The Big Chop

Well there’s no undoing today, I did it. I’ve removed all my permed hair. How do I feel? Liberated, nervous, happy, sad; I’m a mixed bag of emotions. But what’s new. The night before I decided to mold my hair one last time and it wasn’t happening. The new growth was too thick for the permed hair to lay flat. This confirmed that it was time to let it go. There was also no point in continuing to waste good hair care products on hair I didn’t want. I went into the shop with my bangs combed out for the last time. With my perms my beautician, Dorthea Jones, always cut my hair after the wash, set, and dry. Today she cut it first. Dorthea has a texturizer in her hair and she asked if I wanted that. I said no, I’m committing to one year of no chemicals, not even dye as I’m looking forward to turning gray.

After washing and conditioning it Dorthea applied Dudley Curl Gel and styling foam. I asked if I should sit under the drawer and she said no, let it dry natural. In less than two hours I was out the door to share with Cincinnati the new me. My first stop was to my friend Carolyn Wallace who lives just around the corner from the shop. The curl gel constantly ran down my face and back of neck. I must have gone through 3 paper towels sopping up the run off. I’m glad Dorthea didn’t push me to buy it. It felt sticky, so I’ll look forward to trying Pattern Beauty’s equivalent products.

I decided to mark this milestone occasion with a professional head shot, including professionally applied make up. Crystal Grace, owner of Grit and Grace, referred me to a young make up artist Keliyah Blackmon. My request was to look natural and hide the dark circles. Given her subject matter, she did a good job. Clearly I look better with make up, but I just can’t stand the feel of it on my face. If I could find a brand that would allow me to get close to this look with three or fewer products and it didn’t easily wipe off I’d buy it. Between the gel running and the heat outside I felt like a was melting.

From her shop I stopped at my aunt’s to share the new me with her and my cousin before heading to Perfect Exposure Photography Studio. I met the owner, Pete Coleman, when he became a member of the Cincinnati CVB. He did my cousin Alex’s senior photos. I truly feel like I am the most un-photogenic person in the world. My last head shot was in 2005 as required by the Cincinnati CVB. I went to Dorthea early in morning before work, she did my make up, and I went straight to the photographer. It was my first professional picture since my senior high school picture. I liked it so much I actually had prints made and gave it out as Christmas gifts that year. I ordered two 8x10s of Pete’s photo and will give one to my father. The other I will display at my house, covering over the two previous.

Seeing these three images next to each other blows my mind. Time truly stands for no one. Thanks to all the work on my house, I’m about 20 lbs lighter today than I was in 2005 and it really shows in my face. Do I have any regrets. None whatsoever. I think I look awesome. The shape of my head is perfect for a natural, short style, if I must say so myself. I like my hairline. Even without makeup I don’t think I look masculine and I did manage to get through this entire first day without one “can I help you sir”. My vision for how I want to wear my hair is changing. I’m really feeling this short hair. Time to do some earring shopping and maybe, just maybe I’ll let someone teach me how to apply make up and start wearing it in public more often.

I’m Transitioning

For almost three years I have been charting my journey of restoring my home, a 1924 Cape Cod styled house, located in Camp Washington of Cincinnati, OH. Now I’m going personal; I’m going to share my journey of restoring my natural hair. I’ve made the decision to let my perm grow out. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. My perm was expensive, over $125 every six weeks, so cost savings was one consideration. I was tired of the scalp burns caused by the chemical. I seldom would tell my stylist that the relaxer was burning because I wanted my hair as straight as possible. I want to enjoy my steam shower without thinking about messing up my freshly styled hair.

Me and Mom ToddlerI have never cared for my hair in its natural state. Prior to my perm my mom or relative did my hair or I was getting a press and curl by Ms. Scott in this huge house located in Avondale. Ms. Scott did hair in her basement and I can remember me and my cousin Detra being dropped off and left for hours on Saturdays. I wish my mom were still alive so I could ask her why she agreed to let me get a perm. At 55-years-old, reflecting back on my childhood, I know for me it was a desire to have “white people” hair. Let me share a bit of my childhood.

I grew up in Forest Park, which was a predominantly white community when we moved there. I can remember starting Girl Scouts, as a Brownie, and as the only Black in my first troop having other girls not want to hold my hand. I remember them pulling their sweaters sleeves down to act as a barrier K-3between mine and theirs. I lived in Forest Park, but from K-3 attended Sands Elementary in downtown Cincinnati with my mother where I was in a non-graded classroom with mostly Black kids. I had two wonderful teachers Phyllis Gaston, who was Black, and Jennifer Cottingham, who was white, that I cherish to this day. Mrs. Gaston is deceased and I’d love to find Mrs. Cottingham again and hope she is still living.  For 4th Grade Classfourth grade my parents enrolled me in my neighborhood school, Forest View School. I was placed in the classroom of a white woman, Mrs. Smith who did not like nor want to teach Black children. My parents had me removed from her class mid-year, but I went from loving school to hating it and that pretty much never changed throughout the rest of my time in Forest Park. I most certainly never had another Mrs. Gaston or Mrs. Cottingham.

