Home » Black Hair Talk, Long Live the Colored Race!

Black Hair Talk: My First Perm, My Last Perm

18 August 2009 41 Comments

Editors Note: The flashbacks are funny so feel free to bust on me for being such a corn, but the point is just to share my journey.

thembi4thgrade1

thembi1987

The Naïve Years. Left to right, me in second and third grades. Those two cornrows were go-to style #1 and the sassy pigtails were #2.

The first time I chemically straightened my hair it was because I really really wanted a perm – in fact I’d wanted one for over a year. I’d had childlike cornrows, a braid bang that needed to be curled with a sponge roller at night, and a press n’ curl that caused other girls at school to call me “a bushwacker.”

easter19901thembi1991

Vanessa Huxtable. That’s me in 1990 on the far left with an Easter press n’ curl. It only ever lasted one day. By seventh grade, my attempt at “bangs.” No wonder I was such a moody tween.

I wanted the bone straight look that all of the other girls in my seventh grade class had. My hair is very thick, never did take a press very well, and my hairline is…shall we say…distinctive. I wanted to pass through the hallways unnoticed and be done with the controversy. After some begging, my mother (the pragmatist) scheduled an appointment for me at her salon and my father (the free spirit) was supposed to pick me up from school as he usually did and take me straight there. When I got into his car I reminded him about the appointment and he said flatly, “Oh, I know all about it. I’m not taking you to that,” and took me home. I was only a little disappointed because if you know my dad his protest was no surprise, and if you know my mom she efficiently rescheduled and took me to the salon that following Saturday instead – she spent way too much time doing my hair and, as you can see above, when I was left to my own devices the results were rather Vanessa Huxtable-esque.

thembi7thgrade

The early perm days. My 7th grade class photo (I blinked). All of that fuss just to be…regular.

Come Monday, all of the girls who’d already had perms for a while oooh’d and ahh’d at what I’d “finally” accomplished. “It’s about time!” one particularly hoodrattish girl announced in the cafeteria (she now has the gall to friend request me on Facebook, by the way). It was an achievement similar to my first successful Double Dutch turn and other “black stuff,” that I had to learn quickly after leaving private school for public school; most of the other black girls at my new school pretty much considered me the whitest black thing they’d ever seen and they had no problem reminding me of that on at least a weekly basis. So, to be less white, I finally got a perm. This is where black hair gets complicated, because literally the last thing I wanted to do with a permanent relaxer was be white or appeal to a European beauty ideal – in fact at private school I’d had a few run-ins with white people over hair issues¹ but back then I didn’t even know or care what a perm was. At my new school I just wanted to fit in, and my father’s Afrocentrism, a bit of him not wanting his daughter to grow up, and perhaps his very fuzzy idea of what it’s like to be an eleven year-old-girl, would only allow him to see that a perm in any context had to be a bad thing. From then on, Hyacinth at “Vincent’s Creations” nipped awkwardness in the bud with a bi-monthly dose of Bantu No-Lye Relaxer. I permed my hair – just like almost everybody else – all throughout middle and high school and aside from a few sets of box braids I never considered otherwise. Thanks to my last, and best, hairdresser Carla, I even dabbled in ponytail pieces for my junior and senior proms. That woman’s accuracy in creating a curl of the right size and in the right spot rivaled the marksmanship of a paid assassin, but I always preferred the plainest styles possible.

thembiseniorphoto2

Peek-a-boo, I see you. I was growing out that late 1990’s black lady mullet in my senior class photo. Not a word about my eyebrows, please.

Fast-forward to college and imagine me on a student budget with no Carla nearby, and the strand-snapping cold of Cambridge, Massachusetts combined with dormitory hard water creating the worst haircare environment ever. Plenty of women maintain relaxed hair up there but it just wasn’t the same for me. Shoot, Carla did hair in her basement and I was more comfortable there than I was at the super bougie salon favored by my Harvard peers. Not only did they all return with poufy roller sets instead of the sleek urban look I favored, but judging by who was giving it rave reviews I sensed that there was a “good hair,” culture brewing at that salon and I didn’t want any part of it. You see, although I was no longer familiar with my natural hair I knew that not everyone needed a strong and serious relaxer every six weeks like clockwork to keep their hair straight (ie. they had ‘good hair’). I did (ie. I had ‘bad hair’), and I certainly was not in the mood to be looked down upon for that fact.

thembi97

Never trust a big butt and a smile. By my college years, I was addicted to Isoplus Oil Sheen in the blue spray can.

