Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Run and Hide": My Naps' Story

At the age of 3. I remember trying to escape the clutches of my family's grip. At the end of every week, my mom, my sister, and my aunts spent the routine of chasing me down to get me to get my hair straightened.

" Latoya, come here!" They shouted.

"No!!" I screamed back.
Then kept running away from them, looking for a good place to hide.

"Don't you want to look beautiful?" "Don't you want your hair to look pretty?"

They said.

Feeling guilty and ashamed, I slowly walked back and sat in the chair prepared for me... then waited.

I held my breathe as the hot comb slowly passed my ears and neck. I squirmed as I felt the heat coming closer to my skin. The smell of burn hair passed by my nose and I started to become more nervous, as I began expecting the hot iron comb to burn me, on my neck, ear, scalp or forehead.

I shuffled in the chair and jerked quickly. I felt the hot iron burn me on my ear. Then, I screamed out in pain. I received a sharp and quick slap from a plastic comb, on my hand, then was told off for moving.

I held back my tears and waited, yet again but this time with my eyes tightly shut. I still could feel the heat of the comb, and could hear (as well as feel) the raking motions of the comb as it was coming closer towards my skin. I began wishing that it was over with. So that they could be satisfied, and maybe leave me alone to play. The heat crept near me and I quickly move away, then screamed out for a second time, as the hot iron burnt the back of my neck.


I eventually graduated (since my scalp wasn't so sensitive) from the "Hot Iron Comb" to the "so-called" light relaxer formula for young children.

My big sister reassured me that this would be much better, faster and easier than the hot comb. I began to believe that relaxers were a pain free way to making my hair look "pretty".

The reality, however, was quite different...
I remember crying because the chemicals were quickly burning my scalp. My sister tried to calm me by telling me just to "bare with it, just a little bit longer". I tightly grabbed hold of the chair arms and bit my lower lips. I tightly closed my eyes, held my breath and began kicking my feet at the air. The relaxer chemicals slowly absorbed into my scalp eating away at my hair follicle's cortex, skin and oil glands.

Water finally was splashed onto my head. I quickly assisted my sister with throwing the water, more quickly, onto my head. It took a while for the cool water (and neutralizing shampoo) to neutralize the relaxer.

When the burning finally stopped (note: I stayed under the water for quite a while afterwards) I began crying. I begged my sister, that I didn't want to ever do this again. She told me to wait and see what it looks like when its styled.

Hours later, after the conditioner, the trimming, the drying, the straight iron (for more of an effect) and curling iron, I finally saw the new me...

I ran my fingers through my new "pretty" hair, then said:

" I don't like it. I looks and feels weird."

My sister, reassured me, telling me that I looked "beautiful". Then she called my mom to come and see. My mom also told me about how "beautiful" I looked and they began taking pictures.
In school, the other black kids, began to compliment me (side note: these were the same 'fools' who cussed me out for have messy hair). It felt good, to be excepted... I guess. But the feeling was only temporary, because... my "real" hair grew, showing my nappy roots. I began to get bullied and teased, again.

I started to long to look like the other girls in school, on t.v., and on the "Just for Me" boxes. Every month (or so) the same torturous process of straightening my hair, continued. Eventually, my scalp got "somewhat" use to the chemicals and the process didn't hurt so much...
However, I couldn't scratch my head (at all) a few days before I planned to get my hair straightened or the burning would increase. (Also to keep looking "clean" I couldn't play like the other kids because I didn't want to get "messy hair")

Elementary, Middle and High School passed by over the years. By college, I found myself teasing other young black women in the similar way that I had been constantly teased. My friends and I use to make jokes about "messy haired" women and men. Any women who would walk down the street with their 'fro, we would look at them weird. Looking back at that, I think it was because I didn't feel comfortable about it.

I also started making statements like:

" The only person on EARTH that I'd allow to witness my messy hair, would be my husband. Even then, it would only be seen in private... not openly." My friends laughed and agreed with me."

