Jackie Penn first wrote about her journey to natural hair for our blog in October 2014. In honor of Black History Month, we are reposting her powerful story – with an update and new photos!
If you told me two years ago that I would stop using chemicals to straighten my hair and instead wear my hair in its natural state, I would have laughed.
From an early age, I was taught to believe that wearing my hair straight was easier to deal with and was more accepted by society. From the women in my family to the black women that graced magazine covers, television shows, and commercials, I learned to envy and desire straight, silky, smooth hair. I faithfully visited the salon every two weeks to get my hair washed, blow dried and styled in addition to relaxing my hair every six to eight weeks to maintain my straight hair.
I became so obsessed with preserving my straight hair that I avoided inclement weather like rain or snow, dreaded traveling and sometimes skipped going to the gym just to keep my hair from reverting to its naturally curly state.
The Road to Self-Discovery
When I began dating my husband, he would often inquire about my natural hair and ask why I relaxed it. I would always respond that relaxed hair was easier to deal with, but the truth was I didn’t know why.
My relationship with relaxers began at the age of two, when my mom decided my hair was too thick to manage, and I continued to do it without question. I had no idea what my hair was like without chemicals or how to take care of it. Over a couple of years my husband would drop hints about natural hair, but I was adamant about keeping my relaxer.
Then one summer, my husband and I watched Good Hair, a documentary produced and narrated by Chris Rock. The documentary explored how black women style their hair, the techniques used to achieve these styles and how hair is perceived in the black community.
I knew that relaxers, like most chemicals, had side effects and potential dangers, but I didn’t realize the risk that relaxers posed for both my hair and my body. Since becoming a member of Bella Forza Fitness, I changed my diet and workout habits to lead a healthier lifestyle, but I had never thought about my hair.
I began doing my own research about relaxers, talking to friends that were natural, and I did a lot of soul searching. I realized that in order to really love myself, I needed to accept and embrace my true self.
For the next several months, I researched natural hair care and started a blog, Adventures of a Nappy Chica, to document my journey.
I was so excited to see my natural hair that I decided to cut off my relaxed hair instead of slowly transitioning. This process is also known as the “big chop” in the natural hair community. In the days leading up to the big chop, I worried about having short hair and seeing my natural hair for the first time. But, once the hair stylist made the first few cuts, I knew that I made the right decision.
Then and Now
As of the February 2015 re-post of this essay, it’s been almost ten months since my big chop, and I have never felt better. There have been ups and downs, but I have learned so much.
Connecting with other women on the same journey has helped tremendously. It has also been great to see more and more women choosing to return their hair to its natural state.
Embracing my natural hair has given me a newfound confidence and the courage to take risks in other areas of my life. I finally feel comfortable in my own skin and I’m happy with the way I look.
Jackie is an Ohio native who recently moved to Monterey, California. A former Spanish teacher, Jackie is now pursuing her dream of working in television. When she’s not blogging or writing, she loves to travel with her husband, work out, spend time with their three dogs, and soak up as much sunshine as possible. Jackie is happiest when she is being active. To follow her natural hair journey and other adventures, check out her blog. Got a question for Jackie? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.