Thanks to my penny pinching and lack of a good salon, by sophomore year the health of my hair had seriously declined. Every time I went home I’d prioritize squeezing in an appointment with Carla, but it was a losing battle. The death blow on my almost-shoulder-length swoop bang look was dyeing my hair, a choice that, although she was willing, even Carla was worried about. The color was an amazing reddish-sunset-brown and I was really impressed with myself – that is, until it really started falling out. I was developing a bald spot in the back of my head that even creative styling wasn’t helping much to cover. By the next time I saw Carla she broke the news: I had no choice. I had to cut it off.

thembishortcut

Hallay Burrrrrrray, Hallay Burray. This photo doesn’t even look like me but is one of only a handful that exist of my short cut during the summer of 1999.

I’d never had hair past my shoulders and I was grown now so a short cut could be cute, right? Yeah, except for the fact that I’ve never had any dexterity whatsoever with a curling iron, so the tiny rows of curls in varying sizes never looked anywhere near as sharp when I did them at home as they did when I left the salon – I was always strugglin’. I also felt a little bit too bald-headed with the back of my head exposed like that. My Halle Berry phase lasted two short months and I moved on to simple and elegant human-hair braids. Although the Senegalese lady who braided my hair would fuss about how much ‘Nègre’ hair I had and threaten to upcharge me for daring to put her through a twelve hour braiding ordeal, I refused her nasty little perm kits repeatedly. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d had my last perm.

junioryear1

Wet N’ Wavy #33. The human hair braid debacle of 1999-2000 included being mistaken for my roommate, also pictured. I didn’t appreciate that.

After braiding and un-braiding my hair so many times I started to really notice my new growth in bulk – it was kind of fun so I chopped of the now sorrowfully dead permed ends but kept on braiding. But there were problems: I was growing tired of being mistaken for my fellow brown and thick friend who also had a head of (homegrown) human hair braids, and I was too old for the dynamic duo nonsense. Meanwhile the Philadelphia Neo-soul movement was growing so I had natural hair role-models. I put clippings of Jill Scott, Kina (who had THE hair I wanted), and random bushy-headed chicks from Essence on the walls of my junior year dorm room as I plotted the big change. The mean girls from seventh grade were long gone, and I was a confident twenty-one year old woman who did spoken word poetry and had just gotten her first tattoo. Carol’s Daughter products were the hot new thing and smelled soooo much better than the Wet N’ Wavy leave in conditioner I’d been constantly spraying on my braids, and I was finally open to having short hair. I’d always been proud of my heritage but I was even prouder that I had so much hair after a year of not perming – it wasn’t at all the coarse texture I expected and was so healthy. I’d also gotten pretty good at tying up a headwrap so I had no fear of bad hair days. Blending in started to sound like a bad idea. I came home from a summer away in 2000 and took out my braids to reveal a head of coils that I sometimes blew out or twisted but usually dyed a brownish-reddish color.

collegegrad1thembiandmatt20001

Fisher Price My First Afro. Harvard yearbook photo from when my naps were still new, me at a Studio 54 party with a mini-blowout.

Nine years later I’ve done a bunch of other things too, but chemically straightening my hair happens to not be one of them.

Do you remember your first, and if there was one, last perm? Please share stories in the comments.

[1] A little off-topic, but for most of elementary school I wore my hair in two cornrows like in the photo above. One day everyone was playing in each other’s hair and one of the bossier girls convinced me to let her undo my braids, which of course she was unable to put back, so my hair was everywhichaway for the rest of the afternoon. I was crying so hard when my dad came to get me that day, but it was a good lesson.

Also check out Aliya S. King’s hair journey.

41 Comments »

  • Miss Mary Mack said:

    These photos KILLED ME. Like for real, dead. I bet we all have some just like them but dont have the guts to put them online, so thanks!

    This post made me remember why I first got a perm and it was for similar reasons. I was a little bit older than most of the other girls but it was just a rite of passage like starting to wear a bra or deodorant.

    Great post!

  • Cille said:

    I used to call those two cornrows the “Rudy” and would beg my mother to put in my hair whenever I got the chance to have input. I loved this post!

