On Being a Black TCK/Expat: Hair. (Part 1)

On June 1, 2012, I cut my hair and it looked like this. Any regrets? Yes. I regret not doing it much earlier. I never thought hair would be such a big deal in my life. In fact, it shouldn’t be. But I was very wrong considering it was one of the number of reasons I got verbally bullied growing up.

Getting bullied because of your hair. Think about how ridiculous that is for a moment…

Unfortunately, my first move in America had this among the many challenges of growing up. As a result, I never really felt fully at home here (although it’s a heck of a lot better now than it used to be…times a thousand). My struggle with making America my ufok or my home didn’t stop me from exploring the full versatility of my African hair from its long braids to its full, natural hair.

Natural hair. Apparently that was an issue. And I got a rude awakening as to how to “fix” that “issue”.

I was around 8 or 9 at the time at a black family-friend’s home having no idea that I was about to experience that “fixing” this “issue” would require so much pain. And that pain would be brought about by a hair relaxer. Apparently, this hair relaxer was commonly used on African American hair, and it looked a lot like lotion when applied to my hair. And when it touched my scalp, it felt cold, a lot like the sensation of rubbing alcohol on the skin before an injection. It took about 5 minutes into this process to find out why the person applying the relaxer to my hair was wearing gloves. After doing a little research, I discovered that relaxers contain highly basic products such as sodium hydroxide and lithium hydroxide, you know, chemicals that should not be anywhere near human skin considering the fact that they are caustic. So, it’s no surprise that the experience was extremely painful to the point that there were gashes on my scalp. The worst part was being told to leave the relaxer in so that it could work into my hair.I didn’t know what they were talking about. I just wanted it out.

About 15 minutes of enduring a painful burning sensation on my scalp and crying myself to exhaustion, it was finally washed out. The process was followed by a neutralizing shampoo to remove any remaining relaxer in my hair. I later turned to look at myself in the mirror and every hair strand emerging from my hair follicles was bone straight, the polar opposite of my poofy afro.

When I would turn my head really fast, my hair would catch wind. To quote Taylor Swift, I was “happy, free, and confused”, but not so much “lonely” because my face was surrounded by collarbone-lengthed jet black strands of beautiful.

I felt beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Maybe to the point of believing that the pain of changing my hair’s natural state permanently was worth it. 

After all, beauty is pain, right?

I went back to braids for a few years while attempting to relax my hair with gentler relaxers. They did nothing to my hair. With more braiding and failed attempts at relaxing my hair, my natural hair texture grew back. So I opted for thermal straightening (which didn’t seem to get rid of my “poof”).

Fast forward to high school and I am in the chair of a beauty salon about to relive that painful moment in my childhood, but since I was older, my pain tolerance was a little higher. The same sensation happened to me: the burns, the gashes, me trying to just take it like a woman.

This time, along with the relaxer, I had my first encounter with hair extensions my senior year of high school.

My sister and I a few years ago. She blinked haha.


And once I got bored of that look, I rocked this hairdo my second year of university, also with the help of extensions.

I felt extremely confident with this hairstyle because of its uniqueness.

At a point, I had to stop and ask myself Mary, why are you putting yourself through this? 


Every few months, it was the same experience: take out the old extensions, relax my hair, put in new ones. My experience with relaxers may not have been that of other black women. If you’re reading this and you get relaxers with no pain at all, I’m pretty jealous. Because it was hurting me. And that wasn’t okay.

So after watching 200 hours worth of YouTube videos on hair care for natural, Afro hair, I cut it.

And I felt beautiful…naturally.
More importantly, I didn’t feel pain when styling my hair.
And it grew…
And grew…
It’s been a year since I went natural and about six months since my most recent haircut. I have been rocking this ‘do for the past couple of months as a result.
And I still feel so beautiful. A different but good kind of beautiful. 🙂
Stay tuned for part two of this blog post! I’ll be talking more about hair including reasons why you should not force a black woman to go natural. As always, thanks for reading! 🙂

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  • You and your natural hair are indeed very beautiful! I was picked on because of my red hair (I ranted about it on my blog) but I have never dyed it or changed it in any way so I can only imagine what it must have been like to have your hair relaxed. It is good to experiement with a look for your hair and you are so right to find something that you like and that makes you feel beautiful. I'm looking forward to reading more!

    Molly @ The Move to America

  • Molly, thanks so much for reading! Thanks for your kind words as well! I remember reading about your red hair on your blog and I actually discussed it with one of my best friends here in the US. We both adore red hair and don't understand why discrimination exists towards red heads. I think your hair is absolutely beautiful! 🙂

  • Love this post – hey you would love the book I'm reading – Americanah. It's a novel of a Nigerian woman who comes to the United States for college and stays awhile. There's one part about how she straightened her hair for a job interview and it got infected and she ended up shaving all of it off…it's so lovely and poignant and insightful. You would love the book in general – about race, identity, being other, belonging….all the stuff we love to write and think about.

  • I'm glad you enjoyed this post, Marilyn! Thanks so much for reading! I love it when people recommend books for me as I am a book aficionado. I'll definitely check that book out! Who knows, it could end up being part three of this post!

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