As told to dream hampton

In November of last year, I got extremely busy, had a roller coaster of emotions and experienced a toll on my perm, which I had neglected to "touch up." I visited a random salon in LA to see if they could help. I had no idea what they were gonna do and I was desperate to have my hair fixed. They just washed and blow dried my hair and I have to say it was the best my hair had ever looked. And a bolt of lightening hit me: if my hair can look like this without having my hair relaxed, what am I doing? I went back to the same salon in February and a beautiful Black woman with long, thick gorgeous hair overheard me talking about how I wanted to grow out of my perm. She said "I've been free for 12 years and I am so happy I did it."  It really resonated with me, but at the same time I realized I didn't know what 'free' felt like. 

I made a commitment to go "natural." But even as I started to grow my perm out, I put a weave in it. After years of hearing that nappy hair is ugly, I was terrified of going completely natural. I thought I was supposed ​to 'hide the nappy.' My relationship with weaves was a long and deep one. When I wore weaves, men would hold doors open for me, offer me things, propose, proposition. They throw their thirsty a*ses at my feet. As annoying as it sounds (and is), I'd eat it up with a spoon.

So even though I wanted to lose the perm, I wasn't ready to lose the attention.

But it got to a point where my natural hair was too much to deal with. The weave wasn't hiding it. As my real hair started to grow out, I would stare in the mirror, sometimes five minutes at a time. I really started to fall in love with my hair, with myself. I started to think I looked awesome. I took the weave out and said 'eff it, I'm gonna let it ride.' The more it grew out, the more my perm hair seemed limp compared to my new growth. It sounds weird to say, but I really felt my old hair was weighing me down. So I made a decision: I went to my best friend's house and told her to cut it off. It didn't matter that she didn't know how to cut hair, I just wanted all of the perm out.

She cut it off but I didn't look in the mirror, I just went to the store and bought all these hair products and wrapped my hair (still without looking). I woke up the next day, saw myself in the mirror, and hated it. I cried. There's no 'morning after' pill for cutting all your hair off. I couldn't look anyone in the eye. I went to get a bagel before work and the lady at the counter asked if I was okay and I started bawling. I told her "I feel invisible." I cried for no less than twelve hours that day. 

I have a few friends that have natural hair and I started reaching out to them and reading natural hair blogs. I hit up a friend who has natural hair and asked her where I could go for a professional trim. Ironically, she recommended I see the same woman who'd been perming my hair my whole life. I'd had a false start with that same stylist before. I'd gone to her to get my weave taken out with the intention to the do the big chop, but when she took it out I had that same emotional response as I had in the bagel shop. More tears.

I really didn't know who I'd be without luxurious Yaki B hitting the middle of my back. When the stylist saw me crying she said 'You're not ready to do this are you?' and it was true. I wasn't, it was a false start.  She told me I needed to be mentally ready for it. Another stylist, the lady who put my weaves in, tried to talk me out of even considering it, which makes sense, given I'd spend at least $350 each time I visited her. When I did the math, I realized that (weaves aside), I've spent $7350 perming my hair as an adult. If I had that extra money saved today I'd buy a brand new Canon and a MacBook Pro, do my photography full-time and quit my day job. 

I took my first self portrait in this series (above) the day of my first false start. When I look at the series of pictures it's an exercise in self-acceptance. In the first two photos (in the grid of four), when I had my weave and my natural, I was truly unhappy. The final two are me really coming into myself, in my early thirties. 

I went back to the bagel place one morning after I had the professional trim and the same lady told me I looked great. I asked her if her hair was permed and she answered me with a hardcore "Yes." She said "If I came out here without a perm, I don't know…" The very concept was so hard for her to conceive that she couldn't even finish her sentence.

I told her,  "I used to think that way."