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Why You Can Live in a Democracy and Not be Free: My Hair Story

May 25, 2017

Shockwave (noun): a region of abrupt change of pressure and density moving as a wavefront at or above the velocity of sound, caused by an intense explosion or supersonic flow over a body.” This definition was also synonymous with my mother’s reaction when greeted with my newly shaved head at the CVG airport. Recollecting our last appearance together when I exhibited full, shoulder-length hair, I remained unsurprised by her candid reaction.  So when asked why I did it, I told my parents this:

in this world, you either fall into two categories: the person who doesn’t mind slaying a weave every now and then (I mean who wouldn't) or the full-time weave-wearer that sacrifices everything for the job. I had just quit my full-time job.

 

 

From birth, the womb, and onto mama’s lap

 

My brothers both had physical places to go to when they wanted to groom their hair. I did as well, just my own rendition of that. I called it “Mommy’s Salon” located at the nest of her lap. My neck, forced to remain taut and bent, braced itself for the onslaught of the hot comb as it proceeded to inflict warfare on my curls. The sound of sizzling fibers echoed as a reminder that the process was working, and that my hairdo would soon be able to withstand the forceful gust of a tornado. Through the pain, I knew those magic fingers were crafting something special up there, and whatever it was, it needed my whole afternoon to get done. Unlike my brothers’ barbershops, I inevitably graduated from my salon after becoming too big for mother’s lap. Standing alone, I now had to learn how to fend off my own hair demons.

 

 

Swedish irony

 

 

With grade school plans abruptly halted, my friend and I soon discovered the legendary phrase, "hair day." With a jovial shrug, my Swedish friend asked me how long my “hair day” would take since our engagement was not until late that afternoon. Unsuspectingly, I told my friend not to worry and that my hair would be done in an hour or so. How naive! The side-eye my mother gave me that day is something I will never forget. Soon after hair day commenced, I relentlessly begged the Lord for mercy when my hair preparation alone took an hour. With the relaxer finally applied, it was off to shampooing, conditioning, drying, and finally styling. The total procedure took over four and a half hours. The audacity of whomever to name such a torturous, chemical process a “relaxer,” when instead it should be called what it invokes: anguish. 

 

At that time, I felt like I had been living in some alternative universe. It took my friend, Madeline, at most thirty minutes to wash, condition, and dry her hair. That unforgettable relaxer experience was enough for me to do everything in my power to prolong those sweltering chemicals from ever reaching my hair again. Even if it meant deterring sweat at all costs to avoid sweating out my perm. 

 

 

Unbeweaveable

 

Okay, after playing one game of soccer during the oppressive August heatwave, I quickly learned the impossibility of defying my sweat glands (while maintaining our team's winning streak). Soon after that realization, I saw what I thought to be a mirage; an African-American woman featured in a running ad with luxurious hair, unfazed by rain and overproducing sweat glands. It was then that I knew, what I thought was my ultimate, convenient solution: a weave.

 

The Fine Print

 

From that day onward my life changed forever, and my hair woes were banished and replaced with total efficiency. The end.

 

That is until I discovered the fine print: maintenance and upkeep. For two days out of every other month, I vanished from the world to undertake the grueling, arduous task of removing my hair extensions, reviving my hair with pints of moisturizers,  and catching a brief breather before installing those strenuous hair extensions back in. 

 

Birthdays, Holidays, family, food and Jesus all came second to my hair. Whole weekends were devoted to the upkeep of this relationship, resulting in my Sundays spent watching church sermons on my laptop. Interestingly enough, this weave connection, first initiated for the sole purpose of efficiency, was taking over my entire life.

 

 

Alaska?

 

Over a decade of treating my natural hair as a foreigner and living and breathing solely for my hair extensions: I snapped. And through that, I found freedom.

Two months before abandoning my weave obsession by impulsively chopping off all my hair, I turned 25 and inescapably began growing up. With maturity comes the revelation of closeted hobbies and passions, including my distinct fondness for travel. Living in China for five years left a hidden mark in my heart that resurfaced when I came across old photos of my family trotting through foreign lands.

Examining old photos, I could see all five of us spilling over with fascination. I wanted that—I needed that in my life for me to feel somewhat human. Through boundless research, I affirmed my next big adventure: Thailand and surfing. Naturally, I googled my usual essentials—lodging, food, costs of living….a weave salon— and my stomach dropped. Even by undertaking this trip to revitalize what was left of my life and pursue my passion, I was still packing up my hair addiction with me. Embarrassingly, I didn't want to fathom spending time trying to translate "weave" and "weave salon" in Thai (awkward). I needed to cut off this dependency to convert this burden from its current role as a necessity to its original intent: an accessory.  I followed this conviction all the way up to 125th street. Harlem.

 

 

“Sister, you alright?”

 

The big chop. Was my sanity questioned for wanting to chop off healthy, shoulder length hair? Yes. Was shade thrown? Certainly. However, the captives were set free that day. Here’s the silver lining: combined with my unnecessary hour and a half wait time (CP time never fails), a barber cut, a wash & blow-dry, and styling, my salon time was still significantly shorter than all the women who received a relaxer or braiding appointment. For the first time since middle school, I walked outside without a single strand of hair extension attached to my head. This newdo dramatically cut out five hours of time spent toiling over my hair each week, thus, shamelessly granting me time in my life to build a website…. and type this blog. So, I'll take the shade to go with a side of your best Thai dish.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for Part II: What now? 

 

 

Does this story touch, confuse, or excite you? If so, comment your experience below and please share! 

 

 

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