  • Dara said:

    1. i am so mad at you for that ford family children pose. you and don actually look charming…i, on the other hand, look like a school marm on acid.

    2. braid bangs were the truth in our household. they got rocked so hard, ya’ll dont even know! there was never a foam roller-less moment and you’d be salty all day the next day if you forgot that little square of tissue paper (what role did that even play?…i still don’t know. you must’ve forgotten yours on the day of this photo…lookin kinda limp).

    3. i dont think i ever truly appreciated carla. her basement operation was east mt. airy’s best kept secret. we turned mad women on to her supreme skills and she NEVER raised her prices or gave us attitude for last minute cancellations/late arrivals, always made us laugh and have a great time (usually jammin to the likes of Keith Sweat or Total), and served up the latest mt airy lady-drama. last i heard she went natural and has platinum locs…we should swing by sometime.

    4. i do not recall that short summer cut of ’99. i think you made that up (that’s clearly Mom).

    5. you being mistaken for charlie?…no comment.

    6. as your little sister, i always thought your school photos proved you as the most beautiful thing since, well, halle barry. even the ones when you blinked.

    last but not least, 7. my first and last perm experiences were almost the same as yours (surprise surprise). i was tired and scared of constantly being told i talked and acted white, so i straightened my hair to the max right along with you at jays shear magic (why didn’t we just talk to eachother?!?!? it wouldn’t have mattered, cause 11 year old girls are HARSH). for a few months, my hair was fresh, straight as a bone, and was even known to swing just a lil. fast forward 6 years and it was all kinds of breakage, receding hair line, and just plain damaged. going natural was a joyous milestone at the end of high school that carried me right past all the immature boys screaming “what did you DO to yourself?!?!?!?” right into college, where i could spread my little womanist-hippie-neosoul wings and never look back.

    i’ll never get a perm again (just not for me or my hair) but thinking about cutting my 7+ year old locs is a whole new struggle that makes me realize that fears of looking like a boy with short hair never truly laid to rest. but i digress…

    so on point them!

  • MN said:

    Love this! I begged my mom for a perm because I didn’t want “nappy” hair any more (blame the kids at Masterman, lol). The whole washing-blowdrying-straightening-curling-sleeping w/rollers process was not it! She said I had to wait until I was 14 but finally gave in when I was 12 (‘Just For Me’ was the relaxer of choice). I kept a perm in my hair until my senior year of college when I realized my hair was breaking and that I don’t get along with curling irons. Never again!

  • The78MsJ said:

    My father was the one in our house who convinced me that I needed a perm he even lied and said I could have a hamster if I got a perm, or course wanting to believe my father would never lie to me I bought into the bullshit and got a perm. I endured the smell, the burn and it ALWAYS burned because I have this habit of digging into my scalp. Then after the perm I would scratch the scabs left by the chemical burns. I was miserable, finally we moved to a new town which had like 2% black people and the temperature was hotter since we were closer to the desert which meant my hair revolted and a perm did nothing for it. Being so ignorant about my hair at the time I was literally now getting a perm every time I went to the hair salon smh. Which seemed like every other week, as a result my hair finally gave up the ghost and got so thin and brittle it would just snap off if you touched it. So I had to cut all my past the shoulder down the middle of my back hair off. But hair always grows back and now its just as long as ever but sans chemicals and I am a firm advocate of not perms.

  • Naturally Alise said:

    My “second” last perm was in 2003, let me explain why it was the second… In 2002 I was dating someone very seriously when I decided I no longer wanted a relaxer. I already had a short haircut, so I just grew it out a bit and went and got the perm ends chopped off. I was happy, loved my curl pattern, all that jazz… BUT, my mate hated it, so I relaxed it again. Fast forward 6 months, I dropped that zero, and commemorated my freedom with a whacking-off of all my hair and a return to my natural roots… haven’t looked back since :) (and my man now LOVES it)

  • Kim said:

    I’m currently in the middle of my own hair struggles. I’m in college, and I’ve been wearing weaves for years. Partially because my own permed hair was so damaged and thin that I felt like a weave was the only way I’d be able to do anything with my hair but also because I think when you grow up the way I did (i.e. surrounded by white women) it’s always your dream to have long, flowing locks that blow in the wind. Or maybe that’s just me.