Eventually I evolved into a "hair extension junky". I found that braided hair extensions (aka weaves) were way better than relaxers because they didn't burn my scalp. The only problem was that I spent HOURS getting my 'singles' put in. Later I got into braided extensions in styles like cornrows because it saved time. From there, I discovered 'invisible'. Occasionally between braiding my hair, I'd get my hair relaxed... to get rid of my naps. That pattern continued until I actually found and married my husband.


Ironically, my husband WAS THE FIRST person (other than my intermediate family) to see my "messy" hair. He also was, interestingly enough, the one determined to convert me to go 'natural'...

Every time I relaxed my hair... I got his look of disapproval. Every time I put extensions into my hair... I got his look of disapproval. 20 major arguments, later, I received the question that forever changed my way of thinking.


For such a deep (single word) question, I couldn't find an answer to really match it. I tried though...

"Because it looks good!" I said.
"Does it???" he paused. "And your natural hair doesn't??"
"No... its messy and unmanageable!" I said.
" Why do you think that?" he paused, then said. " Have you ever let your hair go completely natural?" (referring to growing the relaxer out) "Have you ever asked some one how to maintain it?" "How do you know its unmanageable?"

I huffed, then said,
" Just leave me alone. Its MY hair and my body. I can do what I want with it!!!!"
" Actually, its OUR body, because your my wife and I don't think it looks 'right' on you. Black women were meant to wear their natural hair!" he said.

[Silence... then a glare]

"Its MY hair on MY head... and I like it!!!" I said.

" Why??"

... "Its professional looking. I can't get a job with nappy hair!" I replied.

"How do you know? And by whose standards??" He said. " I see other black women wearing their naps, at work. So... what are you talking about...?"
" Good for them." I huffed.
" Yeah, really." He replied.


Of course, I got really fed up with this conversation. So eventually, I gave in. We have been married for almost 4 years. Out of that time, it took me about 2 1/2 years to finally get it... even though, a year after we got married, I gave in and went nappy.
If you remember I went "Nappy" for HIM... not for ME and honestly, there's a big difference in that.
In my mind, when I first went nappy, I couldn't "carry off" wearing my own nappy hair. After a while, from insecurities and frustration, I tried to relax my hair again.

Lets analyze why, for a moment:

At this point I had a head full of hair follicles that were half nappy (at the roots and base) and half fried (from permanently being chemically fried from relaxers). The result! I was in a state of "nap limbo".

*Note: the 'nap limbo' stage is actually the faze where MOST previous 'relaxees' run away from going back to being natural. You'll usually hear the transitionist complain about their hair being easily tangled, overly frizzy, and 'unmanageable'. Most assume that, this is what REAL NAPPY HAIR IS like and run quickly back to chemicals (like, a frightened junky running back to drugs after attempting to get clean).

The reality is, your head and hair are going through a physical 'withdrawal' faze. Your oil glands (depending on how long you relaxed your hair) have been damaged and are trying to repair themselves. Which is why the hair is overly frizzy. Your hair is tangled because your hair is mixed with two VERY different types of hair. The best thing to do is actually just cut it off...


... or put extensions in and wait for your hair to grow longer, before cutting off the "fried" hair.

At that time (I believed that my hair was unmanageable) and acted like the scared junky and quickly grabbed what ever relaxer I could find...

[oops, bad move]

So, what happens when relaxer goes on a head full of fresh 'new growth' hair?

Imagine that some one has just set your hair on fire, then forced you to sit and wait, as the fire burns your hair and head. Not this is not an over exaggeration!


The burning came almost instantly! I screamed! I cried! I screamed some more. Then, my husband ran into the bathroom, thinking that I was dying or something. He had to virtually lift me into the shower, and help me wash out the chemicals. I cried out:

"Get it off of me, get it off!"

