of my hair and sealed the ends with a little bit of Moroccanoil. I put a satin bonnet on and hoped for the best in the morning.
I was so happy with the results that I didn't know what to with myself! It felt so amazing sashaying down the street, feeling the wind through my curls, whipping my hair back and forth. I don't know if I have the nicest coworkers ever or everyone really did love my hair, but I was showered with compliments all day.
I snapped a selfie to see what my Insta friends would think of it too. The overwhelmingly positive response was so validating. Not that you need anyone to validate your beauty, but it just made me feel good, ya know?
Style: Puff Ball
The braid out the day before set a pretty strong tone that was hard to follow up - but it had taken me an hour to style and I wanted to spend less time getting my hair ready.
I thought about trying a topknot. It would be taking my hair in a completely new direction because I hardly ever wear my hair up. I couldn't even remember the last time I had. Maybe as a kid?
Come to find out, pulling my curls back was tough. I used a firm brush to smooth down my edges, which were slicked with water and Creme of Nature's Argan Oil Perfect Edges. Afterward, I tied my hair down with a silk scarf for 20 minutes so my edges would lay down.
I probably redid my puff ball a million times. OK, I'm exaggerating, but still it took forever. I felt like my messy bun looked a little child-like, so I swiped on my favorite red lipstick to liven up the look. This day, I didn't get as many comments about my hair. In fact, one of my interns told me she liked my curls out better instead of pulled back.
I was still grappling with the fact that people genuinely liked my curls. It surprised me. Maybe it's because for so long, I concealed them and never gave anyone (including myself) a chance to even see them. My puff ball was OK, but it was time to give my curls another chance to come out and play.
Style: Bantu Knots
I've always loved the beautiful ringlets bantu knots create on natural hair but have never been able to get them to work on myself. I knew this was going to be one of those make-it-or-break-it hairstyles that could go either way. I scouted out one of my closest friends, Jamie, who is skilled at bantu knots, to do the job.
Here's all that went into my hair:
- A spray bottle filled with water
- A ton of bobby pins
- Carol's Daughter Monoi Repairing Leave-in Conditioner
- Carol's Daughter Hair Milk
- Coconut Oil
First, we started with my dry hair that I hadn't washed in a few days. She parted it in about 10 sections because I didn't want super-tight curls. Next, she sprayed it with water to get my hair damp (not soaking wet), combed out each section with a wide-tooth comb, and lathered my hair with a small amount of each product listed above. Then, she tightly twisted my hair in a circular motion that created a really tight coil that she secured with a bobby pin. She repeated this step all over and my hair looked like this:
Sleeping in these things was a bumpy road. My coils were tight so it was uncomfortable. But in the morning, when I unraveled each bobby pin, my ringlets were so defined.
Afterward, I coated my fingertips with a little Jamaican Black Caster Oil and separated each curl with my hands. Then I went in with a wide-tooth comb to fluff up the roots of my hair for bigger curls. The finished look was so fun!
My Snapchat friends said this needed to be my new lewk.
Could I commit to doing this every night? Absolutely not. It required so much time and patience. But I definitely love the outcome of the curls. I felt myself starting to love my natural hair more and more each day.
Style: Crown Braid
I love a crown braid. That's like the ultimate in #HairGoals for me. I've seen them for so long in Instagram and Pinterest that I wanted to see how it would look on me. I don't know how to French braid so I trusted my coworker Brooke, who is bomb.com at braiding, to help me.
First, I brushed down my edges with water and used a generous amount of Creme of Nature's Argan Oil Perfect Edges to smooth them down. Brooke parted my hair on the side and took three strands of my hair and braided it halfway across my hair. She repeated the same step on the other side of the part.
My crown braid made me feel like a complete goddess. I literally felt like I was walking around with a halo on top of my head all day for everyone to see the angel I am (well, technically I was, but you know what I mean 😇).
Style: Wash 'N' Go
Honesty moment: I was burned out from dedicating over an hour each day to trying out natural styles. It was Friday and I just wanted to let my curls loose. I decided to see how my hair would look in its true natural state.
I washed my hair in the morning with Carol's Daughter Black Vanilla shampoo and conditioner, and used a detangling brush in the shower. Then I lathered my wet hair with SheaMoisture's Coconut and Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie to lock in some extra moisture for the full day ahead of me.
I was the most nervous this day. I had no idea how my curls were going to look once they dried. What were my coworkers going to think of me walking into the office with a big afro? Would I be perceived the wrong way? Was my hair unprofessional? All of these negative thoughts rushed in to my head at once. But I just decided to own it. And it worked.
Before this day, I had never just let my hair be. I realized I didn't need any braids, twists, a flat iron, or extensions to alter the appearance of my hair. It was liberating to wear it just the way it is. I felt like I was tapping into an authentic part myself for the very first time. It was like a rebirth of my hair - in its natural, truest, and purest state.
Style: Wash 'N' Go
I was heading to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the weekend to attend a Harvard Law Conference co-chaired by my sister Taylor. I was hesitant to rock my afro in a room full of lawyers. Before going, I vented to my friends about how I didn't want to stick out and not be taken seriously.
Historically, afros, braids, and other ethnic hairstyles of the African-American community have been rooted in so much controversy. They still are today. Young girls are being suspended home from school for wearing "unruly" afros and women are being fired from their jobs for wearing natural styles that are labeled "unacceptable." Despite my internalized fears, I decided to be the Professional Black Girl I claim to be and wear my afro anyway. I didn't want to fall victim to being afraid of proudly wearing my natural hair any and everywhere.
My sister's conference was a success and I actually received compliments from strangers who also were there. I love the way my wash 'n' go looked with a dressier outfit.
Style: Wash 'N' Go
Although it was officially the last day I had to wear my natural hair, it didn't feel like an obligation. I wasn't scared of my curls anymore. I was excited to wear them more. I wondered why I had been so stubborn about hiding them in the first place.
Growing up, the only woman I looked up to with natural hair was my mom. Everyone else around me had straight, long hair, so that's what I thought was "acceptable" and "beautiful." I thought my naturally curly hair was untamed, nappy, and something only my mom saw when she was in the process of detangling my roots before we hot-combed it straight.
This carried on through my teenage and college years. But I'm so glad I finally let go of the false notion that straight hair is what I am most beautiful in. I'm still trying to figure out why I accepted that lie for so long. It's a combination of being the only kinky-haired brown girl in the room for many years and unthinkingly accepting society's standards of beauty.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against my straight hair now and I still wear it often. I honestly missed it after a week of curls. It's still my security blanket because it's what I've worn for so many years. I've just learned to embrace the beauty of my hair in every single form.
My hair does not define who I am, nor does it control my life. I have the freedom to wear my hair however I please - curly, braided, twisted, or straight. My coworkers didn't stare at me extra long, ask to touch my hair, or call it "unprofessional." My friends and family didn't think I looked weird with curly hair; they actually loved it. All the perceived judgements I had been afraid of never actually materialized.
I've worn my natural hair beyond this challenge and will continue to. Because it's not about my hair, it's about my confidence to truly love myself through and through.
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