|By Tee Elle|
I was midstride towards the register when the cashier greeted me, not with a “Did you find everything okay?” but with a flippant statement that was based purely on assumption rather than fact: The hair that tickled the middle of my back as lightly as a lover’s hand couldn’t have grown out of my scalp. “This is not a weave,” I retorted, appalled.
It wasn’t that I actually turned my nose up at fake hair. I neither viewed it as “ghetto and ratchet” like those who automatically judge vivid and towering updos nor “distracting” to my peers like principals and senior managers who often use it as discriminatory grounds for suspensions and terminations. Braids and weaves aren’t indicators of incapability.
But I did feel it was unnecessary except in the cases of extreme hair loss. I didn’t fully understand why anyone would willingly cover the hair that’s growing out of her own head with something that often didn’t look real.
Of course this judgment came from someone who never quite mastered doing her own hair. My roller sets always looked like I did them myself, as in “Um, who did your hair?” instead of “Oooh, who did your hair!” When I moved 200+ miles away from my trusted stylist, my hair’s health severely declined. I decided to go natural without realizing the transition process would require more maintenance than a relaxed one, and my hair went from bad to worse. Recently I found myself back in a hair predicament, this time in the form of the dreaded in-between stage where it’s too short to slick into a pony but too long to be considered edgy. My hair has refused to grow at the speed it once did when it was maintained by a professional, and I’ve worn the same part-on-the-left-side look for nearly four years. Needless to say, I was ready for something else.
One day I received a picture text from my cousin.
“Who dis?” I thought, staring at the long, jet black, crinkled, faux locs on the screen. I grew so intrigued by the look that I dragged another cousin who was familiar with box braids to a nearby beauty outlet and we picked up some hair based off of a YouTube video tutorial.
At home, my cousin sectioned my hair into 399 tiny plaits and crocheted a loc adjacent to each one. The problem arose when it was time to work the individual plait into its adjoining loc: It wouldn’t slide in as effortlessly as the young woman in the video made it seem. When the latch of the crochet needle wasn’t scraping my scalp, it was poking through the loc, snagging it.
“Maybe it’s the needle,” I suggested. We got a new one. Same result.
“Nah, the plait is still too fat,” my cousin countered.
So I unraveled all 399 with the intent to divide them into 798 pieces, but something told me to test a few. It still didn’t work, so I Googled a few more videos, determined to keep the locs. The next night my cousin and I followed the cornrow method, and I endured the scalp-digging a second time. Part of me wanted to yell, “Forget it!” But what was the alternative? To apply relaxer to a raw and wounded scalp?
Oddly the pain was more bearable than the intense itching that I experienced at night. I was so unprepared. No one warned me that the hair would launch an aggressive assault on my scalp whenever I was near sleep like a six-alarm fire.
Yet, surprisingly, I grew to like the results – all 18 voluminous inches. I liked the way the tendrils framed my face, the way they snatched my edges, and the way they draped my head when I moved them around. By the fourth or fifth day – after some mango and lime oil and rosemary spray to quell the scalp burn – I loved them.
I was glamorous.
I was empowered.
I was transformed.
I was converted.
I was free.
I finally got it. The decision to enhance our hair really isn’t based on laziness or some desire to be someone else. It isn’t always about insecurity or shame, either. It’s about discovery, ease, independence, and versatility. And in my case, the intent was to add as much hair as reasonably possible. I wasn’t going to leave any question as to whether my hair was real or not; it was going to be fairly obvious.
Last week I noticed my 6-year old cousin periodically glancing at me in the middle of Walmart.
"Is that your hair?" she asked curiously, to which I proudly replied, "Nope, it's fake.”
Tee Elle is an east-coast storyteller hoping for her big break west. Her words have been published on xoNecole and Clutch magazine, you can also follow her on Twitter and the blog. When she’s not writing or stalking social media, find her reading a great book, binge-watching reality TV, or pretending to be the next winner of Bravo’s Top Chef.