    I stopped perming my hair over a year ago, and I’m at a crossroads with where to go next. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s inspired some self reflection.

  • Ginneh said:

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m proud to have taken at least part of this journey with you. Carla was THE SHIT but I was too loyal to Brenday to venture away. What was up with the kids at masterman? I definitely got teased for talking and acting white too… I think this calls for a separate post! I can’t even remember my first perm which makes me think it was waaay younger than it should have been. But I definitely remember back and forth with the touch-ups, breakage, etc. as early as 4th or 5th grade. I always remember thinking how rediculous it was to go get those touch-ups faithfully every 6 weeks but it seemed like a necessary evil. As thembi and I recently discussed…you can’t have both new growth and perm so once you start it’s hard to stop. One thing about a black girls hair journey it seems it’s never ending. My mom is over 60 and 2 years ago decided to grow locks and be done with it. She still goes to the shop every 3 weeks to have them twisted and colored every few months. Now she’s saying she’s getting tired of them. And my own hair drama has, like many (most?) black women been ongoing involving perms, braids, naturals, cute cuts, ponytails, dyes and has taken whole new twists and turns over the past few years which has even included watching hair tutorials on YouTube (no perms involved though!). Who knows where it wil end up.

    I feel like you story needs a Part II…your readers need to see what you’ve been doing since you went natural!

  • Thembi (author) said:

    @Kim
    Rest assured, I could have made this post go right up to like yesterday and still be just as angst-ridden. I really dont think the struggle EVER ends!

  • aaliyah said:

    LOVE THIS POST!!! BANTU?!? Isoplus! Ok. So my Arkansas roots meant that I started rocking a perm at the ripe young age of 3. And my dad was a friend of the Joshua family (Isoplus is family owned and run in Arkansas) so are house was always stocked to the gills with every Isoplus product you can imagine. And Bantu was our perm of choice in the early years. Once I got to college I needed to know what my real tresses looked like and have had just about every natural hairstyle imaginable including the wavy braids. For the past 3years I’ve mostly rocked a short short fro varying from an eigth of an inch to half an inch at the most. But I recently decided to relax my hair again with a throw back to Halle Berry, 6 months later I haven’t cut it and am loving an almost shoulder length bob. I’m sure I’ll cut it all off soon enough though. THANKS FOR THIS, THEMBI, you continue to be a hair goddess.

  • arieswym said:

    Shout out to the Isoplus Oil Sheen in the blue spray can which was a permanent fixture when I was growing up. I definitely enjoyed your hair journey and thanks for the link to aliya king’s enjoyable one as well.

    My last perm was march of my freshman year of college. i had braids for a year, then cut if the permed ends and start rocking twists and other natural styles. So far good for my hair learning journey.

  • Julian said:

    Epic post. This is your Roger and Me. Bowling for Columbine even.

  • Lola said:

    I got my first relaxer when I was 12, and loved it. I walked around swinging my hair all day. 😆 I’ve always had long hair, but I did cut it to rock the T-Boz cut in high school(blonde and all) I’ve only wore my hair relaxed (straight or roller set/wrap) no braids/weave/extensions. My hair has been through more color changes than anything. I received my last relaxer in October 07 at the advice of my stylist. She told me I didn’t need one and simply ironing my hair out with ceramic flat irons would achieve the same look. She was right….I still have body and swing,lol. Now I’m trying to decide what color I’m going to try next

  • afrobella said:

    Thembi, I LOVE this post. It’s brilliant and brave (OMG your photos!!) I wanna share it on Afrobella or AOL, somewhere! Let me know if you’re down!

  • Ryllis said:

    This is a very nice hair biography. Thank you for sharing your story and laying it all out there, photos and all. I didn’t live through the perm era, as I have fairly ight hair. At least the black “perm”…well the white perm too (which means actually curling your hair). However, can we talk about the horrific epidemic Latina’s deal with called…Baby Hair!?? Why is it that I am close to my thirties, and there is something on me that is still considered “baby”. It is an uncontrollable monster that says “no” to staying down and staying put. I’m glad this is not my bio. There would’ve been some heavy Selena/J-Lo(Fly Girl day’s)photos of geled down curls on my forehead. Ay Dios Mio!

