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Fearlessly Free Hair

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Sunday was a day that I always dreaded in my house growing up. That was wash day. No, not clothes- hair. With three daughters, each with long, thick unruly manes, my mother could never endure the back-breaking work of washing all three of our heads in one day. So, we were on a constant rotation. Each week, she had the undaunting task of getting ahold of whoever her latest victim was to prepare herself for a long day of inevitable screams, yelling and back pain (hers and ours). Aside from the fact that it had to be done, it was a constant requirement of our father that our hair looked clean and kempt at all times.

The day would start with my sisters and me fighting over whose turn it was to get their hair washed, while my mother got the instruments of torture ready- shampoo/conditioner, big tooth comb, hard bristled brush, towel and wash cap. This back-breaking endeavor was due to the fact that she washed our hair in the bathtub with our bodies hunched over the side while she hovered over us. Our hair hung over into the tub and the wash cap was supposed to prevent the shampoo and water that poured from a large cup from getting into our eyes, but it rarely did. Hence, the end result was us screaming at the top of our lungs for mercy (because for sure she was trying to kill us) while our mother yelled, "Keep ya head quiet!"

Three hard washes from firm Jamaican hands and a conditioning later, both mother and child were soaked, as was the entire bathroom. Both backs felt as if they would split in two, my mother would question God as to why she wasn't given boys, and then she would ask, "How could one head use up an entire bokkle of shampoo?" A sigh of relief was short-lived because though phase one of the wash day concluded, it was only the beginning.

With towel-wrapped hair and red burning eyes unable to see where we were going, my mother marched us into the living room to be seated, wedged between her thighs as she sat on the sofa. We each squirmed and tried to run as she roughly dried the dampness from our hair with the towel and then proceeded to comb out the coily, curly tangled mess piece by piece from tip to root. All wails of protest fell on deaf ears as she finished each section by lathering it with Dixie Peach hair grease and then put it into a two-strand twist to air dry. After each section, we'd always reach up and feel our head, hoping and praying that she only had one section left. But before we could get our answer, she'd smack our hand away with either a comb or brush and say firmly, "Come outta ya head." When she was finally done, she'd let out one final sigh of relief, then rake through the comb and brush to hand us the "dead" hair to throw away. As we got up to do what we were told, we looked in the mirror, momentarily forgetting the torture of the day, to revel in how pretty we looked; a sentiment reinforced by our father- who only experienced the result and never the process. All this while my mother frowned, realizing that the next wash day was only seven days away.

Fast forward to age 13, when I had long grown tired of battling my mother on wash day. I envied the straight, flowing, tangled free tresses of my classmates with their grown-up hairdos. I longed to mimic the hairstyle of the time, Which was a crown of short roller set curls in the front with the back hanging just to the shoulder. After many pleas, my mother gave in. I was surprised to be less than pleased with the results of my chopped, limp locks.

Furthermore, my burned and scabbed virgin scalp seemed not worth the price of what ultimately failed to live up to my expectations. I vowed to never perm my hair again. Instead, I grew out my perm (chopping away at my hair bit by bit) and boldly embraced my thick coily curly mess.

When I got older, I'd brave through the sizzle of skin on the tops of my ears to have my hair pressed with a hot comb in my mother's kitchen. Black girls learn very soon that water is our kryptonite. Hats, head wraps or hair buns are for rainy days. In high school, the swim team was definitely out of the question, as was first-period gym. After all, who wants to look a hot mess for the rest of the day?

Long, short, asymmetrical or a curly fro. You name it, I had it. Aside from my clothes, my hair was my ultimate expression of rebellion and creativity. It was, until I sought simplicity. Then I fell into the cycle of addiction that some know all too well- the creamy crack. Older now, I was willing to endure the eye-watering burn every eight weeks for the convenience of laid edges, a simple wash and blowout and nightly doobie. I, like many others, ignored the gradual thinning of my hair, reconciling it with the convenience of it all.

It would be a few years before I rehabilitated myself from the creamy crack addiction. Determined to free myself from the European paradigm of beauty and its acceptance of straight flowy hair, I chopped it all off in 2012. Though I felt a tremendous weight unload, I gradually began to relive the early wash day tortures as my hair grew longer and thicker, and I was forced to deal with it without the aid of my mother. Twist-outs, braid-outs, wash and gos, pre-poo, creams, gels, custards. When did it become so complicated? I felt like my hair was an everyday concern and battle. Forget about rainy, humid days. And who wants to work out when you look like a hot mess after?

Refusing to straighten my hair, I finally gave up and gave in. On March 30, 2018, I surrendered my hair to the loc'ing process. One hundred and twenty-two two-strand twists have come to symbolize, for me, complete freedom. Freedom from having to think about my hair daily. Freedom from the weekly wash day ordeal (I washed and retighten once every 6 weeks). Freedom to work out when I wanted and run around in the rain because water was no longer my kryptonite.

But this was only freedom from a physical hair routine. What I thought was freedom wasn't really freedom at all, at least not after nearly three years. Now in my mid-forties, I started to feel like I was stuck, holding on to things that no longer served me. The past. Regret. Habits. Even people. Those 122 strands of hair, frozen in time began to be a symbol of my unrelenting unwillingness to move forward.

I thought I was making progress. After all, I had made a commitment to "reboot my life", yet I was only taking baby steps. Change is inevitable, but it is also necessary. No one every gets anywhere by standing in the same spot. Was I afraid of change? Like my hair, would my unwillingness to change simply lock me in?

On February 14, 2021 I heard a whisper inside that said, "Screw it! Just cut it off!" And without thought or ceremony, I simply walked into my bathroom, grabbed a pair of scissors and freed myself of my self imposed mental bondage. It's appropriate that it just so happened to be Valentine's Day. That day propelled me into a new era of self-love where anything and everything is possible.

It's amazing how I can track every stage of my life through my hair and what state it was in, whether natural, pressed, permed, long or short. My hair was in many ways tied to my self-esteem. How many of us have had bad days just because it was a bad hair day? Now every day is a great day. My hair is me, raw, natural and carefree. It looks how it looks. I live fearlessly through my hair. I wake up wash and go live my life.

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