The First Naturalista
By Emmanuella Agyemang
In this piece, I stumble across the wonders of natural hair and, after, try to convince my mother to let me go natural.
Age 5: “Mommy, this stuff burns.”
The chemical relaxer smelled like a combination of Nair, bleach, and rotten eggs, aggravating my tiny nose. I sat on the floor as my mother applied the cream to my roots for the first time. After combing it through with a hair-snapping, red, wide-tooth comb, she washed it out, and I was left with strands that resembled hairs on a wet rat. For the next ten years, this was a common scene: the never-ending cycle of stinging chemicals met with the constant “Mommy, this stuff burns” complaints from me. My mother adopted the idea of beautiful hair from her family. This made her see straight hair as feminine, ideal, and classy. And, natural hair was ugly and time-consuming.
Relaxers were inescapable for the women in my family. My aunts, cousins, and grandmothers were all under the unbreakable spell of what we called the “creamy crack.” They were addicted to the substance that gave them their prized straight hair. I think of my seventy-year-old grandmother who still applies relaxers to hair that is balding and thin and I ask myself: What hold do relaxers have on Black women to make us use such chemicals even into our old age?
Age 11: “Mom, can I go natural?”
I encountered a YouTube video about the make up of natural hair. I stopped scrolling and looked at the video with a raised eyebrow. “What is natural hair?” I asked myself. I clicked on the video and a Black woman with an afro appeared. As she spoke, I began to learn terms like “hair type” and “shrinkage.” I saw images of natural hair that ranged from loose curls to coils. I saw its strands come together to resemble that of a weeping willow tree. After the video, I could not believe that I had been living the straight hair life for so long. Unlike my chemically straightened hair, natural hair had a unique personality. That same night I asked my mother if I could go natural. With a blank expression, she responded, “No, it’s not a good look on you.” I frowned and replied, “Okay.” I walked back into my room with shoulders slumped and realized this journey to natural hair would be filled with kinks. Despite my disappointment, I wanted to correct the misconception of beauty in my mother’s eyes. For the next few years, I found myself pleading with my mother to stop using that god-awful chemical on my hair. I could feel her annoyance and impatience each time she responded with “No!”
Age 15: “I don’t want a relaxer anymore.”
After ten years, I had enough. On December 2, 2019, my mother came to my room to remind me it was time for a retouch. Terrified, I took a deep breath and said to my mother, “I don’t want a relaxer anymore.” I saw my mother’s dark brown eyes switch to fiery red. She realized I had come to a point where I wanted to be my most authentic self. Surprisingly, she backed off and instead ranted about my hair-making decision to my father for the next hour.
Age 17: “Wash-n-go’s, twist-outs, and braid-outs!”
I cut off all of my relaxed ends after transitioning my hair to natural for two years. During this time, my hair and combs competed in a boxing match every washday. Now that I have been fully natural for some time, I have been reminding myself to enjoy the process. Sometimes my hair stays in a puff for so long that it gets in a tangled mess. Other times, I can’t pass a comb through it. But on my fabulous hair days, I see my wash-n-go’s, twist-outs, and braid-outs and remember why I started this journey and how long it took me to get to this place. And, I fall in love with my hair all over again. I finally broke the deep-rooted cycle of relaxers within the women in my family. Now I wear the crown as our first naturalista.
At a Girls Write Now personal statement workshop, I wrote a piece about natural hair. I continued to work on the piece in hopes of it becoming a personal essay for college. In the end, I did not end up using the piece for my colleges, but I found a new purpose in the piece for the GWN anthology.
In this story are many discoveries I made within myself: my self-love, persistence, and rediscovery. In this story, I found root in making choices about my hair so that I can show up as my most authentic self. I knew I had to make my last piece for GWN something special. This is a story that has been bubbling since I was 5 years old and I finally found a place to plant it. This piece is very special in several ways, and I can’t wait to encourage other women to take root in their lives by showing up as their most authentic selves as well.
Emmanuella Agyemang is a high school junior and a Girls Write Now mentee. She is most passionate about writing and journalism. Agyemang has been featured in a few news articles and is currently on the Scholastic Magazine Teen Advisory Board. She hopes that by pursuing a career in journalism, she paves a way for other minorities to pursue journalism as well.