  • [fung'ke][blak][chik] said:

    Great post!! I have been relaxer free since 1994. Even then, before I cut it in 1994, my mother tried to convince me I only had a ‘texturizer’ to loosen my curls that she couldn’t handle, but we all know what it actually is….

    During my freshman year of college…I walked into the barber shop with my hair that was practically waist length, and walked out with it all cut off! I remember hearing utensils drop in the dining hall when I walked in with my boy-cut. Considering that I was know as the ‘girl with all that hair’ back then, people thought I lost my mind.

    So, since 94, I’ve been relaxer free, and love the options that I have right now. But one thing I do know, is that I’ll never let my hair get longer than past my shoulders, it’s just too much to deal with.

  • Najah said:

    “Not only did they all return with poufy roller sets instead of the sleek urban look I favored”

    Thembi…THIS! I got my first roller set in Cambridge and expressed my displeasure (it didn’t give my hair “bounce”, more like my hair jumped up as if starting a bounce, but never came back down) Why did the stylist ask where I was from and when I replied said “Why do you Philly girls always like that flat hair” :-o!

    Anyhoo, love this post! To answer the questions, I honestly had never really given hair much thought, it just seemed natural (ha) in my family, like…you get a bra, a pack of maxi pads and a relaxer…and yousa woman now! Got my first in 4th grade and my mom had been itching to do it before then because it’s a beast to manage. In retrospect I’m not sure it actually got any easier, but I guess we bought into the lie that pulling my hair back into a straight-ish ponytail with a bump on the ends is an acceptable “style” vs. a nappy ponytail.

    Had my last relaxer either the end of 2007 or beginning of 2008. Thankfully never had a big problem with breakage because my hair is strong like bull in spite of what I do (or usually DON’T do) to it. I’m just really LAZY when it comes to hair and was mostly wearing braid extensions…so why bother keeping up a perm and med-long hair (that braiders would always charge me extra for, ugh!) if it was always braided up. I was also getting into exercising more and perm was just a waste of money since it would be sweated out and a fuzzy mess the next day. Sooo…Big Chopped Christmas Eve 2008. I doubt I’ll ever be a natural hair style diva like those I obsess over on blogs and youtube (I can’t even braid or cornrow), but I am loving learning my hair and can’t see myself going back any time soon!

  • Reginald Dorsey said:

    ““It’s about time!” one particularly hoodrattish girl announced in the cafeteria (she now has the gall to friend request me on Facebook, by the way).”

    I’m doing the math in my head trying to figure out who this was. I think I know. Or at last I have a pool of names the offender is probably a part of.

    As a dude with no sisters I’ll just say that I really hope my future wife has good hair a good handle on how to deal with any emergent hair issues. If my future daughter is desirous of an afro, I’ve got her covered. My afro picking and maintaining skills were finely honed over 4 different periods between 1993 and 2002.

  • Ginneh said:

    P.S. – That braided bang is too much!

  • lola gets said:

    I LOVED your old school photos – too cute!

    I can honestly say that I dont remember my first relaxer. My mother and grandmother both had straight hair, so they thought my textured hair was a lot to deal with, so Ive had chemicals put on my head for as long as I can remember. And this was back in the 70s, so you know there was a whole lotta chemical foolishness going on up there!

    And I had a relaxer til I was 31 (well, except for the year I was abducted by my mother who cut our hair into Afros so we wouldn’t be as recognizable). Ive been perm-free for 8 years now, and Ill never go back! I thought that my natural hair would be very tightly curled and kinky, so I could rock those low cuts and get twists and things, but I was wrong. There are so many different textures up there that it makes it virtually impossible to get those “natural” styles Id longed for.

    During the past 3 years, I did what others told me, and colored my hair. Hell, that craps just as bad as relaxing! I now have all kindsa scalp issues and have lost so many inches of hair, I could just slap myself! I keep telling myself Im going to cut the colored hair off, but that hasnt happened yet. Maybe soon, lol.

    L

  • LaJane Galt said:

    ISOPLUS!!! I used to use that mess too. Talk about a big ol’ Carbon bootprint!

