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It's OKAY to Just Be: Untamed

4 October 2023:

Two nights ago, I experienced a little bit of a crisis in my mind. I came home from a long day at work, looked at all the unpacked boxes in my home (the movers recently delivered them to our new home), and contemplated packing for my upcoming trip to Paris but chose to lie in bed instead. I have been excited about this trip to Paris as Michael and I had never been to the city let alone the country France before and he had gotten great tickets to one of my favorite music artists since my childhood: Usher. As I lied in bed, I started thinking of what to wear for the concert; mentally going through each available outfit I owned. I then thought of my hair and this is when the overwhelming spiral began. How am I going to wear my hair for the concert? How am I going to wear it for work tomorrow?

This may seem to be a silly thing for some, but as a Black woman with very course kinky hair, styling my hair for all occassions to include work is something I typically plan ahead for because of the work required to achieve a look. For the past two weeks I had been wearing my hair straight in order to get my split ends cut off. My hair has been shedding significantly over the past year to where I have broken/uneven hairs all over my head and bald spots around my hairline. I identified some of the causes of this to be from stress, a lack of a committed hair routine to keep moisture in my hair and YEARS of wearing tight hairstyles that pull the hair out from my hairline. So for the past two months I have made it a priority to be gentle with and consistently care for my hair.

Unfortunately, my daily moisturizing routines and low-tension hairstyles haven't seemed to be working. My hair continues to thin. The bald spots are still there.

As I lied in bed, I began to run through a list of hair style options for the concert as well as for work the next day. The straight hair was nice and easy to manage but it's shedding and I really need to wash my hair. Braids are pretty but the tension is pulling out my hair.... If I pull my hair back into a bun you can see the bald spots on my hairline... All my wigs are tucked away in boxes and I don't feel like searching for them.... my hair keeps breaking... I'm running out of options...I don't know what to do.

I was overwhelmed. I went on YouTube and started watching videos of women doing the "big chop" where they cut off all of their hair and started over. The more I watched the more convinced I was becoming that this is my only and best option. "I just need to reset. Reset my whole life. I'm tired of the energy it's taking to do my hair. Hair that keeps breaking off despite my effort to care for it and make it be 'beautiful' whatever that is," I thought to myself.

Michael entered the room and saw that I was upset. When he asked what's wrong I asked him if he could use his clippers to shave my head. We talked about what was bothering me and he encouraged me to not make any impulsive decisions but he would help me with whatever I chose to do. By the end of our conversation I decided to just take a shower. I remembered the words of the stylist who cut my hair two weeks ago, "your hair is moisturized and healthy you just have broken pieces all around your head...Trust me. We will get it back.... when you wear it natural again (my curly texture that grows naturally from my head), you are going to like it." Yea right, I thought. I've been hearing my hair is damaged from the majority of beauticians I've seen since I was a kid. Why I keep trying to grow and have healthy hair just seems like something I may not have the ability to achieve. The trauma and self esteem issues I've developed from having Afro-textured hair in a world that values straight, European hair, is a story for another day.

"Just take a shower," I told myself. "Wash your hair and go from there."

So I took a shower.

While I was in there my hair began its process of reverting from straight strands to its natural shrunken afro. However, I noticed that my hair was softer and not tangling. This helped it not break as I shampooed and conditioned it. When I got out I decided to try something different. I tried what's called a "wash and go". I used water, moisturizer (with a little bit of gel) and just ran the products through my hair gently with my fingers. I wrapped it in a bonnet and went to bed. The next day something magical happened.

I had defined curls.

These weren't the curls that I would manufacture with a curling iron, roller set or twist out, but these were my curls that became defined from me choosing to not manipulate my hair, but just gave it nourishment. Water, moisturizer and tender-love-and-care (TLC). That's it? I had never seen my hair do this before.

As I got ready for work, I was surprised to see that the defined curls were still there so I decided to do something I had NEVER done before. Wear my hair to work UNTAMED. No hair ties or bands, clips or extensions. No braids or twist to give it a more "professional" "smooth" or "relaxed" appearance. I decided that I have lived within the Air Force regulations with hairstyles since I was 13 years old from my JROTC days all the way up to today. I have the balding hairline to prove it. The regulations have become more inclusive and its time for me to have the courage to lean into this. So I wore my little afro with my little defined curls and went to work.

When I parked my car in the parking lot at work, I surprisingly felt a little nervous (this was a surprise to me because I really have been embracing not allowing others opinions to influence how I move or view myself). But before I stepped out of that car, I reminded myself that I already received the validation that I needed: my decision to admit that I liked my natural hair and my choice to commit to wearing it to work. Despite what others say or don't say my validation for my hair is all that matters.

Reflecting on this experience really revealed to me the connection between the mind and body. Freedom has been a value of mine since I discovered this in my intensive therapy sessions last year. My hair has literally been falling out of my head with any stress or tension on it; any action of taming. My go-to hairstyles that worked in the past just aren't working for me anymore, at least right now. And here I've been trying to figure out what will work and all I needed to do was simply give my hair some water, moisture, love, and let it be. Let it do what it naturally does without my taming and it revealed something that I didn't even know it could do. It's almost like every fiber in my body is screaming to me, "We will be free Kristin!" And through its actions of breaking off (literally) from my usual practices, it's helping my mind catch up. Helping me discover what's real within me and to develop the courage to embrace my authentic self.

This journey in self-discovery is scary but liberating all at once. It's scary to dive into the unknown, to not have a plan when planning is my source of comfort, safety, and control. But I'm finding more and more that when I allow myself to just "BE" I am discovering things in me I never knew were possible. Things I never imagined for myself.

I am currently on a train to Paris, France. I will be spending time in a country that I used to study the language from through library cassette tapes and episodes of Madeline as a child. I am going to see the artist that I've admired from my childhood and even performed one of his songs in my 6th grade talent show. And I get to experience this with a man who loves me and I love in return; a man I've prayed for since I was 12. Thank you hair for reminding me that it's ok to just BE.

Photo: on the train to Paris, France! The wash and go still poppin' curls!

Photo: First day wearing the Wash and Go style to work!

Photo: Butterfly locs

Photo: Individual singles braids. My go-to hairstyle since I was a kid (when it wasn't permed or in a weave/extensions)

Photo: A silk press

Photo: This was taken years ago, after taking my hair out of braids. Natural Afro. At the time that I took this photo, I did not feel comfortable going out in public with this hair.

Photo: This is a photo of me from a few months ago which shows my traction alopecia. This was caused through too much tension on my hair which caused the hair to be pulled out of the hair follicle. I first saw signs of this seven years ago but the thinning and balding has just gotten worst despite my efforts and desires to restore it. As much as I've valued having neat and "professional" hairstyles over the years, I now know that what has been considered "professional" or "attractive" in my careerfield and personal life has not always been healthy for me. I am choosing to prioritize my health and untaming my hair by allowing it to "just be" is a step forward in doing that.

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