For most of my life I fought my hair’s natural texture. I waged war with flat irons and chemical processes yearning for silky straight hair. In the lily-white suburb where I grew up, one of the few Black students, having straight hair signified an acceptance I craved, but my hair rejected my assimilation efforts. Several years ago, I relented to the mass of kinks and coils. Slowly, a love for my natural hair blossomed during frequent deep conditioning treatments and detangling sessions.
Usually, I plait my hair in sections the night before, undoing the sections when I awake for big, fluffy curls. The first week of social distancing I skipped this process; all my social interactions took place via virtual settings. The allure of Zoom calls with video off made hairstyling tedious.
As coronavirus cases surged near me, I anticipated loneliness as a result of social distancing. However, the malady which plagued me most was the sameness of each day.
By month two of social distancing, I abandoned my hair regimen completely. Floating through quarantine fatigue, my hair stayed in an unkempt French braid for almost two weeks, the lack of motivation easily justified by the increased amount of time I spent alone in my apartment. As coronavirus cases surged near me, I anticipated loneliness as a result of social distancing. However, the malady which plagued me most was the sameness of each day.
A suggested video on YouTube appeared on my feed one day, a natural hair blogger installing her own braids. The time-lapse video inspired me, giving me permission to try something new. I drove to my local beauty store the next day to purchase the products I needed. Armed with a wide-tooth comb and edge control, I plopped onto my bedroom floor in front of my mirror. Splitting my hair into small sections, I grabbed one piece and began braiding, weaving extensions dutifully around my own hair.
I released the first section, revealing one shoulder-length twist. I grabbed the next section of my hair and repeated the same motion. Each twist seemed to stare into my mirror triumphantly. It’s just hair, but it’s my hair. The process took almost four hours, yet even as my arms tired my excitement grew. I was alone in my apartment with nobody to witness this transformation. But for the first time in two months, I felt anything but lonely.
The process took almost four hours, yet even as my arms tired my excitement grew. I was alone in my apartment with nobody to witness this transformation. But for the first time in two months, I felt anything but lonely.
I was alone in my apartment but I was taking control of my own transformation. A small physical change, I remembered the things about my hair which I love most—the patience it demands, the space it takes without apology. The next four hours reminded me to take up space beyond the physical one my body occupies. Dreaming of going back to my normal, pre-pandemic life no longer serves me. Instead, I found myself dreaming of the version of myself who navigates a new normal by giving herself grace. Who can find it within herself to extend that kindness to others. It sounds nonsensical, but maybe sometimes this sort of inner change starts on the outside. Maybe this change started as I braided my own hair.
A close friend underwent her own hair transformation. Before deciding to shave her head, she reached out asking for advice. I’ll admit my initial reaction was one of hesitation. My mind couldn’t understand the rationale.
“Why would you want to shave all your hair off?” I questioned. She listed a few practical reasons. Working at a hospital in a pandemic resulted in frequent hair washes. A shaved head would simplify this piece of her routine. Eventually, she revealed the primary motivation: She’d never done it before; she wanted to try something new.
Thankfully, she proceeded without my approval. One pair of clippers and less than fifteen minutes and her shoulder-length hair was completely gone. She never needed my validation; she wears the new hairstyle with a confidence I envy. All she did was cut off her hair, but I think she let go of something else too. In our interactions, she feels a little lighter; she seems a little freer.
I remembered the things about my hair which I love most—the patience it demands, the space it takes without apology. The next four hours reminded me to take up space beyond the physical one my body occupies.
As we head into August, another month of social distancing underway, who knows when we’ll be able to return to any semblance of normal. Some days are easier, and on others I find myself craving how my life once was. But I can say the commitment to changing my hair, the small act of investing in myself, replenished my spirits in more ways than one.
Maybe you can find the courage to try something different with your own hair; with the Internet at your disposal, there is no shortage of video tutorials and Pinterest boards to inspire. When is the last time you experimented with something new? An idea I’m particularly fond of is dying it a color different from your natural one (bonus points for purple). Try cutting your own bangs. I can sense the hesitation already, but what’s the worst thing that could happen?
It’s only hair. It always grows back.
BY Ryan Alexis - August 18, 2020
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.