  • ntngale said:

    you speak the truth! i got my first perm the latter part of my junior year of high school. i wanted the “stacks” and i couldn’t get them with a press & curl. i pretty much kept it braided for my first year of college, but quickly got it permed the day i took my braids out. after the hours spent taking out braids over and over again, i stuck with the perm for a while. i, like you, never had the dexterity to operate a curling iron, and soon tired of hitting the hairdresser’s every 4 weeks for a perm. the last perm i got was 6/06. the girl that did my hair cut it lopsided in the back and then swore she didn’t. i got it weaved hoping that it would grow back and i would try again. but, after a while of wearing weave, i had so much new growth i decided to go natural. i had role models in friends and did a lot of research because i had no idea of how to manage my natural texture. i love it now, though i still haven’t conquered the afro comb out thing. my hair gets too tangled. i might have to hit up yo’ boy up there for some pointers. thanx for sharing your story. does it feel like you’re on the “go natural” campaign trail now too?

  • Thembi (author) said:

    @ntangle
    To be honest, I used to be really big on convincing people to ‘go natural’ but I’m not anymore. I think the constant perming and its effects are something that you have to see for yourself, and even the people I know who wear their hair straight can see that and no longer pile chemicals on their heads like they used to. The few people I know who havent gotten hip to it yet will find out soon enough!

  • Regina said:

    I recently featured a couple of my own old school pics on facebook and will unveil a few more shortly! Hey people live and learn, grow and evolve. My hair has gone through multiple stages and now it is back to basics. My little halfro is getting nappier by the day! inching towards that full blown afro! I am loving it! I don’t miss the perms, I just want it to hurry up and grow some more so I can rock some scarves!

  • olen said:

    I went natural when I was fifteen, but I didn’t get on the “Save the Yak and rock your Napps” train until I was twenty. I got my first relaxer when I was five thanks to the beauty of the only black girl on a pantene ad. I didn’t look like the lady. All that chemical gave was a blowout look. This caused a series of double-hair-homicide with heat and relaxers being the murder weapons. I went a beyonce inspired color spree during my early teens and completely destroyed my hair. I had to cut if all off and braid my hair. I finally stopped braiding when I was nineteen because of my receding hairline. My hairline was getting so bald I swear that if you rubbed it really hard, I could have revealed your future.

    I now have an afrohawk and want to see the greatness of everything. Going natural has changed my perspective.

  • donnadara said:

    I am a bit older than you, so my first perm was a Jheri curl in junior high school. My last perm was a texturizer about 5 years ago I think. I am working on my fourth or fifth set of locs. It is killing me that my high schooler is wearing her hair straightened now. It is a press-and-curl, so she can always come back to the naural side.

  • Tafari said:

    I have a perm story but cannot share it because a) its long b) I dont feel like being laughed at & c) I dont want to be laughed at even more.

    We all change & grow. To bad it takes miseducation, damage, & forced personal growth to see the light.

    http://bygbaby.com/snapshots/displayimage.php?album=15&pos=2

    just saying,

    Tafari

  • ill Mami said:

    @Tafari:

    Don’t be ashamed. That perm you once rocked was magical indeed. I’m assuming you also rode the backs of unicorns and ate a strict diet of purple clovers and yellow horseshoes during that time 😉

  • CurlGurl said:

    Those 1970s shampoo ads must have been something because I too dreamed of long hair that I would shake in slo mo while being tastefully backlit amongst in a golden field. . . .

    I am white and have pretty much always had curly hair. In the 1970s, straight hair was in. I really wanted a big glossy mane. But if I didn’t cut my hair, it didn’t get longer, just poofier. (And when puberty hit, the texture of my hair changed–it was like having a Brillo pad on my head and nothing helped but time!)

    The giant mall hair of the 1980s was achievable, tho in hindsight not advisable. And yes, as an 11 year old with short hair I was mistaken for a boy. Mortifying!! To this day, I am paranoid about getting my hair cut too short!!!

  • naturalsugar said:

    I always love hair bios! I’m a fan of your massive blow-out and now i know its story. I also really appreciate all the comments. I hadn’t thought about the additional mental entrapment of not wanting hair too short. I have a lot to think about.

    I got my first perm some time in elementary school. I was a tomboy and couldn’t care less about my hair. My mother kept me chemical-free for as long as she could, but at a certain point i had been burned by a hot comb just too many times and i revolted. I guess the relaxer was our compromise. She gets manageable hair on her daughter and i get to never hear that horrible sizzle ever again.

