Fellow global neighbor, Erica and I met one job ago. We didn’t attend each other’s weddings, although she helped to write our custom ceremony and I designed her wedding signage and karoake book covers. The fact that we weren’t invited, yet helped each other craft such an intimate event of our lives still boggles our minds, yet at the same time it’s a reflection of the seed of friendship that was ready before we knew it. Since then we have encouraged each other to live more authentically and I got to be a part of a big transition in her life. Erica recounts her turning point…
• • •
The things that annoy us about other people tell us
a lot more about ourselves than we realize…
Once, a long time ago, when I was much younger and thought I knew everything, I had a pet peeve against women who wore their hair in weaves or extensions. In my opinion, these women were hiding behind fake hair – ashamed of or impatient with the length of their own hair.
I, however, true to my misguided judgments, painstakingly grew my hair out – “earning” my length in what I considered to be the “right” way: Through years of regular chemical treatments to relax my thick, tightly wound natural curls – a procedure that burned the skin on my scalp in a way I can only describe as LIQUID FIRE. Why is it capitalized? Because it was that bad.
But achieving my desired length was worth it, right?
I thought so at the time. But it came at a price I hadn’t anticipated. Most notably there was the pain, of course, but there was also the unexpected (and long unexamined) shame that was partially the result of – and partially the reason for – my behavior.
I was ashamed of my hair in its curly state. The way it naturally grew from my head…
Every six weeks, I rushed to destroy the evidence of my natural hair. To be caught with my “roots” showing was to be regarded as unkempt, dirty, and unattractive. Fear of being judged this way – saying nothing of judging myself this way – drove me to endure LIQUID FIRE 9 times a year. In my quest for length, I also ignored my need for creativity. I deprived myself of the opportunity to explore color in my hair and experiment with cuts. I resisted doing anything I thought would set me backwards in my quest for long, straight hair.
It was only after my hair had grown past my shoulder blades (my arbitrary desired length) that I realized my folly. By then, I’d spent the better part of a decade going through the motions: Relax, get a conservative trim, repeat in 6 weeks. I was bored. My hair was boring. Whatever I imagined I’d feel once I finally reached my goal length… I did not feel it.
So what had I gained? Well, there was always the scabs… a lovely parting gift left behind after every relaxer treatment to remind me of the chemical burns to my scalp. And thank goodness for them! Because that’s what finally woke me up.
September 2009 was the last time I relaxed my hair. And the first time I truly realized I had a choice in the matter… It was an unremarkable day in the middle of the week, and I’d spent my lunch – like others before it – getting my hair relaxed. As usual, I suffered through the burning, and came back to work crunchy (literally). There was one particularly large scab this time. It was so big, it just begged to be shared. So I decided to show it to Mu-Hsien – as evidence of what I endured to be pretty. But her response caught me off guard.
“Why don’t you just stop relaxing your hair then?”
A simple solution. I blinked at her and smiled smugly. She had no idea how awful it would be if I stopped relaxing my hair, I thought. “Because then my hair would grow in curly,” I responded... “What’s wrong with that?”
It was her reply that changed my life. I stood there, looking at her, knowing she was right. Realizing, for the first time, that I’d been hiding behind relaxers in the same way I imagined other women hid behind weaves and extensions. It took someone on the outside looking in to show me how I’d caged myself in fear and judgment.
Six weeks later, I kept my usual appointment with my hairdresser. Only this time, I skipped the relaxer, opting instead to cut away decades of shame. After cutting relaxed hair I was left with ¼ inch of my natural, curly, newfound pride. I’ve never looked back.
• • •
Hair is such a psychologically driven symbol of who we are. When I go through modes of change where I want to shed an old layer…I go for a big cut myself. A reinvention of sorts. I’m proud to see Erica reveal even more of who she is and as a result, the creativity in it becomes endless. Below are just a few hair moments through her evolution…
Which is your favorite?!
Bonus* Soothing-Tingly Scalp Oil
In a 6oz bottle combine:
• 2.5oz olive oil
• 2.5oz grapeseed oil
• 1 drop tea tree oil
• 2 drops clove oil
• 4 drops Rosemary oil
• 5 drops peppermint oil
• 5 drops lavender oil
Shake to blend, and you’re done!
Erica uses this on her scalp after she washes and conditions her hair. On vacation, she even uses it as an all-over body moisturizer. The clove oil actually repels bugs.
• • • LESSONS LEARNED • • •
Face your fears because "liquid fire" is scarier
than whatever it is that you're afraid of.
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