At one time my hair fell all the way down my back. My mother would brush it every morning before I left for school, weaving gently through knots and spirals before wrapping it up in a bun at the nape of my neck. It wouldn't be long though, before I started tugging at the bun, pulling out pins until it came loose. I felt like a princess.
As was bound to happen to little girls with wild hair, I got lice. My mother sat me down on a newspaper, and as I howled, she chopped off my tresses close to my scalp, instantly transforming me from a princess to a self-proclaimed ugly duckling.
My hair grew finally grew back and I kept it bound in a ponytail throughout my school years. When I started college and leaving it loose was acceptable, I realized I had no idea what to do with it. My hair seemed like an unruly beast that couldn't be tamed. I cut it off and kept it no longer than my shoulders.
One day the idea that my hair wasn’t silky because my mother never shaved it when I was a baby took hold. Shaving my head was surely the answer, and grabbing my father’s razor, I ran it through my scalp, shaving off an inch from the front. My mother tried to stop me and when I refused to listen, she called up my friend who made me promise to wait until she reached me. By that time I had already shaved off an inch-wide section from ear to ear and as I stared at my reflection, waiting for my friend to reach, my deranged determination was replaced by a sense of horror.
Anita came over and suggested I wait for the front of my hair to grow back to check its texture before shaving it all off. That made sense. For the next few months, I wore a thick headband over the front of my head. To my dismay when my new hair grew back, it was as curly as ever. Back into a ponytail, it went.
A few years later I ran into a friend whose frizzy hair had transformed into a sleek curtain that fell down her back. What had she done? When she told me she ironed her hair, herself, I looked at her in disbelief. I had three hair irons, none worked like that. This was of course twenty years ago when hair irons weren't the magical instruments of today.
She started to laugh. “I use a clothes iron!”
I was fascinated. Armed with step-by-step instructions, I started using the iron on my hair and was thrilled with how amazing it looked. I carried on in this manner for another few years. I had forgotten what a bad hair day meant, until one day I slammed the iron to my locks without adjusting the heat. My hair sizzled and smoked. I cut it off once more and never used the iron again.
I started spending more time in the parlor. When my hair was not chemically straightened, it was always blowdried straight. Further innovations in technology made it easier for me to control my mane. I had all the tools - a fabulous hairdryer, a closet full of heat-protecting, smoothing products and serums, and a hatred for my natural hair that had lasted forty years.
My hair had started falling, but I didn’t pay much heed. Then one day my husband went in for a shower and saw a massive heap of hair on the shower floor. Seeing his shock was a wake-up call. I looked in the mirror. When had my hair started looking so limp? So lifeless? How much longer before my scalp started to show? For the first time, I questioned whether the damage was worth it. Was my natural hair that terrible? I couldn't even remember.
Actually, I could. Yes, it was.
Nevertheless, I resolved to stop applying heat or straightening my hair to give it a chance to recover. A bit of googling for hair care tips took me to several videos for curly hair. My hair looked nothing like the women featured, but I decided to give the techniques a shot.
I washed my hair, left it soaking wet, didn’t touch it with a towel, scrunched in homemade curl cream, and let it air dry for the first time in over twenty years.
Three hours later, my hair dried into an incredible mass of soft Botticelli curls. Was this my natural hair? Where had it been all my life?
For the first time since my haircut so many years ago, I didn’t hate my hair. It was time for me to put away the hair iron. It was time for me to feel like a princess again.