I remember as a young girl always being conscious of how I looked. I would also always pay very close attention to my hair and never felt satisfied with it. It was never long enough, full enough, soft enough and if it was braided, any sign of regrowth (my own roots growing through) was always a bad thing.
At the age of 13, I was allowed to use a relaxer on my natural hair which was a dream come true. Before then I had depended on my grandmother to iron the kinks out of my hair on a weekly basis with a steady hand and a hot comb. She did such a good job – mostly with the help of the Blue Magic pressing oil to give it that extra bit of smoothness and sheen. However, this result was always weather permitting, so by the end of the day, if I wasn’t careful, I was back to feeling insecure about the natural state of my hair. Either rain, humidity or even the steam from the shower would revert my hair back to its fluffy, woolly texture, which I really didn’t like. I didn’t feel part of the ‘in crowd’ with my natural kinks. I wanted to look like the ladies in the 90’s R n B music videos, who a lot of the girls at school also aspired to be. I wanted to gel and finger wave my edges, which I didn’t believe I could do without having the super sleek look.
Having a relaxer was great. Every four weeks I would take a trip to the hairdressers and sit for a few hours getting a relaxer, wash, dry and then press and curl/style. I loved it as I love being pampered, but most of all, I would leave the salon with a real boost of confidence – all because of how much I valued straight hair.
After years of relaxing, and scalp irritation due to the toxic chemical process, I decided to stop relaxing in my late teens. By this time hair straighteners by a few well-known brands had flooded the market and were even effective on afro hair. I realised I could probably get the same results without the damage, so decided to transition and go natural.
I didn’t think about it so much then, but this was the beginning of my natural hair journey. However, although it was natural, I still had an obsession with achieving that bone straight look, so would straighten my hair every day, which would only lead to a head full of heat damaged hair.
Over the years I started to become more aware of the society we live in and how it’s impacted my feelings about my own self-image. As I was on this journey to figure myself out, I adopted a more relaxed, bohemian style. At that time (the early 00’s) braids and bangles and bright colours had made a comeback, so it was a great time to start embracing a more natural approach to my style and self-image. I wore my hair braided and also even wrapped it with a scarf the days it wasn’t so tidy. It was great and definitely a lot more cost effective than the relaxers.
A good few years later, with the help of social media, black women from all different backgrounds, age groups, skin tones etc, flooded the internet with natural hair blogs, vlogs demo’s on how to achieve beautiful healthy locks. It was all about natural beauty, that was the thing. It didn’t matter about the texture of your hair, the tightness or looseness of your curls, where you were from; black women were connecting on an issue that, unbeknownst, to us had been a global insecurity. This was probably THE turning point for me. I realised there were so many other women out there with the same struggle, but most of all, I realised how beautiful we are, especially with all of our natural textures. I started to see myself as one of these women. I’d never felt so proud to be me and happy in my own skin. These women helped me understand my hair type and the best way to care for my hair with natural oils and butters instead of using products filled with ammonias, silicones and parabens. They also showed me style versatility, which is just amazing. I watched them all, especially Naptural85; she was on my ‘subscribed’ list for years.
“I realised there were so many other women out there with the same struggle, but most of all, I realised how beautiful we are, especially with all of our natural textures. I started to see myself as one of these women. I’d never felt so proud to be me and happy in my own skin.”
I can honestly say now with confidence that I love my natural hair and really wouldn’t have it any other way. I especially feel lucky when colleagues with a different hair type comment and say nice things about how it looks and cool it must be to have afro hair.
Looking back now, my advice to my younger self or to any teenage girl going through the struggle would be; you are beautiful just the way you are. Don’t hide it and don’t ever try to change. There are many people and many multi-million pound companies working on and selling products and procedures to achieve what you already have. Our beauty has so much influence in the world, from our hair, to skin, to our features, to our physique – we define beauty in many ways. Experimenting with your look is a great way to self-expression and black women have been doing this since the very beginning. However, we should always keep in mind to be proud of who we really are and that our true beauty is that which is of authenticity.
– Jamila Augustus