From a young age, my mom relaxed my hair. Her motivation was probably to make it easier to quickly wash my hair and throw it into buns for dance class, but my main takeaway was that it made my tresses flow and swing like the pretty ladies I saw in shampoo commercials (or at least, that’s what it looked like in my head). My hair made me feel beautiful.
One of the most poignant, core memories from my childhood was getting my first braids. It was 1993 and, like basically everyone else I knew, I was obsessed with Janet Jackson in the movie, “Poetic Justice”. The bodysuits. The baggy jeans. That floppy hat and good lord, those braids! I was completely enamored by how her thick box braids swung down to her waist and effortlessly flung over her shoulders as she sassily rolled her neck at Tupac. My relaxed hair was halfway down my back and a source of pride for 11-year-old me, but I craved the power that I saw in those box braids and after a few months of gentle coercion, my mom agreed to let me get them.
Braids! I was going to be the baddest girlie in my housing complex that summer. I could just feel it. But my mom, who grew up on hot combs and French braids, didn’t realize that most people who got braids also added a bunch of fake hair to plump them up, so we showed up at the braiders’ empty-handed. My mom assured me that my hair was plenty long enough to still look cute and we went ahead with the braiding session, sans extensions. The end result was sparse mini braids finished off with clear beads. I’ll admit they did not meet my expectations, but I loved the clacking sounds of the beads and I eventually ended up kind of loving my thin, noisy braids.
Looking back, I’m sure my mom’s decision to forego extensions was a strategic choice. She knew what I wanted and valued - long, swingy, straight hair like I saw in all the hair commercials. But maybe she purposefully withheld those extensions because she wanted me to find the beauty I held within, in what she’d given me. I spent that summer literally face to face with myself; my thin braids were all me. There was no way to hide behind my relaxed blowout and I didn’t hate what I saw!
It’s been many years since I began my natural hair journey but it’s led me to recognize the beauty in all types of hair– from straight and relaxed to afros and twists. And while I still adore Janet Jackson’s mile-long box braids, the self-acceptance I’ve learned to hold around my own natural length and texture is definitely rooted all the way back in that noisy summer of ‘93, when my mom taught me how to love my hair, and myself, just a little bit more.
– Laurieanne Harbin, copy writer and contributor