Transitioning Memories

*This post might come off a bit jilted, but it’s pretty much my best attempt at piecing together a strange puzzle dating back to my transition days. Forewarning…it’s a doozy.

ELLE January 2000

It’s funny the things that run through your mind on a lazy Sunday.  Especially when the weather takes another unusually cold turn and your covers and slippers are the most appealing thing next to a cup of hot tea.  Sunday for me is typically Hair day, wash day.  Begin the Process of styling the hair for the work/play week. Because I had ample time on my hands yesterday I thankfully started early & finished early, making today grocery/wash dishes/unpack from vacation type…day.

Somehow though my brain made a detour after checking a few emails, catching up on old blog posts in the natural sphere, and landing on this truly amazing site for natural hair gals. I’m still perusing, finding  just a TON  of cool inspirational information, but sporadically took a break after reading Ebony’s transition story. We hear and see countless stories of transition on a day to day basis.  If you frequent enough sights via or, you’re up to speed on just how important expelling these types of stories are, particularly for those just embarking on the natural hair journey.  Earlier this year I made an attempt at voicing my own transitional period, but honestly fell flat, barely touching the surface.

I don’t really have a ton of…great memories during my transition period. I can’t even recall good times after my BC to be quite honest. My mind is suspiciously fuzzy when it comes to taking a trip down memory lane, and I’m a bit miffed as to why.  I want to remember…I want to gold mine those memories and show them off proudly when given the chance…yet, I wouldn’t, or don’t know how it truly all went down.  Whatever, because it’s Sunday I’m headed down the road whether I like it or not…who knows what I’ll find.

First blip to come to mind is a documentary I tripped on waaaaay back in the day during my freshman year of college.  It was Black History Month…(AHH! so glad I remembered that!), and PBS was doing their best to remind those who cared by airing a handful of shows mentioning the African Diaspora.  Mid-month they aired a documentary by T. Nicole Atkinson titled, Lockin’ Up.  The film is short, 29 min long, yet the message was perfect timing.  *Let me press rewind though for a quick sec to mention what bought me to ‘perfect timing.’

A few weeks prior I’d picked up an issue of Elle Magazine to catch up on one of my favorite columnist, Tia Williams. Towards the end of her monthly piece were a few hand picked salons dealing primarily with textured hair…a phantom concept to me, a gal who’d pop in to her Dominican salon every two weeks to straighten out the kitchen.  “Style Set: A Cross -Country guide to the best salons specializing in African-American hair” featured salons that were scattered throughout the country, with just a few nestled in my neck of the woods here in NYC. Catching my eye almost immediately was Jelani’s Naturals, a salon specializing in styles ranging from virgin twists to long luxurious locs.  The head stylist, Debra Ottley was personally responsible for the inspiring looks Lauryn Hill was sporting at the time. L-Boogie’s hair wasn’t my initial goal, but I was really into that whole six degrees of separation thing back in college and felt my hair would be in the right hands if only I could book an appointment. Alright, the easy part was booking the time & date to go, I even chartered a good friend of mine to tag along for fun. I arrive at the salon, promptly on time & show Ms. Ottley a picture of my desired style.  Her look was hands down…priceless. Here I was, a relaxed young thing showing her a picture of a teased out twist out that would make anyone fall off their chair in envy.  I can feel myself getting long-winded in the story, but essentially….I was promptly schooled in the basics of natural hair and that because I still had a relaxer in my hair…their were clearly limitations on style options.

Fast forward to BHM, at home in PJ’s in the afternoon all up on this PBS channel, listening to a historical lesson I found all too familiar.  Atkinson’s documentary not only explored historical origins of dreadlocks, in it were oodles of beautiful women talking openly and honestly about their own experiences straightening their hair as young girls, the societal implications of choosing to wear your hair outside the ‘norm,’ stereotypes many had to tackle after going natural, and even the rare perspective of men wearing locs, their own struggles to find jobs where dress codes outwardly denounced any style that wasn’t short cropped and buzzed by an eager barber.

Five minutes into watching the film, I instinctively pressed record on my VHS player knowing I’d want a refresher course later. Over the course of a several weeks, I watched and re-watched the documentary, even invited friends over to show them my oddly refreshing discovery.  Natural Hair was not only beautiful, the choice to go back to natural was totally & completely in my hands. My realm at the time, College time, was fully entrenched in finding things…finding the right courses to take, the right major…the right image to parlay into the ‘real world.’ Taking control of the wheel in a sense, steering my own ideas & choices into their respective box for safe keeping. I was really all up in there trying to ‘find myself.’

Hind-sighting on 20/20, I’d have to say my ‘transition’ began on that afternoon, watching PBS during BHM.  After leaving Jelani’s Naturals a few weeks prior, I’d quietly nixed on relaxing the hair every 4-6 weeks. I say quietly because, in the back of my mind I had very LOUD doubts as to whether I could pull this off, what kind of support system I’d need…etc. What I wanted was simple: the picture I’d shown to Debra on my first visit…not only was it striking…it was memorable. A young black woman, attempting to find herself in college…making a choice to go natural.  I’d turned into a classic cliché. Blah BLAH!  I was comfortably fine becoming a natural cliché.

I transitioned for…I’d venture a guess at six to eight months…? I’m lost on time, but  before my Big Chop I had significant growth, enough to surprise Debra when I returned to her salon proclaiming I was finally ready. My hair was thoroughly washed & conditioned before inches and inches of permed ends were expertly chopped off.  Sitting in Debra’s chair, I was chill, reading a natural hair magazine, swapping questions and answers on how to care for the new growth once I left the salon.  The hair was cornrowed back and upon leaving the salon…

….I hid. I kept my BC from most around me until the feeling of being free felt like my own kind of normal.  Kept my head literally under wraps for WEEKS at a time until my next appointment with Debra where she coiled the new growth into the most enviable of itty bitty twists. I’d transitioned for less than a year, mentally preparing…schooling myself to accept reactions and opinions of friends & family.

All in all I was ready.  When the folks downright assigned me to ‘crazyville, ‘refusing to acknowledge me or my new look, I was prepared.  My father was particularly disappointed & angry (he was my resident killjoy). When ‘friends’ likened my new do to that of a Chia Pet, I shrugged and knew I was still cute with twists.  When Aunts & Uncles whispered in my ear I’d have to straighten my hair in order to land a job…I knew better & did one better by proving them wrong.

Besides becoming  just as memorable as those women photographed in the natural hair pics I glanced at long whence, I’ve discovered something much more valuable on this journey and that’s self-acceptance.

My memories are fuzzy at best, and maybe they’ll remain that way. Honestly, it’s fine. I don’t know why I’m slowly losing pace on the how’s and why’s of deciding to go natural…but if the reason is to allow me to fully embrace where I am now, and appreciating the honest struggles and successes of those knee deep in the natural-ish, I’m kewl wit it. I’m down for whatever.

Et Fin!

4 Comments to “Transitioning Memories”

  1. Debra was my hairdresser when I was loced and still in NY. She is the ultimate professional. When I lived in Atlanta and would come to NY to visit my Mom, Deb would stay at the salon late just to accomodate me. Methinks that a visit from Massachusetts to NY to see Deb may be in order. I am so glad that you had great experiences on your journey to natural. I am now loose-haired and loving it!

    • I might be right behind you! I absolutely LOVED my experience with Debra, and you’re so on point…she’s very professional and knowledgeable about so much. I trusted her completely.

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