Beauty Lookbook

I hid behind perms for years, until the day I finally cracked and let my natural hair show

On my 12th birthday, my mom gave me the gift of a perm. For years, I had my natural hair in different intricate braided styles with different beads. But this time I was going to have sleek, long hair, devoid of any kinks. The Dominican hair salon that we went to usually complained about my kinky curly hair. It was always too much work to blow dry and straighten.

“Mami, you need to put perm. It will be easy,” the hairdresser would say.

My mom always resisted the idea. She had gotten a perm when she was around my age for the same reason. Kinky curly hair was too much work for hairstylists, but my mom didn’t want me to go through with it. Her wish was that I could accept my hair for what it was in its natural state, without all the chemicals and alterations.

[bctt tweet=” She wanted me to accept my hair in its natural state.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Growing up, many of the shows I watched didn’t have people with my hair. Even people in my family didn’t really show off their naturally kinky hair.

Most of the time, the women I knew straightened their hair, either with heat or a perm, while others kept it hidden under protective styles. At a young age, I had already learned to hate my hair in its natural state. I was tired of having to sit between my mom’s legs as she cornrowed my hair and rubbed grease on my scalp. I envied my friends who had long straight hair, while I was stuck with my Afro-textured hair. At the time I didn’t realize that my hair was a symbol of my identity and complex history.

My quest to have sleek long hair was finally achieved when my mom decided to give me a perm.

The first time I was scared. My mother had warned me that if it was kept in for too long, it could burn my scalp and fry my hair. I remember the number of times I sat in the salon chair complaining of a burning sensation and the hairdresser telling me that it was okay, that I still had five more minutes. Sometimes it was complete torture, not only to myself but to my hair. After getting a perm, I would blow dry and straighten it with even more heat causing more damage to my strands. My hair wasn’t receiving the love that it needed because I was worried more about appearances than my own hair health.

There was a part of me that felt that this new hair wasn’t really me.

[bctt tweet=”My hair wasn’t receiving the love that it needed because I was worried more about appearances than my own hair health.” username=”wearethetempest”]

During my freshman year of college, my mother was the first to go natural. My mother had become sick and did an overhaul on her health. She started eating clean and everything else followed. At first, many people were shocked and even judged her on her looks.

“But natural hair is not attractive. How will you find a man with that hair?”

Natural hair has always had that negative connotation attached. To others, it was too nappy and must be hidden in order to be acceptable.

If your hair was going to be natural, it had to be the “right” natural. The curl had to be perfectly spiral and reach down your back in order to be attractive to others, mainly men. When my mom suggested that I go natural as well, I was hesitant. I was afraid of what my hair would actually look like. I knew my hair would not look like those loose curls and I was afraid of the work that would be involved. While I had continued to get perms, I had avoided heat as a way to heal my hair for all the damage I had done.

As a college student, caring for my hair and maintaining perms were getting expensive, but I also feared that being natural would cost just as much or even more.

[bctt tweet=”A woman’s appearance is always supposed to cater to the male gaze.” username=”wearethetempest”]

A year later, I decided not to follow up with a perm.

Of all the decisions in my life that I have ever made, this was the easiest one. I did it because I wasn’t loving my hair in all of its natural glory. As women, we’re trained to put effort into our looks and value our hair just as much as we value the other frivolous things that make us feminine. However, there is a difference when it comes to a Black woman loving her hair.

Black hair has always had a complex history attached: from the slave masters making sure Black women’s hair was cut or shaved to erase their identity to Angela Davis being blacklisted because of her Afro, to now, where girls are unable to go to school because their braids are too distracting.

I can’t remember the number of times a man has told me that I had  “good hair.”

Good hair is a myth. We all have good hair, it’s all about how we take care of it. You can’t expect to have good hair if you don’t put the effort in. When I became natural, YouTube became my resource for learning the ins and outs of my new texture. At first, I was overwhelmed by the videos and seeing the different hair textures made me envious.

But after about three years of being natural, I realized that I was never going to have the same type of hair as anyone else, and I don’t love myself or my hair any less.

[bctt tweet=”Black hair has always had a complex history attached.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I advocate for natural hair because I believe that in the journey towards self-love, we must be willing to accept ourselves as we are in order to be completely in tune with our soul. This isn’t to say that I don’t have bad hair days, or days when I want to shave my head because I definitely do.

After years of hiding behind what people told me looked good, it’s liberating to choose my own path and accept my beauty in its natural state.

By Yannise Jean

Yannise is the Senior Lookbook Editor. She is a writer and a Hunter College grad with a degree in Creative Writing. She loves writing about women of color and religion. You can find her in the streets of NYC eating pizza, buying too many books and discussing the importance of intersectionality in feminism.