Little African Girl Having Hair Braided | The Girl Next Door is Black
A little girl getting her natural hair braided with extensions added for length. Source

The beauty shop has never been a place of relaxation or pleasure for me. I associate it with chemical smells, scalp burn, lots of time spent waiting around, listening to catty gossip about the lives of strangers, and hours of sitting in the same chair forced to make conversation with someone pulling on my hair, knowing that any personal details I share might become future salon fodder.

Once, a braider yanked my hair so hard she PULLED SOME OF MY HAIR OUT OF MY SCALP! It’s been years and that hair still hasn’t grown back right.

Up until late last fall, I’ve worn my hair in some form of “protective styling” like braids or weaves. For nearly 20 years I shielded my hair from the elements, the public and myself.

I have never liked fooling with my hair. I would get my hair braided or weaved up and not have to do any heavy styling for at least six weeks. I could wake up, brush my hair or shake out my braids and be done, until I had to repeat the process. Low maintenance. Kind of. Though, not inexpensive.

I always intended to go back to natural, but …

Perma-Strate Hair Relaxer Creme Advertisement | The Girl Next Door is Black
A 1964 ad for Perma-Strate Creme Hair Relaxer. Source

Sometime around age 10, when my family lived in Atlanta, my mom began taking my older sister and I to the salon to have our hair relaxed and styled.

[For the uninitiated: a relaxer straightens curly hair. Commonly, black women refer to it as a “perm,” but this perm is straight, not curly. The relaxer is made up of a chemical compound which, up until recently, usually contained lye and if left on too long, basically burns the crap out of your scalp. It also typically weakens the hair leading to breakage, split ends and other hair horrors.]

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to permanently alter my hair from its naturally tightly coiled state to a bone straight texture. Hair, which now required touch ups every six to eight weeks lest the undesirable curls rise up from the roots and ruin the iron-flat look. Almost every black girl in my school had relaxed hair. The ones who didn’t, got teased and mocked.

If the fuzzy coils returned or I didn’t style my hair “right,” this group of mean black girls in school would let me know by tittering and throwing stank looks and snide comments my way as I walked by. Over the years, I’ve met more of these types  – the self-appointed black hair police who insist on issuing judgmental and cruel verbal violations to those whose ‘dos don’t pass muster in their hating eyes. They definitely were not fans of “nappy” hair.

I learned that white people also had opinions on how I wear my hair. In fourth grade, it was Nick – the blonde haired, blue-eyed 10-year old print model with Tom Cruise hair whom all the girls, black and white alike, swooned over – who looked at my relaxed hair, sprayed with oil sheen to give it shine, and called me a “greasehead.” I rebutted with a passable insult and kept my face neutral, but his words infiltrated and left a bruise.

My hair was in crochet braids when I served as a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding in the early ’00s. I’d stopped relaxing my hair by then, no longer interested in the ritual of maintaining unnaturally straight hair. I recall one of my friend’s soon-to-be new family members, a white girl a few years older than me, asking “So, are you going to take out your braids for the wedding?”

Why would I take out my braids? The braids that I spent nearly 4 hours in a chair getting put in? She must be crazy. What’s wrong with wearing braids to a wedding? They’re versatile. Besides, the bride had no issue with my hair, so why should she?


When I interviewed with a staffing agency in Los Angeles, also in the early 2000s, the middle-aged white recruiter inquired, as she looked at my braids:

If a client wanted you to change your hair to look more professional, would you be open to that?

Unlike my more vulnerable fourth grade self, her words didn’t sting me the way Nick’s had; rather, her question offended me.  “More professional?” Who would ask me to change my hair and why?

I emphatically said no in such a way as to shut down that line of conversation. No, I am not changing what is a perfectly normal, common and acceptable style among black women.

Black Sisters with 'locks by Brandon King, | The Girl Next Door is Black
A trio of sisters with locs

Her question astonished me, but I soon learned that other black women face similar problems in the workplace, as do black girls in school. Black women have faced reprimands from employers and even been fired for refusing to change their locs, curls, braids, afros or other everyday styles to something “more professional.” Often, “more professional” equated to “more like white women.”

But, my hair does not grow like a white woman’s does. So…

Even men had an opinion about my hair.

