Black and/or White, Straight and/or Curly : My Hair Story

Posted on: Monday, October 24, 2011

age four

When I was in sixth grade we had a little lesson one afternoon on CPR, taught by some outside organization. All of us kids were seated in a semicircle on the ground watching and answering questions. I was a pretty shy kid but I raised my hand and answered a question. I only remember this event and that I answered correctly because a little bit later the instructor referenced back to my answer saying something along the lines of "He got it right!"


And since then I have not had short hair.

My hair has been a struggle for me as long as I can remember really caring about what it looked like. I am aware that on the long list of struggles people face, hair is among the least important, just above breaking a nail and which of the many flavors ice cream to choose when you've made it to the front of the line, but apparently hair is an especially big deal in the African American culture (a culture that as a half black lady and anthropology student I should probably understand more). I didn't grow up with much guidance in the ways of black hair (my own fault for not seeking it), so I would just straighten it. Straightening (or relaxing) involves a horrible white goop being spread all over your hair, to chemically straighten the new curly hair. And it burns, oh it burns. Your scalp feels as if it is on fire. You know it is ready to wash out right before the burning becomes completely unbearable. And then when it is being rinsed out and you think you will get relief, the water feels like a million little needles being poked into your head. I am not exaggerating. It is all a legal form a torture, I am sure. But I have been doing it for years. A single treatment usually costs about $90, though you can buy do-it-yourself kits for under $10; they do the trick, you just don't get quite same quality result.

My straightening habits have also been reinforced by the fact that the only time anyone would say anything (positive) about my hair was right after it had been straightened (they also always think I just got it cut; a trim does not completely change the texture, volume, shine, and type of hair you have). People also suggest I style my hair like my sister, but for the last time, people, we don't have the same hair; it doesn't work that way. My curls are tighter and smaller, with a very dry, frizzy texture. I also dislike when people ask why I don't wear it down, or suggest that I should. Because it looks really bad, that's why; do you really think I like having it the same every single day, that I haven't considered wearing it down? I dislike my hair a lot of the time. I've never really known what to do with it. I don't want to spend a lot of money or time getting it taken care of every couple weeks. I definitely do not want fake hair on my head. No thank you. I really do like my hair when it is curly, which is important to remember, I just wish it wasn't so frizzy, thick and poofy. I have 4 or 5 different conditioners in my shower this very moment; every once in a while I try a new conditioner or two to try and find one that will last and work the best. TRESemme is quite good and I have been using it for years, so I always have that. Unfortunately my hair usually feels its best when it is wet, and let's just not even talk about brushing it right now. I have good hair days and bad hair days like anyone (yesterday was a good day), and I think at one point or another we all want hair that we don't have. I am jealous of people who can style it in more than one way, wear it down, toss it around, not condition it every day, do things with it, have friends that can relate to their hair issues, go to any hair salon...

My husband, my wonderful husband, is as white as white can be (though looks may be deceiving and truthfully I am not far off). Sometimes I whine about my hair and get sad and upset about it, and he comforts me and google searches for solutions and information for me, from Iraq. What a guy, right? He also tells me I am pretty and that my crazy hair isn't as crazy as I think it is.

I have recently decided to stop straightening my hair, to go natural as they say. This decision has been brewing for years. I've wanted to do it, but right around the second or third month mark after a good scalp burning, my hair gets too frizzy and an annoying combination of curly/straight, and I take the easy route and straighten it again. But, I have made it past that, and I'm starting to figure things out, very little by little. I have learned that this transition phase is a whole process, complete with instructions, products, and support groups. I have learned that I have things to learn, that my hair just won't sort itself out, I will have to experiment and help it along. I do not want to spend too much time or money in doing so, but I did order some curl-specific products to try out. I have used them twice; I'm not sure what I think so far. The leave-in curly pudding smells good,  but I dislike my hair feeling like it has goop in it all day.

So starts my hair adventure. I will keep you updated. Aside from figuring out the occasional mess atop my own head, I hope to learn some tricks and tips so that I can help and guide our future children- being 3/4 white and 1/4 black (and 100% awesome), and considering my siblings and I all have quite different hair, who knows what sort of hair dilemmas they will face. 

- From the desk of Mrs. M


  1. I think that people made a point to compliment you after straightening your hair because they understood what it cost. The money, the pain, traveling to a salon in a different part of the city (DC or Pittsburgh), they wanted to show you they noticed and make you feel good about it.

  2. Honestly, I always got a little annoyed when you straightened your hair. The curly part is my favorite! I mean yes, it looked nice relaxed and all that... but I think there is a lot more that you could with it once it is longer and "let go" for a while. Yes, it will require a lot of experimentation and frustration and bad hair days, but isn't that better than never knowing how awesome your hair could be?

    I think the hardest part will probably getting used to how different you will look when it's natural. Yes, your hair might not plaster down close to your head like it did when it was straightened, but who is to say your bone structure wouldn't look better with a bit of poof or volume or curl? Don't convince yourself that looking different than you pictured is a bad thing and psyche yourself out prematurely.


    p.s. I'm glad I know this now. You never once mentioned any of this when we were friends in middle/high school.

  3. stop using "regular" shampoos. the sodium laureth sulfate thingummies in there are major detergents that take the curl right out, and make it frizzy. use an organic/natural shampoo that doesn't contain sulfates, parabens, or other weird stuff, or go shampoo-less altogether. there will be an adjustment stage - two weeks, maybe - where your scalp figures out how to react to the sudden absence of detergents, so be aware of that. and try a "natural" conditioner - nature's gate is a good brand. it'll take some experimenting, but i haven't used regular shampoo in years - or shampoo at all, really - and my hair's curlier than it ever was in high school.

    you can make your own shampoo and conditioner. i've used baking soda paste (ie, 1tsp of baking soda with a half a cup of water - it's not really a paste, i suppose, but you want enough water to mix it all together) and that works great to get rid of buildup, dirt, and sweat. follow it up with 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (dilute it in warm water, so maybe a cup or more total) - that acts as a conditioner - but make sure to get all the baking soda out first or you'll have a volcano on your head.

    i've also used a mix of sugar and conditioner - that really is like a paste - on my scalp, and then followed it up with straight conditioner for my hair ends. this also works really well - sugar is an exfoliant - but you really need to work to get it all out, or else your hair will be a rather oily bug-attractant. gross. the baking soda comes out cleaner.

    good luck!!

  4. also, you don't need to wash it with any kind of shampoo but once a week. seriously. this is from a woman who worked on farms for the past 16 months, so i've been in some less than clean situations. washing it every day with shampoos also will make it frizzy, and dried out.


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