Disclaimer: Cantu isn’t paying me for this post, although they totally should. I just like to share my truth.
I’m going to start at the beginning. Or as close to it as possible. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you must know by now that I like to take me time to tell a story. If you’re new, I’m hella long-winded on here, but hang in there with me. It’ll be worth it. Here we go:
I first got my hair relaxed at age 11. It was a present for not only passing the Common Entrance Exams, but passing for St Hilda’s Diocesan High School, THEE best secondary institution in St Ann (and neighbouring parishes. I will brook no arguments to the contrary.) It was a deal I’d struck with my mother going into the exams, because prior to that, she had always told me I wouldn’t be old enough to get my hair cremed until high school. You see, getting your hair processed was a ‘big woman’ thing in our little neck of the woods, so the answer was always no when I asked. And I’d asked often, because I’m tender-headed, she had zero patience, and I was so very tired of having my life threatened every Saturday and/or Sunday as she washed and later canerowed my hair. It was a vicious cycle that, at one point, prompted a neighbour to come running to our yard to investigate the source of the loud bawling and ruckus.
So, anyhoo, I fulfilled my end of the bargain and the ball was in her court. Close to the time when my high school adventure would begin, we went to St Ann’s Bay for back-to-school shopping, and one of our purchases was a small tub of Revlon Realistic Conditioning Creme Relaxer in ‘super,’ because my hair was ‘tough’ and ‘unmanageable.’ The Saturday before school started, my mother sat me down and proceeded to
set fire to my scalp play hairdresser. It was bad. Very, very bad. Awful. Bigly. The creme was almost done before she was through with the front of my head, and my scalp was lit—and not in the way that implies having fun—from jump. Whatever your mind is conjuring up with regards to what I looked like when all was said and done, I can assure you that the reality was much worse. Somehow, I managed to avoid complete and utter social ostracisation that first week of high school with the assurance that we’d try again the next weekend.
That next Saturday, another tub of hellfire was applied to my head, this time by a woman in the community. I don’t know if Jean was a hairdresser, but her hair was always on point, and I guess my mother asked her. Or she saw my #strugglehair and volunteered. It. Was. M U R D E R. I’m sure I left blood along with bits and pieces of scalp tissue in her sink as she SCRUBBED my freshly abused scalp with her talon-like false fingernails. I couldn’t do anything with my hair for weeks!
My mind must have blocked most of the painful relaxer related memories in a bid to spare me from elements of PTSD, but I can still remember a few more traumatic experiences from my 11 years on the creamy crack. A couple years later, another woman in the community opened up a salon, and my mother decided to send me there. Did this woman have a licence? I don’t know. I do remember that she didn’t have running water in the place, but that was of no concern to anyone because she was close, her rates were cheap, and hair afi do. The poison this time around was African Pride, coarse formula. Again, it was murder. My hair stayed pasted to my scalp for days as I couldn’t even touch it. There were many scabs.
Around that time, we had a massive family implosion and I went to live with my aunt, whose hair was always immaculately straight, and I started going to her hairdresser, who had her certificates (plural) proudly displayed on the walls of her establishment. When I told her of my previous experiences, she seemed perplexed that I had been using the ‘coarse’ or ‘super’ formulas, and that should have been my first clue that my hair wasn’t as unmanageable as I had been led to believe, but we’ll get to that bridge soon. She decided to start me off with Gentle Treatment, and—get this—she applied a base to my roots and scalp before applying the relaxer! I had no idea such a thing even existed! I still got burned, but it wasn’t as bad as my previous experiences. The Gentle Treatment didn’t do a good job at straightening my hair though, so we eventually moved up to Affirm. Despite her best efforts, I burned every single time, but my hair was thriving nonetheless.
After fifth form, I went to live with my mother again, this time in Spanish Town, where she had moved. I bounced around from hairdressing pillar to hairdressing post, getting terrible burns left, right and centre. The worst of the worst—even worse than the Revlon Incidents of 1996 and the African Pride Catastrophe of 1999—was the Great Motions Fire of 2002. My scalp was based, yes, but that did nothing to stop corrosive work of the creamy napalm. I got burned so badly that I had to do the dry land tourist thing and use an umbrella in the middle or a sunny day, because the heat on my terrorised scalp was making me tear up. The breeze blowing through the taxi window on my way home felt like fire was being set to my scalp. I couldn’t sleep that night because I couldn’t even lay my head on the pillow. I was in pain for days, my hair matted to my scalp for almost three weeks. I vowed to never use a relaxer again, but then, who was going to comb my hair? I didn’t know what to do with it unless it was processed, so I soldiered on, avoiding Motions forever and always.
Somehow, that incident didn’t leave me bald, and prior to entering university in 2004, my hair was in the best condition if its life up to that point. I’d been spending time with my aunt again during my gap year (that sounds nicer than ‘unable to get a job for a whole year’), so her hairdresser, Sharon, worked her magic again, and my hair was long, bouncy and sexy. It moved when I walked, and people were stopping me on campus to ask what I was using, because my hair looked so good. Some of them would randomly run their hands through from root to tip because they couldn’t believe it was all mine, and they were pawing at my scalp for evidence of weaves.
