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My truth and my wondrous hair

“So first, what you're going to do is …”

Pause.

Four. This is the fourth time I'm attempting to follow this hair tutorial on flat braiding for left-handed people, and I'm struggling.

I can't seem to get my hands to move in the right positions. I can't seem to understand the concept of having two fingers braiding while one is pulling the extra hair, and it's blowing my mind.

All I can think is my hour of detangling has gone out the window. It was a real shave head moment.

And as I sit there, my hands still tangled in my hair, utterly defeated, I think of how silly that would be.

To shave my head over this little incident; it's silly because my hair journey has been such a rollercoaster.

Growing up I always knew that my hair wasn't like my best friend Heather's.

Mine was kinky and hers was straight. Of course you could see the genetic differences, but in my head I wanted it to look like hers.

Even though no one ever said anything to me about my hair, I felt that if mine didn't look like theirs, then I wasn't going to be accepted.

However, through my hair I learnt that I don't have to follow the crowd, I don't have to give in to peer pressure and that I set my own standard for what beauty is.

I can remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to perm my hair.

I was in the first grade, and my mom had spent half the night twisting my hair. I thought I looked amazing.

There was this boy who at the time was my friend — I'll admit I had a crush on him as well.

When I walked in to the classroom, he came over to me, looked at my hair and said, “Oh my gosh, you look like a black spider!”

Everyone laughed, and I was traumatised.

I bawled my eyes out at school, and I bawled my eyes out at home when I told my mom never to do my hair like that ever again.

Looking back, I realise that if I hadn't eventually made the impulsive decision to perm my hair, I wouldn't have had a real life experience to learn not to follow the crowd.

I thought I needed to be and look just like everyone else, even at the age of 10.

I went to a county school where I was one of three African-American children in my grade.

At a young age, I saw that everyone had one look, and there was a desire to look just like them.

I wanted that straight, flowy, manageable hair that Emily had or the straight permed hair that Kenyada had.

One day in the fourth grade, I went home and told my mom that I was going to perm my hair.

And even though she made me wait a bit longer, I finally did it.

But I didn't realise just how much my hair would impact on how I felt about myself.

Once the excitement of perming my hair wore off, I realised that I shouldn't have given into peer pressure because the happiness is only temporary.

I permed my hair and felt great for about a month or two.

Then the honeymoon phase was over. I was never satisfied with how it looked. I eventually realised my hair was damaged because of the chemicals.

My hair didn't feel the same, it didn't swing the same, it didn't look the same. And it wasn't until later that I realised why. Because it wasn't the same.

A few months after I permed my hair, I moved to Bermuda where everyone was so headstrong and carefree.

Literally everyone had these big afros and long curls; they embraced who they were as individuals.

And once again I was conflicted as to who I was.

But, I am convinced giving into this indirect peer pressure was the best thing I could have done. I made the decision to cut my hair, which contained so much emotion and insecurity.

All I could think of was what if I look like a boy? What if my hair never grows back?

Does my hair even curl at all? But once I got over the initial shock — and five months of protective styling — I got used to it. For the first time I did something that made me feel proud of my appearance.

I realised I make my own decision about my beauty. Once I went through with the cut, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Literally. I was able to start over. So with a new shot of energy, I take my hands out of my hair and start the tutorial over again.

“So first, what you're going to do is …”

Five.

Going natural: Michaela Lewin writes about her decision to stop using harsh chemicals on her hair to fit in and embrace its natural state (Photograph submitted)

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Published March 28, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated March 28, 2019 at 9:09 am)

My truth and my wondrous hair

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