This is the piece that I wrote for Curly Nikki's "On the Red Couch" series. It's about how my self-esteem was connected to my natural hair during my adolescent years. It's quite long, so I put this behind the cut.
When many people decide to make the transition from relaxed hair to curly hair, it is often done on one's free will. My first step as a a natural wasn't a free choice for me-it was a decision made by my mother. She often said we would go natural and how every relaxer "was the last time", but we finally found a reason to go natural.
It happened just like India. Arie's song "I Am Not My Hair"-I was thirteen, got a relaxer and after a while, my hair fell out. I went from having shoulder length hair to having quite a lot of hair on the top and the back being very very short. This happens right at the beginning of puberty. What a way to start puberty...
So at first, I tried hoodies to cover my hair disaster, that only worked out for about 45 minutes a day because hoodies weren't allowed in school. Then I searched for any person who could do braid my hair in any sort of way so that my hair could "grow back quickly". I had some of the most intricate styles ever along with the hair pulling in the hopes of growing my hair so that I could relax it and wear it long just like old times. Then I learned about hair forums and communities which immediately taught me that hair growth doesn't happen immediately. I looked for every shred of information about growing hair so that when I turned eighteen (the age in which my mom said I could do whatever I wanted with my hair) I could relax my hair again without questions. All of this set up for an interesting high school experience.
I remember my first day of High School pretty clearly. You could see people that were beginning to "grow up" and a lot of the girls had long, swinging hair and here I was with a fresh set of cornrows. I really liked my cornrows because it gave me my "safe blanket" which was longer hair. The problem was that cornrow extensions had to be re-done every month and when it came to that time, depression and anxiety would set in because I didn't want my hair to be exposed. Now that I look back, this fear of exposure lead to my self-esteem spiraling to levels that I can't even fathom anymore. I didn't feel like I was beautiful and thanks to an observant personality, I felt like others felt the same way.
This feeling of low self esteem, self-doubt and self-defeatism continued for two years. My main goal of these years to hide and be invisible. My friend said it best in a late night conversation during our sophomore year: "You present an outward appearance that you're happy, but it's not reflected on the inside. You have the capability to feel good on the inside and on the outside, but you don't believe you can feel happy with the way you are." What she said was so dead on that I couldn't even keep up up with our conversation, I just cried because this was so painfully true.
One huge unexpected change came right before my junior year of High School-I had moved out of that school zone and moved a good 25-30 miles away. Now this started a whole new crisis-I didn't have the friends that I have established since the start of High school along with going to a place where no one knew me. I was as scared with moving to a new town, school, house as I was the day my hair fell out. It was a new sort of crisis but I realized one thing-I could be a whole different person without the previous baggage. I had the chance not hide like I did in the past.
So my junior year started as I had started the previous years of High School-with brand new extensions to hide my hair but when it came time to take down my braids, I didn't feel that same feeling of panic as I had felt every year. The fact that no one at this school (bar one person, but it was a complete coincidence and I didn't know him that well at my old school!) really knew me meant that I could start to re-invent myself.
Then as time went on, I started to feel more at ease with the person I was and over time, I started to love my natural hair. My hair was no longer a burden, it was no longer something that I desperately wanted to hide. I no longer tried to find quick remedies to grow my hair, but I just let it be. Time went on and it grew and it grew and on my senior prom, I flat ironed my hair straight (this was planned-I had always planned to press my hair for prom, the only time I pressed my hair at my new school compared to once a week every month at my old school) and it was longer than any length I had seen when my hair was relaxed.
Now that I'm looking back at all of this three years later with a lump in my throat from varying emotions that are coming out, I see where I have been and where I am going. Although some of my self-esteem issues aren't fully resolved, I am definitely at a better place than where I was all those years ago (as expected I would think). In the long run, embracing my natural hair resulted in loving myself more and to stop hiding as much. If I could go back in time to me in the past or people who are in this situation now, I would say that what I was feeling now isn't how it's going to be forever and that hiding will only bring up feelings of loneliness that is hard to get out of. There's more to life than the kids that you went to high school with and better is always on on the horizon.