My hair journey (aka my Curly Journey) started from the time I was born. I had a full head of thick coarse hair that was straightened for the first time when I was four years old. I was visiting my extended family when I overheard a conversation about my hair. My aunt decided it needed straightening so she took a hot iron comb to my hair and burned my arm in the process. To this day I still have the scar to prove it.
Every week my mother would shampoo, grease and braid my hair. The kids at school thought my hair was nifty yet it just never seemed good enough. At the time I wished I had flowing hair like my friends on the playground. Lucky for me I was a huge fan of Jem & The Holograms; Shana had purple curly hair that looked like mine so I figured it wasn’t so bad after all.
My family, however, made me believe a different story. I was always told my hair was too short; it wasn’t ‘good’ like the black girls my age in the States; the list goes on. As a result, my hair was relaxed within an inch of its life when I was a preteen then I had a jheri curl around the age of twelve. After the jheri curl I wasn’t allowed to touch my hair in any fashion. I was taught to activate the jheri curl using a chemistry set’s worth of creams, grease and gels.
As a teenager, my already short hair was breaking off, at times in clumps. If I couldn’t have ‘good’ hair naturally, I could have it synthetically by braiding extensions into my hair. Throughout my secondary & post-secondary school years, I had long, short, blonde, burgundy & jet black braids. In fact, it was my trademark look – Althea with extensions & glasses. I was unrecognizable in between braidings; often I would be asked how my hair could grow 2 feet in over a weekend. People thought I had horsehair extensions. Guys I dated felt awkward about running their fingers through a pile of doll hair.
In 2000 I graduated from university and decided I’d had enough of the extensions. My hair had grown back significantly so I decided to straighten it as I entered the working world. I guess this was a result of the lecture I’d received at convocation: “No one will hire you with blue highlights in your hair”.
Well guess what. After straightening my hair, it fell out again so I cut it all off à la Halle Berry. No matter what product I tried, I always felt it never looked good. At the time I couldn’t afford braids so I let my hair go natural. For the first time in my life I felt free – free to be me. I didn’t have to hide behind packages of African Gold colour# 2 anymore. I was proud of the hair that grew out of my head and let me tell you, I rocked that hairstyle as much as I could.
Then came time for me to get a job. Guess what? I put the braids back in and landed myself a string of high-profile jobs.
Through it all I tried every single hair product that promised the Promised Land of ‘good’ hair. I washed my hair with horse shampoo. I greased my scalp with African Gold Hair Food (yum yum). I curled my braids with curlers dipped in scalding hot water. I traveled to the nether regions of Toronto (where I lived at the time) to shop for synthetic hair. I even asked my friends to bootleg me some Pantene Pro-V Relaxed & Natural shampoo & conditioner while they were on holiday in Florida. What an adventure that was.
My hair grew back again yet it would only be in 2006 when I discovered the extent of the damage the braids did to my hair. Over time, the dyes & compounds of the synthetic braids seeped into my hair causing 3” split ends. I was advised to cut them off an inch at a time.
One day in late 2006 I realized that I was tired of being a slave to my hair. I’d already spent hundreds of my hard-earned money on my hair so I decided enough was enough. I had heard about texturizing and wanted to try it. At first I was reluctant to put chemicals in my hair. I was assured it would grow. And it did. That freedom I felt years back was here again to stay. Friends and family were disappointed to see me without my mainstay braids however I stood my ground. My family was convinced I’d never succeed in the corporate world until I got a job at the headquarters of a multinational.
As I look back, I never really knew how to take care of my hair. All I knew about my hair was what told to me by dodgy salon staff. Grease, wash, no curls & straighten. Curly hair was a huge no-no. Nowadays, I have an excellent hairstylist in Montreal who is an absolute godsend. My hair has grown to around the nape of my neck, which is the longest it’s been in my entire life.
My Curly Journey doesn’t stop here. I’ve always been a fan of natural bath & body products. I wondered if natural curly hair care products even existed as products full of unpronounceable ingredients surround me. A Google search revealed a whole new world of natural hair care for curls! Of course, the majority of it is found south of the border or across the pond.
On July 28, 2011, I made the decision to grow out my texturizer in advance of my upcoming wedding. My fiancé loves my hair and is my biggest supporter. I hope my story inspires you to overcome & avoid the challenges I faced. The one lesson I have learned is to love my natural self, including my curly hair.