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Going natural, a hair story

Avatar • Oct 26, 2009

by Tiffany H.

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I’m originally from Queens, NY, but was raised in Southern California — Gardena, to be exact. It’s about 20 minutes south of downtown Los Angeles, and right near Inglewood and Compton. Professionally, I’m a behavior therapist and work with children with autism. I also am a writer and a poet.

I got my first perm around 9 years old, and continued the bi/tri-monthly routine pretty regularly until I was 21. From 9 on, if the hair stylists or my cousin who was in cosmetology school didn’t apply it, my mother did, and ONLY because I asked her to. She never encouraged me. It was definitely a learned behavior from hearing other little girls boast about how their hair looked and felt upon rinsing out their “Just For Me” relaxer.

My mother caved into my constant requests when I was 9 and allowed my cousin’s friend to give me my first perm. I remember it vividly. Sitting in this stranger’s kitchen, white cream being slapped onto my thick hair. The minutes passing. The smell so pervasive and offensive. Then the burning. THE BURNING. I didn’t know not to scratch so it was exceptionally painful. I remember wanting to hop out of my seat and run to the sink to dunk my head in the dishwater, and then attack the woman who was doing this to me! Lol. Perm-burn will make a chick (and Al Sharpton) lose it!

However, after enduring the discomfort, being pressed, flat-ironed and curled, and seeing that “swing” in my now stick-straight hair that I’d never seen in all of my 9 year old life, I was hooked, and I stayed hooked for upwards of 13 more years. Hooked through weaves, coloring, and a very well-camoflauged sense of self-loathing because I always felt like a fraud, perpetuating an aesthetic that wasn’t the true Tiffany.

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At 21, after a re-touch and during a particularly hot L.A. summer (and am impending Michigan visit), I got micro braids all the way to my butt. Loved them. I kept braids over about 8 months between 21 and 22. I took out my braids and washed my hair. I had many months of new growth that I’d been obsessed with while in the braids, but now with them out I could see it clearly. It coiled. It was springy. It was about 4 inches. I liked it. And, for the first time, I didn’t want to ask my mom for a relaxer.

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I saw ME in the mirror, and the ME I saw hated what I’d done to my hair before. I didn’t blame my mother. She wasn’t educated on hair and she did the best that she could.

It was a magical night. I blinked away the tears in my eyes. I felt RELIEVED- like I didn’t HAVE to go through that anymore. I was annoyed at burnt edges, scabs, the smell of relaxer (*shudders*), and an increasingly dry and irritated scalp which made it haphazard to wear dark clothing unless I wanted everyone else to know my scalp was rebelling against the chemicals just as my mind was beginning to.

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I didn’t big-chop. I thought about it but didn’t do it. Fear stopped that. I let my permed-hair pretty grow out (and break off), and with frequent trims and using the education I’d amassed from websites like yours, books, friends, and prayer, after about 18 months, I had a head full of unprocessed hair that I’ve maintained for almost 5 years! And I’m NEVER, EVER going back.

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jennifer
jennifer
11 years ago

Love your hair and your story — it’s a beautiful, expressive look on you, and I love the way you document your journey to getting here. Kind of like a process of being re-introduced to the hair you had never really known. Thanks for sharing!

Tiffany H.
Tiffany H.
11 years ago

Thank you, Jen!

It’s been such an emotional journey indeed, wrought with opposition and anxiety, but met with the positive reinforcement that comes from others appreciating what I’ve aimed to do. I feel like ME, and I like me now more than ever.

Take care 🙂

Aisha
Aisha
11 years ago

Nice article. Does she have a fotki or blog?

Tiffany H.
Tiffany H.
11 years ago

Hey Aisha!
I’m definitely in the process of creating a blog to showcase poetry (mine and that of friends), and to encourage self-love and acceptance. Thanks for giving me a push in the right direction 🙂

Til then, I’m on facebook, and if you are, find me!
Tiffany M. Hobbs

Aisha
Aisha
11 years ago

@Tiffany-Thanks!

Tiffany H.
Tiffany H.
11 years ago

Thank you BGLH

Such liberation is nothing short of a blessing!

Jarim
Jarim
11 years ago

I love this story!!

Anita
Anita
11 years ago

I’m currently in the process of growing out my natural hair and I do not want to cut off the relaxed hair or do “the big chop”. That’s so drastic! But my hair is constantly tangling and developing major knots (and I feel like this may be negatively impacting my new growth). I can’t wash or condition my hair without having to subsequently comb or cut knots and tangles out of my hair. How did you manage your relaxed hair/and natural new growth? Were there a particular set of products you used? Is it better to just chop off the relaxed… Read more »

Tiffany H.
Tiffany H.
11 years ago

Hi Anita, I know how frustrating it can be to manage your relaxed/natural hair simultaneously while also trying to retain length. I didn’t big chop. However, because I didn’t know how important moisturizing was to aiding in the transitioning process, my hair broke off over time at the line of demarcation. If you don’t want to cut your hair, it’s IMPERATIVE that you use a good moisturizing agent (shea butter, coconut oil, extra vigin olive oil, or EVOO) to keep both textures from becoming dry and brittle, which of course leads to breakage. If you find that it’s too difficult… Read more »

Deanna Wells
Deanna Wells
10 years ago

LOVE YOUR STORY!!!
SUCH AN INSPIRATION!!!

Salimah
Salimah
10 years ago

I know this story all to well! Very inspirational!! Congrats!! 🙂

DocLG
DocLG
10 years ago

It’s freeing to hear your story. I am a “happy to be nappy” gal, myself!

Nicci
10 years ago

I can not wait to go natural, I’m tired of the perms and I’m ready for some curly hair.

jade
jade
7 years ago

Nice word play used to express her transition. Beautiful

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