© 2016 by Voices of Joi - Joihelene Holloway.

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Hair Peace without a Relaxer


I have had a peculiar relationship with my hair since I was a child. I literally would consider my hair and I adversaries---all out enemies at worst, a cold war-tension at best. I know that sounds dramatic but, it really has been the case for as long as I can remember. The key words to that last sentence are 'has been' because recently, I had an epiphany. A moment of this kind of clarity is extremely rare in my life but this one was so notable, so incredible, so amazing, that it has prompted me to stop and sit with it for a few days, analyze it and now, take time to write about it. Slowly over the last few weeks, I've fallen in love and come to recognize and articulate this astonishing harmony that I had only heard of from others. I never imagined it could be possible.

Over two years ago on my 43rd birthday, I had another rather sweet epiphany. I met the love of my life. We became instant friends and quickly we knew without many words, we were meant for each other, kindred spirits. He was truly a gem among men, reminding me very much of the spirit of my beloved father, married to my mother for 64 years, who passed away in December 2010. My fiancé’s calm friendly nature, his sweetness of spirit, his ready disarming smile, and his direct yet affectionate courting, left me in complete awe for the seven months and six days of our relationship. Unfortunately, he collapsed and passed away in my home on a summer Friday the 13th evening. My memories of our conversations are still very vivid in my mind. One in particular sticks out now. At the time, I verbally toyed around with the idea of not straight perming my hair anymore. While lovingly touching the back of my un-permed head, he spoke sincerely, “Look at my baby and her natural curls! You need to let ‘nature’ take its course!” Haunting wise words!

Early in 2014, it dawned on me it had been nearly two years since I had permed

my hair. I had had no personal thought about what I was going to do with my hair for I enjoyed the cold war hair truce. For over 5 years, I had permed and colored every 6 to 8 weeks, regularly washed, conditioned and trimmed my hair myself because I had no desire, money or time to sit in a hair stylist chair for more than an hour a month. At this point, my hair and I continued our stormy impasse. I left it mostly alone by wearing a partial curly wig hair piece that most people thought was my hair, while rockin’ a hair gel on my front real hair line that made pretty waves without much effort. Daily my hair and I eyed each other cautiously, both sides prepared for war the instant the other showed rebellious resistance.

But then I met a friend for dinner around St. Patrick’s Day. I discovered upon seeing her for the first time in months that she was looking remarkable in her lightly reddish tinted, short, natural curls. I was pleasantly surprised! Of course I had seen others with this style. But for some reason that I can’t explain, seeing her at that time, with that hair style felt personal, almost mirror-like. Though she looked much more like my mirror opposite: slender build, dark rich soulful eyes and complexion, though we shared a love of smiling freely.

While eating Chinese, we briefly discussed her reason for the hair change. She had been going through much in her life and this new style felt right for her after chatting with her regular stylist. She looked not only great but actually soothing. Again, it was hard to explain but, I almost felt jealous about the ease she exuded as she spoke of doing her hair. After dinner, my friend texted her stylist’s name and number for me to mull over.

A few months later, my brother and I took a Mother’s Day trip to the Virginia family home. In her 80’s, my loving and independent mother often touches the kid in me who still desires her honest opinion and yes, even approval, especially in matters of personal life choices. Her advice always fits. I told her about the possible hair change idea I was playing around with, and though she told me that ‘I was an adult and it was my hair’ and it was up to me, she didn’t think that having short natural hair would ‘become me.’ I took her advice to heart as always and put it again out of my mind.

Until one day in June as I was walking into the hair store to buy another hair piece, it hit me hard that I had a choice. Sometimes we forget we do have a choice in what we continue to do out of safe habit. This day, suddenly without any planning, I decided to take a chance. While the behind the counter guy was looking for my usual wig piece on the shelf, I called my friend’s hair stylist and asked if she had time for a consultation. If she did, it was a sign that it was indeed time for a change befitting all that was happening in my life. The stylist was literally in the same mall as the wig store. After a brief dialogue, I quickly left, without the wig and went to an incredibly intuitive and spiritual stylist who told me that this was going to be a life changer. The next day, she ushered me on my ‘natural’ journey to hair peace without a relaxer.

On June 14, 2014, a peace treaty begun: When I looked in horror at myself in

the stylist’s mirror ---thinking at first I needed to run and get a full headed wig--- I viewed my new reddish tinted hair, my natural waves AND curls in shock. I looked into the eyes of the woman in the stylist’s mirror’s reflection, a woman I really didn’t recognize. Who was she? This woman had strength and substance. She wasn’t fat and ugly as I have often viewed myself. She is strong, capable, and resilient with kind, sharp eyes. She is tall and yes, large, but now it felt robust and powerful. I fell in love with her AND the hair. Not until that moment did I know I had been fighting in an unnecessary war. Peace broke out and I knew I had found ME at last. Thus, my epiphany moment was born.

There are those who do not like my hair. I can tell instantly from their body language and eye movement the moment they see my new summer short do. Sometimes they say so, sometimes they don’t. The look of barely hidden revulsion or distaste at my closely cut natural style and reddish tint has mostly amused me. My feelings aren’t hurt. I don’t care if they don’t like it and they know it too. I think for some it is about change, we all hate change just a bit. But for others, especially African Americans who are older, it is about what looks professional and proper. Straight hair by perm or hot comb is what is acceptable by former standards. This is a cultural mindset that I’m still exploring, discussing and researching. This is an on-going discussion that has been around since the first Black person walked into an office setting with braids, dreadlocks or an Afro. It is about perception and personal style choice. But I’m personally very pleased (and a bit surprised) that I don’t really care what others think about my style choice.

My peace ---and what a peace it is, is a restful kind of peace, self-acceptance peace for an easy wash-n-go hair style and daily hair admirers with kind compliments and smiles (even today!)--- ‘Wow, you look great! I love the natural younger looking you! Look at your curls! Rock that natural!’ ---but I know it all comes from within. Though ‘I am not my hair,’ there is this crown I was born with that I now wear openly and honestly with a bit of child-like admiration, confidence and a respectful appreciation for me. Funny how it started with my hair, but I feel it now. I step in it now. I KNOW it now. I think my fiancé would be proud!

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