I made it through the first year just fine, but by the time my second year of college was over, a piece a stress and poverty reach mi, and the evidence was showing in the condition of my hair. If you look up ‘picky-picky’ in a Jamaican dictionary, you will find a picture of my head, circa 2005/2006. I looked a hot miggity mess. I’d braided my hair over the Christmas holiday of 2005 to save money and give myself a break from the creamy crack, but when I took the braids out, my hairline came with them. I was looking like a peel-head johncrow walking around campus. It was so terrible that one day, a male classmate of mine told me, “No, Tracey. This cannot continue. Yu afi do someting bout yu hair.”
I hemmed and hawed for days, as I pondered braiding it again. My budget couldn’t stand up to the prices I was being quoted, so in a fit of frustration, I went to the salon on campus and asked how much it would cost to cut it all off. The stylist told me $500, I asked if she could do it right then, she said yes, and the rest is history. I had come to UWI with flowing hair down to my shoulder blades, and I walked out of Salon Splurt (such a weird name) with less than two inches of wiry curls sticking up in a strange-feeling afro. I was encountering my natural hair again after 11 years, and I had no idea how to proceed. The whole ‘natural hair movement’ hadn’t sprung up yet, no ‘gurus’ existed online, and the plethora of products we have now were all in the distant future. At the time, my plan was to just get through UWI, start working and making money so I could take care of my hair again—ie, relax it regularly at a decent salon. I didn’t expect to actually fall in love with the thing, and to protect it so fiercely.
I’m just realising that another 11 years have passed since that first big chop. I’ve done several over the years, one out of necessity after I’d let people influence me to flat iron it for my UWI graduation and it was RUINT. I’ve also grown to love TWAs, because I still don’t know diddly squat about styling, and it’s really easy to take care of when it’s short. Another reason I’m always chopping is because, try as I might, my hair was always dry, and I hated that feeling. I mean, it was crispy. No matter what moisturising or hydrating products I used, my hair always felt like paper. I’d find a bomb leave in/detangler, like Kinky Curly Knot Today, but after I put other stuff on it, using the LOC method, it just felt gummy and gross. So after a while, I’d said ‘to hell with all this’ and started just putting olive oil on my wet hair after a wash and calling it a day. Yeah. Crispy.
But a couple months ago, my sister introduced me to the Cantu Coconut Curling Cream, and lemme tell you! My hair went from Atacama Desert to Amazon Rainforest in 3.5 seconds. I tried it with zero expectations, because everything else I’d used had disappointed. So, imagine how utterly shook I was when three days later, a week later, two weeks later, my hair still felt soft and juicy. I had a vicious sinus infection around that time, so I ended up not washing my hair for almost a month (I don’t use heat on my hair, and I wasn’t taking the chance to wet my head and then leave my hair to air dry for hours. Ain’t nobody got time for doctors!) Without me having to re-up on the curling cream or my olive oil, the softness was still going strong.
Another bonus is that my twistout game is now starting to get on point. My hair is holding definition now, something it had previously flat-out refused to do, even with generous applications of Eco Styler and other ‘holding’ products. I guess moisturised hair just behaves better. Also, I now know for sure that my hair isn’t ‘tough,’ ‘barky,’ ‘coarse’ or ‘unmanageable,’ as I’d been led to believe in my youth. That’s a whole ‘nother suitcase to unpack, the history of black women and our hair, but I won’t get into that right now. I can’t believe that this fine-textured, light, cottony thing on my head was ever villified with those words. I have this really loose texture at the front and back of my head, where some of the strands are almost straight, while those in the middle are slightly more coily. Back then, we just didn’t know better. We didn’t know that there were different hair types and textures, everything was either ‘tough’ or ‘pretty.’ (FYI: I believe that every hair type is ‘pretty.’) There were no specialised products to help women and girls make the most of their individual textures. I wish all this information we have now was available back in the 90s. It might have prevented me from ever getting a relaxer in the first place, and mutilating my beautiful hair, not to mention burning the bejesus out of my scalp for 11 years!
I’m not going to tell you, natural hair woman reading this, to try the Cantu Coconut Curling Cream, but I’m not going to tell you not to try it, either. It has worked for my sister and it has worked for me. It might work for you, or it might not. Taking care of natural hair is a lot of trial and error, and I have had my trials and made many an error. Each person’s hair is different, and reacts to products differently. If you’ve found something else that works, rejoice. I’m just glad I’ve found something that’s making my hair soft and juicy and sexy again. Who knows, at this rate, I might actually be able to resist the constant big chop temptation and grow my hair long again. And I think it’s about time for some adventures with colour during this current 11-year cycle. Purple is my favourite colour, and I’m also high-key obsessed with cobalt blue right now, so I need to find a way to sneak those colours in there while I navigate Jamaica’s conservative business environment. 🤔 We’ll see… 😏 😜