While hanging out at a friend’s place in L.A. one afternoon, one of her guy “friends” – a late twenty-something black dude with a gut, receding hairline, bad breath and yellowing teeth – gave me this gem of unsolicited advice:

You know, if you got yourself a weave, got you some long nails and your pedicure hooked up? You’d be perfect.

Black Girl with18-inch_remy_weave | The Girl Next Door is Black
An 18-inch Remy weave. Remy hair is top of the line (think hundreds of dollars) and the longer, the pricier.

So, that guy was an ass.

I did eventually get a weave, but it wasn’t his words that prompted me. I’d noticed that a lot of the black girls in L.A. wore their hair in weaves. Long, straight, flowing hair – much like the white girls. Everybody wanted that Beyoncé hair.

My middle sister installed her own weaves and taught me how to do mine, sparing me trips to the beauty salon. Notably, the type of men I attracted changed once I switched from braids to weaves.

A Black Woman With Natural Hair by kris krüg
A woman wearing her “natural” hair, meaning: no use of relaxer cremes, texturizers, straighteners, hot combs, etc. Source

When I moved to the Bay Area a couple of years ago, it surprised me how many black women wore their hair naturally – in puffs, spirals, coils, locs and twist-outs. No one looked at them sideways for it. Seeing these women confidently rock their beautiful, myriad curl patterns encouraged me. Even at work, in professional environments, quite a few black women wore their natural hair for all to see.


There’s no one day when I woke up and decided, “Today is the day I’m going natural!” I’d told myself and others for years, “I’m going natural one day. I am! I just, I’m waiting. I’m not ready yet.”

In the ’90s my mom traded her own relaxed hair for sisterlocks and never looked back. My youngest sister, a true millennial, was the first of all my sisters to make the transition. She did what’s known as the “big chop” and cut off her relaxed hair to start over. She rocked her cute teeny weeny afro with such confidence; it inspired me. Several of my cousins on the east coast also wear their hair natural. I definitely wouldn’t be alone when I finally made the change.

Solange Knowles famously did the big chop about five years ago. She has a gorgeous mane now.

Oddly enough, getting laid off from my job last summer helped propel me to action. The role I played at the office, both professionally and personally, was increasingly at odds with who I am, my beliefs and my values. It felt fake and I was tired of it; exhausted from not being true to myself. I just want to be myself and that includes wearing my hair in its “natural” state.

In November, I went to a salon known for their Deva Cut. My hair hadn’t seen the shears of a professional in years. When I scheduled the appointment, they advised me to set aside at least 2 1/2 hours for the cut. 2 1/2 hours? For a haircut and shampoo?! This is why I hate salons! Still, I went. If I was going to be a natural girl, I needed someone to shape my coif into something cute. Besides, women online swore by this cut and as we know, everything online is true and awesome.

I’d heard rumor of these peculiar places where women of all colors converge to beautify. Seeing it with my own eyes delighted me. Black women. White women. Latina women. Jewish women. All with curls. Curls everywhere!

Black Girl Natural Hair Shrinkage Source
Curls! (Shrinkage is real)

I was a bit skeptical when I met my stylist. A tall, young white woman with bright tangerine hair, absent of any curl pattern, and a ’70s punk rock vibe introduced herself. She is going to help me with this hair?

I’ve walked into “white” salons before and seen the terror in the stylist’s or receptionist’s eyes as I ask, “Do you do black hair?”

“Uh…well…um, we have one girl who does that, but she works the third Friday of every fourth month.”

Or they’ll just eke out, “N-n-noooo, sorry.”

Well, whatever happened to me in the salon, my hair couldn’t possibly look more of a mess than it already did., could it? I can’t say I’d been a poster child of proper hair maintenance.

Two hours  later – after pleasant conversation with Tangerine (not her real name), a very thorough dry haircut and a soothing sulfate-free shampoo and conditioning – I left the salon with expertly shaped cut and new knowledge about how best to care for my curly hair.

I used to say that taking care of  my natural hair took so much effort. In reality, it was taking care of my relaxed hair that took all the time. My natural hair is the lowest fuss hairstyle I’ve worn to date.

When people ask me when I went natural, I’ll say, “November 2014.” Though truthfully, the transition itself took years. It’s a lot of mental and emotional work. You have to unlearn all the negative messages you’ve internalized about your natural hair.

