I wish that I could say my reasons for not getting a relaxer have to do with harsh chemicals and toxins inherent in every perm box. My new “just say no” moment isn’t (entirely) about a philosophical commitment to being a “natural girl.” Yet for the past two years and some change, I’ve been happily separated from the spinning salon chairs of Creamy Crack Lane. My eight-week visits to the hairdresser have been replaced with bi-weekly at home washdays.

In total, I now invest three to four hours hydrating and styling my tresses each week—an earnest increase in the time I once spent on my hair, which was probably at max ten minutes a day. But to me, the extra time that comes with wearing my natural hair has been well worth the difference in results. You see, the main reason you won’t ever see me with lye in my hair again is because my hair is now unrecognizable—in a good way. There is no more breakage, no static, no thin spots and no flatness.  Instead my hair has volume, spring and shape. And for that reason I just can’t see myself ever returning to relaxers. These curls of mine are marching to an up-tempo beat these days: they bounce, twirl, coalesce and shine in ways that give me extra pep in my step. The humdrum melody my strands used to sway to have been replaced with a new song. And that song is called: “Thank God I let go of my rice paper thin relaxed hair.”

My Younger Years

I’m pretty sure the impetus for me telling my Mom I wanted a relaxer came from me growing up as one of the only Black kids in school: I just wanted to wear my hair the same as my friends, who were mostly White girls with Rapunzel hair. Seeing my frustration and not wanting me to feel like an outsider, my Mom finally broke down and allowed a family friend to press my hair. Yep. That’s where we began. The good ole’ hot iron you put on the stove, blow before you touch your roots and pray isn’t so hot that it burns your hair off. You couldn’t tell me nothing once the last pass of the hot comb ran through my hair—I just knew that Rudy Huxtable and I were twins, separated at birth. Eyes glued to the mirror, I marveled at how long my hair was and how easy it was to manipulate. “I can comb it now, Mommy!” I still remember yelling as I hugged my Mom to thank her for letting me get a press and curl. Sadly, my Mom and I quickly realized that my hair was not the pressing type. There are women who can get and keep a press in their hair for two weeks. I was not one of those girls. The moist air could and would instantly revert my hair back to an Afro state. Mix moist air with sweat-inducing extracurricular activities, and you can quickly see why my Mom stopped bothering to get my hair pressed. Tired of looking like Who-did-it-and-what-for, I convinced my Mom to finally perm my hair to save us both time and energy.

My Relaxed Years

I finally got a perm put in my hair. But little did I know, this too would be a big weight on my hairs shoulders. People always look at my hair and think it is much thicker than it really is. I have a lot of hair strands, but the strands themselves are thin. Ultra-thin. The first couple of perms I got were too strong. A super treatment had just about disintegrated every coil on my head and a regular treatment had my scalp begging for mercy. By the time we got to my third treatment, it was obvious that what I needed all along was a mild perm. My permed hair rewarded me with less breakage. But, my primary focus was on growing my hair long enough for hair flipping to truly become second nature. First two, then three years passed and I realized my hair was still only shoulder length. Fed up, one day I boldly announced: “Let me get that Halle Berry,” to my hairdresser. She had been the poster woman for the epic pixie cut she pretty much became famous for (in addition to her insurmountable talent). I figured a fresh start would spur growth. But nope, after the cut my hair played the same old song: the “shoulder-length medley.”

Enter My Natural Years

Frustrated with my relaxed hair looking limp, lifeless and never surpassing my shoulder, I finally opted to go natural. My hair had always looked thicker and healthier when it was perm free, but I just never knew how to take care of it, and early on succumbed to coveting the European standard. Even though my transition to natural hair came out of frustration, I can say now that I made the right move. Now when I describe my hair’s personality the words “big”, “full” and “healthy” come to mind. I realized the hard way that relaxers and I just weren’t a good mix. I have a cousin and friends who can rock relaxers and have hair that thrives. But for me, that just wasn’t the case, and I eventually learned to accept this.

-Trudy Susan