I’ve always embraced my curls. But I love my hair just as much when I’m wearing it straight. So when I first stop relaxing my hair during high school back in the late 1990’s, it felt good to be in a position where I could wear my hair both ways.
My fascination with naturally curly hair started when I was in elementary school. At the time, I didn’t exactly know the difference, and if I did, I might have encouraged my mother not to ever use relaxer on my hair to begin with. I remember seeing ads when I would read Seventeen Magazine and YM and see the African American women in the ads with their natural hair in perfect spirals. Something about the looks on their faces and the way their hair was styled looked and felt carefree to me. That’s what I wanted for myself. I loved it.
In high school, I finally built up the courage to grow my relaxer out completely. My senior year of high school I decided to do something bold. I cut my past shoulder-length hair completely off. My relaxer hadn’t grown out more than an inch or two so my hair was still straight on the ends. When I showed up to school the day after doing the big chop, the looks on my friends’ and teachers’ faces were priceless. Jaws dropped open and I got a lot of awkward stares. After all, this was a time when “going natural” wasn’t as widely accepted as a trend at high school age, not to mention a short boy haircut. When my senior prom came around, my hair was curly at the root and straight on the ends. I didn’t have a salon I went to near home at the time, so on my grandmother’s recommendation, I went to a salon near her home where I had the worst experience.
What are you doing to your hair? You don’t have good hair.
That’s what the stylist told me when I asked her to cut my hair shorter so I could wear my natural curls to prom. After two to three hours of frustration and banter, the stylist resolved that she would not cut my hair, but instead press it out into a short do. I hated it.
The next chapter was college. At this point my hair had grown out more and my curly locks were in full swing. Before all the natural hair styling tutorials on YouTube, I was trying to figure out what to do with my hair on my own. I used terrible combinations of Vaseline, mousse, hair gel, wax—basically anything I could find to keep my curls from getting to frizzy. It still wasn’t the norm for girls to wear their hair in natural styles yet, so I was one of the few women in my freshman class who regularly allowed my textured, curly style to show. One the funniest (and most embarrassing at the time) moments for me was the ridiculous number of nicknames I inherited when I pledged in my sorority. Poofy Combs, Power Puff, those were just a few of names my sorority sisters called me for a short while.
By my sophomore year of college my hair was past my shoulders again and I regularly got it pressed. But somewhere around my junior year of college, I took a step back. While spending a very humid summer in Japan, I became frustrated with not being able to wear my hair in the straight bob I had grown accustomed to and I relaxed my hair for the first time in years. About a year and a few scalp burns later, I was back to growing my relaxer out so my hair would be natural once again. What the heck was I thinking?
Photos of the author above: Straight sometimes, naturally curly sometimes, I love my hair however I choose to wear it.
Now in my mid 30s, I’m amazed to see so many women who are comfortable with embracing their curls and went through similar hair journeys around the same time. I even chuckle to myself at the women I know who have now gone natural after giving me grief about it in high school and college. If I were to share some advice to anyone on this journey, I encourage you to embrace your hair type. The natural hair movement has certainly grown to become a supportive one. But as women with natural hair grow in numbers, it’s important for us not to marginalize women who choose to relax their hair for various reasons—or they may feel alienated as many of us once did when we first went natural. No matter male or female, short hair or long, our hair is our choice. It’s a way of expression, and in some ways it offers a sense of belonging no matter how we wear it and no matter who we may be. That’s my piece. Live curly and live proud.
About the Author: Sonja Crystal Williams is the Marketing Director at PuffCuff and an occasional contributor to PuffCuff's blog. She's personally experienced the ups and downs of living with naturally curly hair and loves to share her story. She's also a raving fan of PuffCuff.