You may have to re-learn how to properly take care of your own hair. I consumed a lot of information through natural hair blogs; blogs which continue to grow in popularity.

You also have to get comfortable with the fact that there will always be people who have a problem with your hair. Screw ’em. They don’t own the hair rules. If such things exist.

This is the hair that grows out of my head and there’s nothing wrong with it. I love it. It’s part of me. I am still amazed that these curls grow from my head. They are so cool. I can’t believe I ever wanted to hide them.

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What Do You Think?

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  • Joan
    September 10, 2015

    Good move

  • Debbian
    September 9, 2015

    Looks so much better natural. I’ve been rocking my curls for 8 months and there is no looking back. It is time we hold and love our roots!

  • Heather
    September 9, 2015

    100% love the curls!!

  • Jessica
    September 9, 2015

    Me too! Beautiful both ways but I love your curls 🙂

  • Karen at One Salty Kiss
    September 10, 2015

    I think you’re adorable both ways but short and sassy works!! <3 <3

  • K Davis
    July 19, 2015

    I love the curls. You are gorgeous! I wish my hair was curly. 🙂

  • elizainhollywood
    March 8, 2015

    You are beautiful inside and out. I’ve known you through some of your hair journey, and I have to say, you’ve always looked amazing but I especially love your hair now. It gives you more of a kick-ass beauty kind of vibe. Hard to put into words but all I can say is you are rockin the natural hair.

  • alhupartu
    March 8, 2015

    I loved you post. Thank you for sharing your “hair” journey. You look great with natural hair, it is beautiful.

  • thebritishberliner
    February 24, 2015

    Wonderful post. Work it sister!

  • kp3reloaded
    February 17, 2015

    Your hair is gorgeous! Yes, natural hair seems to be the norm for black women these days, and I love it! Everyone should go natural! #BLMGirl

    Kasi |

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 18, 2015

      Thank you so much, I appreciate the compliment! I agree, it’s wonderful to see this continued evolution in black hair.

  • thepretty maven (PMS)
    February 10, 2015

    Great blog and post! I also started the transition a year and a half ago. July will mark 2 years! I loved my last natural hairstyle, but put it back in protective style for the winter. I can’t wait to debut my new hair when the warmer weather comes around! I also get so many comments about may hair in the workplace and its tiring but I just didn’t want the chemicals in my hair/scalp anymore! Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 17, 2015

      Thank you! Yeah, workplace comments about your hairstyle can be so tiresome. Everybody seems to have something to say. Congrats on making the transition!

  • Jarret Ruminski
    February 1, 2015

    Great post, Keisha. My Mom is a stylist so I’ve always been aware of just how closely linked are identity and hair-styles. Plus, as you note, hair is intimately connected to the identity of the Black American experience. I remember during my doctoral exam readings coming across some great scholarship that traces the symbolism of “nappy” hair all the way back to the colonial period. It was one of the earliest racial markers between blacks and whites, and, as you observed, it’s still very much an issue when it comes to fashioning identity in “post-racial” America.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 5, 2015

      I always enjoy your take on these topics, Jarret. When I was writing this post, I struggled with how much of the historic roots to include in this post. I decided to focus on my personal journey and the societal influences, otherwise this might end up a dissertation! It’s such a complicated subject for black women (and black men).

  • fruitaliniyogi
    January 31, 2015

    BTW I found you on SITS Sharefest!

  • fruitaliniyogi
    January 31, 2015

    Your hair looks great and most importantly YOU love it! I love what you said about the transitioning period including all the time it takes to unlearn the negative thoughts about our natural beauty! I have a lot of family members and friends who’ve tried to go natural but are missing that most important factor. Thanks for articulating that and sharing your journey!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      February 1, 2015

      Thank you! Yes, I think it’s easy to underestimate how much mental preparation it can take to transition. I mean, even if you just dye your hair a different color it takes getting used to. So, it makes sense.

  • Cecilia
    January 31, 2015

    You’re right, it’s your hair and your beauty. The natural look is anyway always the best. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  • Mariann
    January 31, 2015

    Very nice piece. A lot of girls with curls will benefit from reading this. My daughter did the BIG chop from dreads to a TWA the summer before she entered high school. Although I wear dreads, I was nervous for her to wear the little ‘fro at that particular time and in our community. I knew it’d be battle that both she and I would fight constantly. Three years later, she has a big super curly afro that she rocks each and every day without a lick of hesitation!

