Thursday, September 8, 2011


I'm so proud to have celebrated my 6 month NO RELAXER anniversary. I'm a bit nostalgic thinking back on the good old relaxed days-- just kidding! I haven't felt this free and confident for as long as I can remember! When I wear my braid outs, my hair feels so special and different. Knowing that this is probably 1/4 the amount of voluminous intensity I'd have if I were completely natural, makes me giddy! When I'm out with my hubby, strolling around and it starts to rain, I don't freak out if I don't have an umbrella and enjoy the tender drops that caress my hair.

I'll never have to worry again about crazy hair experiences! When my husband and I married, my family flew over to attend the ceremony. I had no idea what I would do about my hair, because I didn't have a stylist here. A couple of weeks before my wedding, I contacted a friend from Ethiopia. She recommended I go to someone who does her relaxer.

It was a small African owned salon that reeked of chemicals, weaves adorned the wall behind the counter and pictures of women with straight hair added detail to the other walls. The salon owner sat me down and put her hands in my hair. Her opinion was, in order for me to look beautiful on my big day I'd have to 1) touch up my new growth-- my hair had been relaxed 3 weeks prior and I barely had new grow, and 2) get extensions. I was horrified, because I kept imagining walking down the aisle not looking like myself, my husband barely recognizing his fried and weaved up bride of Frankenstein.

In the end, I decided, with the help of the women in my family, I'd style my own hair for the wedding--- it turned out lovely and I was really happy with the results.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Yep that's right, I went to the salon on another occasion. Why you might ask? I was desperate, feeling down. I had been doing my own hair and stretching my relaxers for 2-3 months. It was growing and getting really thick, likely due to the infrequent relaxing. My hair was becoming too much for me to manage on my own and I was terrified each time I relaxed it myself. So, I thought I would give the salon a try. I bought my own products and wrote down words I didn't know related to hair in French, to prepare myself. I was just going to have the stylist relax my hair and blow it dry, no flat-ironing or pressing.

I met with the stylist, Ashana. She wore a bright red weave that swung down her back. She looked me over and told me to have a seat. I gave her my products and she began to spread globs of relaxer in my hair, not yielding to my request that my goal was not bone straight hair. I asked her twice to rinse it out and she repeated that she had to do a couple of areas and in a minute she'd rinse it out. Finally, I stood up in protest and said I wanted her to wash the relaxer out of my hair that very second. She then asked me if I'd like her to comb it through my hair, as she does with most customers and then she pulled out a thin, narrow-tooth comb! I was aghast and declined the offer. She showed a look of surprise, but finally obliged to rinse out my hair.

As the she rinsed out the relaxer, she proceeded to stay, "Wow you have that real America hair, so soft and silky." I thought to myself, my hair is only that way, because it's been stripped of all its texture and loaded with a protein conditioner--- I knew it would only be temporary. However, I politely smiled and thanked her. (Later, I would find out I was one of the few relaxers she had done, because weaving was her specialty and what most of her clients sought). When it was time to style my hair, she began to blow-dry my hair on high heat with a round metal brush. Although it was freezing outside, I told her she didn't have to finish, because I was in a hurry and had an appointment. I threw a hat on my head, never to return again and feeling worst than ever.

One would think after that experience, the message would sink in that maybe I wasn't feeling good, because I was forcing myself and my hair to do things that just weren't necessary. I wasn't embracing myself. I don't mean any disrespect to any woman who has a relaxer when I say this. Personally, I was feeling really bad at that time and only feeling confident when my hair was relaxed and styled perfectly.

I wish that was the last time I received a relaxer, but it wasn't. 6 months later, again, growing tired of doing my own relaxers and going on 3 months without a relaxer, I found a little African beauty supply store and peaked inside. The owner was a really sweet woman from Ghana and I decided to ask her for  recommendations for hair dressers. She gave me the address of a Dominican salon. As I walked around the sitting searching for the salon, I finally found it tucked away discretely in the basement of a commercial building. I went inside and met with the owner, Marisol. She too wore a bright red weave, thrown up into a high ponytail. I made an appointment with her that day and told her I'd bring my own products.

The day of my appointment when I arrived, there was a woman from Mozambique sitting inside the salon. She had gorgeous reddish, brown skin, cheek bones for days and a small afro. I was intrigued and wondered what services she would have done. I sat down in the chair and we greeted each other. My hair was pulled up in bun and the stylist asked me to remove it, while she mixed the magic potion. The woman stared at me and told me how beautiful my hair was, so long and silky. Then stated in Spanish, "American woman are so lucky to have hair like that". I understood her statement and just told her it was not natural and was because of the product. The Dominican woman concurred, stating she too had to use a relaxer to achieve such straight results and that her natural hair, mine and the other client's were probably very similar without it. The other client watched as she put the relaxer in my hair. This time the process of applying was better, but again the stylist wanted to leave the relaxer on my hair for way too long! She snuck and tried to wash certain sections, leaving the relaxer intact on parts she deemed not straight enough! When she finished washing my hair, she put it in curlers and I sat under the dryer. At least roller-setting is healthier than blow-drying, I thought to myself.

Now, this was my first Dominican hair salon visit, so I was unaware of the usual procedures. After she took the rollers out, I thought she would just comb my hair out and style it. NO! She proceeded to blow-dry my hair manually, brushing it out until it was all straight. I started to collect my things and turned to say goodbye to the woman from Mozambique. I saw her carefully selecting her potion of choice: Dark & Lovely. She sat down and told the hairdresser, "I have a sensitive scalp, but want to have results as straight as hers, so do what you have to do." I left the salon, happy with the finished product, but worried about my hair's health. My hair smelled like burning chemicals and I was self-conscious the entire day, wondering if others could too smell what I did.

So as I celebrate my 6 months with a nice glass of white wine, I can say that I'm so happy to never put myself through those situations ever again!! I still feel bad that my overprocessed hair was the inspiration to another woman. I always look for this woman when I'm out in the city, hoping that I can talk with her and tell her about my new decision and hope that will inspire her too.

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