Early in 2012 I started down this road of hair (re)discovery…
My name is Ndeshimona and I am a Zambian-born 25-year-old living in British Columbia, Canada.
My mom relaxed my hair for the first time when I was about 9 or 10. I was so excited. We used the ‘Just For Me‘ product and I remember listening to the instruction tape with my mom with the catchy theme song ‘Just for meeeee!’.
I remember that fun looking box with bold, bright colours and girls with the biggest smiles with what I thought was gorgeous, desirable hair. I wanted that hair. I wanted it to fall on my face and swing around like my friends’ hair. I was going to be ‘so pretty’ with my relaxed hair, I thought. I’m not sure about my mom’s thoughts about relaxed hair. I don’t think she was overall too bothered either way. Before getting relaxers my hair vocabulary was pretty much limited to ‘hot comb,’ ‘corn rows’ and ‘extensions’. Before getting relaxers I would sit on the floor, my back resting on my mom’s knees as she worked cornrows through my hair. Those hours sitting, waiting for the next break as she put box braids in. Those moments when I would sneak my hand up to feel my hair. Trying to see how much longer it would be. Being able to stand up and stretch the moment my mom finished the last braid…
I grew up in a small town in northern British Columbia, Canada. It was pretty isolated and there weren’t a lot of black families around. The families that were around you can be sure we knew and spent time with them. As far as African hair products go, there was nothing. My dad would sometimes have work trips in bigger cities and when he did go we would get him to bring stuff back for us. Whether it was extensions or hair relaxer, pops was the one to hook us up.
We did discover one lady in our town who did African hair and I would go to her to get my hair relaxed when I had to. Eventually her shop closed and I was back to doing my own hair. Whenever we did leave town and visit bigger cities mom and I would get our hair done at the local African hair salon.
Man, did that ever hurt. I remember my legs shaaaking as the relaxer sat in my hair. I was all smiles when it was over but I always, always dreaded the process. The damage to my scalp afterwards, more irritating than concerning, was accepted as part of the process. It always healed so it was never worrisome.
I moved away for school at 20 and was living in a bigger city with access to hair products.
I was in heaven! Going to the drug store and seeing a shelf full of African hair products was such a great moment for me. I promised my mom I would share the wealth and ship her some deep conditioner, hair cream, relaxers, whatever she needed but wasn’t able to get.
For the next three years, every three months or so when my ‘roots’ would show up, I would spend $13 and get the box and glove up to do my hair. Sometimes I enlisted the help of my roommate. She didn’t quite understand the process but saw the results and what I wanted to maintain. Even then, I still hated the process but loved the loose, curls that bounced attractively. It was great. At the time I was dating this guy and he would sometimes comment on how I didn’t like my hair but he liked it. And thinking back on it… he couldn’t like my hair because he didn’t know my hair. The whole time I had been with him my hair was relaxed. He thought he was being the good guy by standing up for my hair, finding a piece of me he recognized I didn’t really like and taking that upon himself to like it for me. But… he didn’t know my hair. I didn’t even know my hair. What he liked was artificial.
Going into the new year, single, I started looking at hair journeys and hair stories and this new concept of natural hair! I was apprehensive at first because:
a) I hadn’t seen my natural hair in yeeears! How would this work? What would it entail?
b) Is it for me? I mean, really, I know how to work my relaxed hair, sure it’s not fun, but it’s what I know.
c) I’m going to be a bridesmaid in August and how will this work with the hairstyle we’ve decided on?
I had all these thoughts going through my head. Attending university at the time, one of my classes got me thinking… what is so wrong about my natural hair? Why do I go to these lengths to change what comes naturally out of my scalp? Is it that bad?
I talked to my mom a bit, about cutting off my hair and just leaving it alone and letting it grow. She was sort of hesitant, but her response in the end was, ‘yeah, you can always get extensions and wear wigs or get a weave.’ I thought to myself… why? Why am I covering up what I have? I’ve never worn a weave or wig and I’m by no means against them, we have options, let’s have fun! But for me… My hair does grow, why cover it up?
My term ended in March and I headed home to visit my parents. My hair was in such incredible disrepair by that time. It was broken and kind of mostly natural except for the limp, long, straight front portion. I was spending some time in the neighbouring city that I was flying out of and I wanted to do my Big Chop. I was hanging out with my brother so we went downtown but the African hair salons were closed the only two days I was there. Great. I called about 10 salons and we wandered around the mall to no avail. I was a little overwhelmed at that point. I didn’t realize salons were so unequipped in handling my hair. Some were willing to try but no thanks. I wanted someone who knew what they were doing.
I ended up going home without getting my hair done. While I was home my mom put my hair in corn rows. I loved it. I hadn’t had corn rows since I was younger. I felt like a kid again, sitting in my chair while my mom pulled and tugged and braided my hair. Except this time I was playing ‘Diner Dash’ on my phone instead of staring at the floor, my neck hating me.
I was at home for my mom’s 50th birthday and we decided to take a trip to the city. My dad had meetings there and I was flying down anyway so we made sure mom was in for the fun. Yay! My African hair salon would be open that day! As soon as we got off the plane my mom and I headed downtown, suitcases in tow. My mom got her hair done too. She was getting it cut. A less ‘formal’ big chop if you will. I went first. I sat in the chair and told her I wanted it off, and I wanted just my natural hair. My hair had already grown about an inch or so, so I really just wanted the front taken off to match the rest of my hair. She had other plans. She took the scissors and sort of evened out my hair and I was pretty happy, thinking ‘that wasn’t so bad’. Then she got the electric razor and my heart rate quickened. She went for it. Boy did she go for it. I was physically leaning away as she was doing it. Seriously.
And then it was over. There was no ceremony, no high fives or hugs or congratulations to me on my journey. I don’t know what I was expecting. There I was with the shortest hair ever. I hadn’t seen my hair that short since I was three… I was a little scared… I’ll be honest. It was weird, I could feel the wind on the back of my neck. My ears were cold. They were exposed. I was exposed. I had never felt so… exposed before. I kept looking at myself in windows, it felt so strange. But my god it was easy to take care of! I got up and went to the hotel gym in the morning without even touching my hair. Bed head be gone with my Big Chop’d hair. It was great!
And now I’m over a year natural. I started with a TWA. My hair grew. I was sporting headbands and clips. My hair continued to grow. I was doing twist outs and braids out. My hair continued to grow. The entire time my hair was growing, I was learning. I continue to learn. I continue to be fascinated by these curls that I’m nurturing. And they’re mine. These curls, that are so versatile and carefree and silly and wild and beautiful; they are all mine. These curls don’t need my ‘help’. They don’t need to be made to lie flat at all costs.
I am so happy I made the decision I did. Why was I hiding these curls so diligently? So blindly? Never again.
I love my hair.