It took a long time for me to stop crying. As it neutralized and it was washed out, my husband started asking me:

" Why or how could you possibly believe, that I would be happy watching you go through this, just to look good?"

He stormed out of the bathroom angry and I took a long look at myself in the mirror. It didn't look right... me with my 'new' head of hair. I couldn't help but think that I just "refried" my hair. My scalp still stung and my 'new' look came off as synthetic rather than 'pretty'. From that moment on, I decided never to put that crap on my head ever again.

Ironically, I felt like I couldn't carry off wearing my 'relaxed' hair and began hiding my chemically fried hair under scarfs, hats, and braids. When my naps grew long enough, I quickly cut my fried hair off and tossed the hair into the trash.

A year and a half later, here I am. With BEAUTIFUL & MANAGEABLE black nappy hair. In fact, my hair now is WAY easier to take care of than my previous relaxed hair.


Please leave your comments, if you have any but mainly...
Please leave YOUR NAPS' STORIES,
if you have any...


I'd like to hear them.


Izz said...

I also like my wife with natural hair although I don't mind hair relaxing it. It's the plastic hair that don't always go well with me, but lately, I've been looking at other women with extensions, and that means, I will be letting hair do it if she wants so I can look at hair rather.

Love your blog.Just discovered it.

hottnikz said...

I'm in process of going natural for the second time. The frustration that I had the first time was basically the transition period. Hair is hard to manage in this condition. I also felt limited with styles that I could wear my hair.

Right now I wear wigs & extensions because it really takes too much time for me right now to tangle with. Actually I have a very kinky afro puff that I wear often. People think that it's my hair.

I'm trying to stick with it, and wear my natural hair out one day. I'm still trying to decide if I'll dread my hair or not.

Latoya said...

Dreadlocks are very beautiful, in my opinion. I had that same debate about locking my hair. For me though, I realized that if I locked my hair and years down the line if I got bored with the look, I'd have to cut it again. And you should know, that it takes at LEAST half a decade for kinky hair to grow a few inches... lol. I decided to experiment with different hair styles instead. Then when I am older, I plan to 'lock' it. Thank you both, for submitting your comments... Latoya

Vanessa said...

What a wonderful re-telling of your transition. With so many negative messages regarding naturally curly/kinky hair, it is understandable that the transition and consciousness change is so difficult.

It's so important for us to combat the messages that say nappy is bad or cuurly hair is ugly and straight hair is pretty. We can do that if we truly believe in our natural beauty.

Blacks are not the only ones with a negative perception about natural hair. I've seen the same twisted reaction by my white latino friends.

Anyhoo, I'm proud to have you in the nappy family. Please give your husband a high five for me.

Peace and Love,

Vanessa <--- Happy to be nappy!

Invisible Woman said...

GREAT post. My hair looks exactly like the last picture, but since I am a fashion junkie, sometimes I'll flat iron it (much better than the dreaded hot comb), or sometimes I'll wear a wig (there are some really great ones now). It's not about being ashamed, just like to switch it up sometimes.

But I do realize that when I wear my hair natural that I have to fully commit, and it does make a statement these days where everyone and their cousin wears a weave. And the men, believe it or not LOVE natural hair, maybe cause they're not used to seeing it anymore. One thing I do know, I will never get a relaxer again.

Invisible Woman said...

P.S. At hottnikz: sometimes I wear the kinky afro puff too...girl that thing is nappy! lol

NappynHappy said...

Ummm... My younger self was not allwoed to wear weave until the eith grade. Teasing of course was unevitable. And all of a sudden Nappy was some BIG insult. One I never understood. How is my hair a bad thing. It's what my hair really looks like. But it didn't matter, because I was sucked into wanting the hair everyone else had. So I cried and begged for weave for five years. Never relaxers as I knew the damage it could cause. Finally I got it and all of a sudden I need tracks. I thought I had ugly hair! But really if I were to ever go back to that form of hair. How would it look?