I didn’t know what “red lining” was as a child, but we lived in the “H” section of Forest Park; apparently the section where it was acceptable for Black families to live. My parents decided to build a house on Inner Circle, a Homearama street. I can remember racial slurs being written on the foundation and sabotage being done to the plumbing by a kid that lived on the street, Eric Price, because his family and others felt Black families should not live on that street. Thankfully countering that ill will was a Jewish family that also lived on the street, the Lukins. They welcomed us with a tray of magic bar cookies. I’m still friends with them today and whenever I make magic bars I use butterscotch morsels instead of nuts because that is how Mrs. Lukin made them. I shared these these experiences of my childhood because, for a lack of a better phrase, they didn’t cause me to not want to be Black or not like myself for being Black. It taught me that there are good white folks and bad. However that changed the summer I went to a horse camp in Zanesville, OH, Mormon Valley Farm Camp.

CornrowsAs with most Black girls that go to camp, my mother had my hair braided in cornrows, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it for the two weeks I’d be there. I think I was the first Black camper they ever had and most of those kids acted like they had never seen a Black kid before.  Some probably hadn’t. At Sands I went to school with a girl named Zenith, so I never got teased for having a unique name like Venus. I think I heard every possible planet joke ever created in that two weeks. My hair and its style became a source of ridicule so severe that I wore a hat at all times; even slept in it. It was a Christian camp, so we prayed at every meal and I wouldn’t remove it then either. I can remember some boy campers telling counselors that I had to take it off during prayer, but my counselor stepped to my defense to say that was a rule for males, not females, so I didn’t have to. It wasn’t all bad (I never went back), but it left scars and created the desire for me to want “white people” hair and not like my name. 

I can’t remember saying to my mom “I want hair like white people”. I’m quite confident she wouldn’t have done it for that reason. I was getting heavy into sports, and press and curls just don’t last long on a hot, sweaty, summer day, so around age 12 and routinely for the last 40+ years I’ve gotten my hair relaxed. Since Covid-19 hit I’ve only curled my hair 2 or 3 times. I have a great stylist that cuts it in a fashion that allows me to wash, mold set it, and wear it flat with my bangs down, without curling, and still look like I have a style especially within the first few weeks of a perm. Like I said in the opening paragraph I’ve been thinking about going natural for awhile. This country’s latest civil unrest brought about by the murder of George Floyd started me reflecting on growing up Black in this country and remembering my reasoning for wanting a perm. My natural hair most certainly isn’t the problem, so May 1 was the last time my head has seen relaxer and the journey to transition has begun.

I know it’s going to be a difficult journey. I read that human hair grows approximately 1/2″ every month, so the vision I have for how I want to wear my hair is at least 9-12 months away and I don’t even know if I have the type of hair that will allow that vision to transpire. I know I have Type 4 hair, but a, b, or c is the million dollar question. At my last hair appointment, when I announced I was going natural, 4 weeks ago, my stylist trimmed up the back, so my hair at my neck line is natural. I know at some point the relaxed, straight hair on top of my head will have to be cut off as it will be weaker than my natural hair and start to break. At that point bangs won’t be an option, so I’ve started washing my hair and combing it back just to get use to not having hair on my face.

I’m also making an effort to always wear earrings and I plan to get some bigger, light weight, hoops. I get mistaken for a man, a lot already, so I know the early stages of the transition is going to open the flood gates to me routinely hearing….Can I help you sir. I don’t plan to wear my natural hair short, but it’s my only option in the beginning. I shared this news with my father who quickly quipped, so you want to wear your hair like a boy. NO, but it’s going to be part of the journey and I don’t consider women with natural hair cut short with trying to be a boy. I grew my permed hair out for the first term of the Obama Presidency. Michelle was such an inspiration, but for their second term I quickly cut it short again as I don’t have her style team or income and long hair I found harder to maintain. I’ve worn my hair short for decades, so who knows, but if you call me a boy expect to be cursed out.

My goal is to commit to this process for at least one full year without caving in, so April 30, 2021 will be the evaluation day. Proper hair care products I know will be the key, so I have started this journey with Pattern Beauty, @PATTERNBEAUTY, the new Black Care hair line by Tracee Ellis Ross. For years I’ve been using another Black hair care line, Dudley Hair Care Products (my stylist is a Dudley Salon), but I stumbled across the Pattern line of products searching the Internet for articles about transitioning to natural hair. One of her blog post was a Hair Story Spotlight by Adriane Jamison. It provided great tips, so I decided to invest in her hydration shampoo, Intensive Conditioner (which I love applying while taking a steam shower), leave-in condition (I wet/rinse my hair about every other day to keep that look you see above and I apply the leave-in each time), and jojoba oil hair serum, which I also apply every time I wet it. I also got her wide tooth comb. As soon as I get some decent length, I want to try her shower brush too. The video she created for that is a riot.

It’s amazing to me how many of my friends and family are already wearing their hair natural. I was at a friend’s house for the 4th and at least 5 of the ladies there were natural and they gave me great advice also, the biggest of which is not to be a product whore. Although not a brand, they recommended the same type products that I already bought, so this first year I’m going to commit to Pattern Beauty. My followers know I tend to “drink the coolaid”. HGTV can do no wrong, Chip and Joanna Gaines can do no wrong, well Tracee Ellis Ross and her first released single, Love Myself, from her movie the High Note, has become my personal anthem. The song is my phone’s ringtone and I tend to deliberately not answer calls until I hear these lyrics: I don’t really care if everybody likes me, I just want to love myself, love myself.

In two weeks I have my next hair appointment. So far I’m seeing no breakage with my Pattern Beauty product usage, but I think I’m going to cut off the permed hair anyway. I feel like I’m wasting good product on my relaxed strands. Stay tuned.