  • Yvonne Chase
    January 31, 2015

    Yesterday I went to get my Senegalese twists freshened up. On the way home, I thought about relaxing my hair again. My natural hair is very thick and I simply am not interested in all the time it takes to maintain it. I’m not into hair like that at all. Not sure what I’m going to do once I remove the twists but something’s gotta give.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      January 31, 2015

      I can understand that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with straightening your hair. I just don’t think I was doing it for the right reasons for myself. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a relaxer though, because I just don’t like them. Maybe a flat iron every once in a while for versatility.

      Do you ever wear braids or extensions?

  • BritishMumUSA
    January 30, 2015

    I love your hair, it fits you gorgeous face. My sister is married to a black man and her two daughters, my wonderful beautiful nieces hairs is amazing!!!! Long, thick, full, shinny, deep black, and beautiful…….

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      January 31, 2015

      Aw, what a sweet thing to say – thank you! 🙂

      Another factor I considered when thinking about my hair: if I have a daughter one day, I want her to love her natural hair too. Harder to encourage that if I’m hiding mine underneath hair I purchased!

  • Jossie McManus
    January 30, 2015

    Hi lady, it’s nice to see your updates from time to time. You look absolutely stunning! I love your natural hair! I can kind of relate to what you went through. I highlighted & colored my hair since the age of 15 (my mom thought it’d be a nice look since she did it to hers) and I stopped after a job loss to save money 12 years later. That’s when I saw my beautiful dark, brown hair take over and I wondered why I ever changed the color in the first place. Parents are doing their best, but boy, they can totally screw us sometimes. I think you belong in a movie set 🙂

  • taglinedesign
    January 30, 2015

    Your hair is fabulous!

    My mom always told me I had horrible hair because it’s stick straight and fine. I cut it really short or permed it. I was wearing it in a bob when I had a pedicure at a predominantly African-American salon in Oakland. Two or three women commented on how much they liked my hair as they entered the shop. That was the turning point for me: it’s my hair and it’s just right for me.

    Have you read this essay by Alice Walker?

    You look so beautiful with your perfect hair. -Valerie

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      January 30, 2015

      That’s a sweet story. 🙂

      I have seen that essay, but it’s been awhile. It’s a great one.

      Thank you for your kind words!

  • Sally@Toddlers on Tour
    January 30, 2015

    I think kids are mean no matter what colour skin you have or how your hair looks. The bully will find something – anything to riddle about you. Well done for going back to natural and being you.

  • trininista
    January 30, 2015

    Girl, I did the big chop back in 2012 and while I don’t want to ever go back to a relaxer, I am not good with the natural hair either. My hair is naturally fine and I cannot seem to find a happy place with it. So I do the protective styles because it is easier. But I am still experimenting with products and styles to find that happy place but I will admit I like being able to change my look from one day to the next. I had the most boring hair for the first 20-odd years of my life – same style every day aka a top knot or a bun. lol. I am just not a hair girl, no matter what the texture of it.But love your hair and so glad women are just embracing who they are. I do support whatever choices women make – weave, wig, natural – once it is a choice they made for themselves and not to please anyone and everyone.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      January 30, 2015

      I think it’s fun changing your look and I like that we have the freedom to do that. I’m definitely not going to join the hair police and tell people how to wear their hair. 🙂

      When I wore protective styles, I never gave my hair a break though. I’d go straight to the next weave or re-braiding. It was a lifestyle, not just temporary, you know? I could see myself getting a wig or a weave for fun every once in a while. The difference now is that I am secure in the knowledge that I love my hair underneath. I can’t wait to see how it grows out.

      Thank you for the compliment! I’m sure you’ll find something that works best for your hair. It’s a lot of trial and error!

  • samdfb1
    January 29, 2015

    Yassss! I absolutely loved this blog post. Thanks for sharing!

  • kennedydesousa727
    January 28, 2015

    I love your hair natural, either way your gorgeous but you stand out more with curls! You know that’s how I first met Dave and Jennelle!

  • Shahidah
    January 28, 2015

    Congrats on accepting your natural. I am loving seeing more black women ditching societies version of beauty and defining our own!