On December 26, 2013, I stepped out of the shower and grabbed the closest scissors I could find. I had decided I was going natural, and for some reason that precarious time between New Year’s and Christmas felt right. I was conservative at first, leaving bits of permed ends clinging to my tiny curls –– ready to transition but nervous about what this would mean. Ten minutes into my careful cutting, my mom walked in on me and began chopping by the fistful; she was happy for me, but I was scared shitless. Ten minutes after that, I was left with a tiny bush that barely touched my eyebrows when stretched. I’ll be completely honest: I felt ugly. I didn’t recognize myself without the sew-in or the heat damage. For years, I’d been convinced that the only way I could be beautiful was with someone else’s hair attached to my head or flattening mine into something unrecognizable (and to be honest — not cute at all!). So there I was with the scissors, my hair clumped on the counter around me and my sense of self scattered somewhere in between.
Let’s Go Back to the Beginning
Five years earlier, I begged my mom for a perm, tearfully explaining that I hated my kinky hair and everything that came with it. I wanted hair that I could feel on my back. I wanted my ponytail to hit the back of my neck as I ran. I wanted to swing my neck from side to side and feel my hair go with it. I resented my hair, and by extension of that, my blackness. I resented my mother for denying me the right to burn my scalp with relaxer, to be “pretty” like the girls I went to school with. I resented her for suggesting I cornrow my hair into straight backs at the age of 13. Eventually, my mother gave in, and she gave me my first perm. I sat patiently in between her legs as she based my scalp and parted my hair, excitement bubbling up inside me. I went to school the next day, roots smooth and scalp irritated –– grinning. I finally had what I wanted. Or at least I thought I did. My hair was thin, broken off, and unhealthy, but at least it was straight...right?
At the time, the natural hair movement had yet to find its voice. There were a few influencers and even fewer brands who were advocating for going natural, but after seeing their bouncy curls and the versatility of their hair I was intrigued. I was tired of being a slave to the elements (everyone knows how black girls feel about their hair and any type of moisture) and not having enough hair to do the styles I wanted. I was tired of the weaves and the blending — and most importantly, I was too broke to keep up with it all. As a college student, I couldn’t afford a perm every six to eight weeks or a $500 weave (I could barely afford Chinese food) so I realized I had one of two choices –– cut it off or figure out a way to keep up with it. I tried the latter option for a while but soon realized it was increasingly impractical with every appointment I made.
But that wasn’t the thing that pushed me over the edge. At the end of my first semester as a freshman, I was coming to terms with a lot of things, namely my identity. As a little fish in the big pond of college, I quickly realized I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t work on figuring out who I was. I was insecure, and it slowly started to occur to me that this was due largely in part to the thing I was clinging to, the thing that defined me and so many women that look like me: my hair.
After the Chop
The day after my big chop, I woke up anxious to wash my hair, anxious to see my curl pattern. Was I 4a, 3c, 4c? I spent hours consuming everything Google had to offer, scouring Black Girl Long Hair for product recommendations and devouring Youtube videos by the dozens. I felt newly indoctrinated into the natural hair community, and I was excited to watch my natural hair grow. Even though I knew it wouldn’t happen right then, I was determined to feel beautiful. I took pictures obsessively, documenting every month and taking closeups of my curl pattern for review. I did density tests and guessed at the thickness of my strands. I read about natural hair care and sulfates, found Shea Moisture and Carol’s Daughter. I tried diffusing. I fell in love with head scarves. I found my go to products, applauded other girls as they chopped off their perms and encouraged everyone around me to go natural, too. I discovered the words “black girl magic” and followed every natural hair blogger I could find (at that time there were only a few). I tried and failed at protective styling, got good at wash-and-gos and worked hard to make my hair work for me.
My Natural Hair Today
Three years later, I’m happy to be curly and proudly rock my fro in every possible situation. Admittedly, sometimes I feel anxiety about my fro in professional situations and look on enviously when my fave celebs have long sleek looks on the red carpet. When I catch myself stressing or wishing for straight hair, I remind myself that my hair is part of my identity and perfect just the way it is.
About the Author:Tembe Denton-Hurst hails from Brooklyn, NY, but if you ask her, the answer will be much more complicated. She's passionate about YouTube, storytelling and swatching everything she can get her hands on. When the assistant beauty editor isn't brainstorming crazy ideas for makeup.com, she's lurking on Reddit, spending time with her cats Stella and Dakota or asking obvious questions.