    I never thought too much about my hair (besides the flyest way to style and color it) until sophomore year of high school when i wanted to join the swim team. I didnt make it past the first week of practice. Daily dips in chlorine and constant washing, drying, and styling was taking a real toll on my hair and my free time. I think i realized then that something was terribly wrong with the whole situation. After some investigation, i couldnt wait to cut my hair off and “go natural” but was afraid of what would happen to my social status so i waited until high school was over.

    Since then i have not only never relaxed my hair, i’ve never cut/trimmed it. I go as far as to never let anyone else style it. I’ve also never applied any heat. I try to think of it as a living part of my body and treat my hair that way. It took about 5 years before i took the plunge and started locks and i’m probably never going back.

    Thanks again for sharing your journey, girl!

  • Seattle Slim said:

    This story cements this blog as a favorite of mine. Not only that, we have the same backstory almost to a tee! You would be surprised how close our experiences are, down to the bald spot and your 7th grade picture looks like mine when I first my relaxer. LOL

  • Kim said:

    lol…girl were you talking about Olives? when I was in Cambridge ppl swore by Olives.

    I’ve never had a relaxer…heading to my first corporate non-media job in a week and frightened theyll want me to do something beyond my “grown up” two cornrows( I do twists instead. ppl are always so intrigued on the street)

  • Thembi (author) said:

    @Kim – YES it was Olives. I was wondering how long it would take before someone named it! lol

  • shic said:

    well good for you all i can say is that im 24 and hav afro textured hair i wanted a relaxer growing up (a.k.a my teen years) bt my mom refused to put it in and well as i grew i got use to combin and styling my natural hair and to this day i have never had a relaxer in my hair. the most ive chemically done is added colour to it but that damaged my hair cus i didnt take care of the colour .thanfully all the colour damaged grew out. but im happy with natural hair and have no desire to straighten it out chemically

  • katieM said:

    I don’t have a relaxer (although I did for a few years until my cheapo pockets said nappy hair and a savings account beat relaxed hair and a zero balance any day), but I will flat iron my hair in the winter so that I can wear a hat. In the summer it’s all natural. I love my hair. It’s big and fluffy, knotted and tangled. I’ve got angry gray hairs that sparkle in the black like strands of silver. I’ve got curls, naps, and the occasional straight hair. Its just a bushy mess, but it’s mine.

  • JAYChi said:

    Very good post!

    I need some help.

    I have 3 daughters, ages 12 to 3. Where can I take them in Cambridge/Boston to get their hair done naturally?

    No perms. Just some cool ass braids and/or twists. My wife is quite busy and will let them go a little too long before sitting down and taking care of their hair. As for me, I’m not ever even attempting to do it. Dad does not do hair – everything else, you got it…but no hair. That’s been a standing rule that I’m upholding – lol.

    Seriously, I could use a good suggestion for a natural haircare salon in Cambridge or Boston. Peace.

  • jaimeteaspoon said:

    Love the photos of your hair journey. But I gotta know… what’s wrong with the eyebrows in your senior pic? I would kill to have your brows. Mine are sparse and practically disappear in the outer arch. Gotta fill them in with powder/pencil every day.

  • kim said:

    I have just began my journey, about 1 month ago. The reason I went natural, was because I was tired of chasing my perm. What I mean by that is trying to remember the date of my last perm. Also, I was discovering a new me, and natural was part of the change I needed. I will never do perm again.

  • Leana Pina said:

    Oh man u had me in stitches! ive been natural for almost 9 years now and after goin thru my ‘press n ponytail’ stage back in 2005/06 (only on special ravin occasions) where my hair broke, thanx to the hairdresser who put far too much heat in my head, i chopped it all off, then a year later started locs…i love them! i loved my natural hair b4 locs too but jus wanted the ‘slick-look’ when out partying (more fool me).

    I believe black women should learn to love and embrace their natural hair without being slaves to big-spending on weaves and relaxers, even locs have become an expensive style to maintain professionally, as its become very stylish, but is very easy to maintain ureself…don’t be afraid – love what God gave u. bless!

  • Nesha said:

    Last relaxer was August 2008. My how the time flies by… I love my natural hair and it is healthy. Though I am not opposed to going back. I am just now getting creative with my natural. I have an appt soon to get a straw set can’t wait to see how my natural hair behaves. I hope it is big and bushy..

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