I discovered the magical abilities of the flat iron when I was about 10 years old. Before then, my hair care routine was quite simple: wash it, brush it, and let it air dry. The first time I let the hot tool pass over my hair, I was amazed at how smooth it and soft it felt. It looked just like the girls’ hair in the magazines! I felt pretty, older, and like I could be taken seriously. I had quickly become obsessed. Fifth grade through my sophomore year of college, I would wake up before the sun to flatten out the natural waves I was given. My bathroom vanity was littered with smoothing serums and heat protectant sprays. I often had to deal with split ends and my hair falling out. It had gone on so long that some people thought my straight hair was my natural texture, and were surprised on the rare occasion that I skipped a day (and even on those days, my hair was loaded with products and pulled back into a ponytail or bun). I thought my wavy/curly hair was too frizzy, too big, and out of control.
I now realize what I was subconsciously doing (and it has taken me almost a decade to do so). I was making myself smaller. I was afraid to take up space. I hid beneath oversized clothes. I sat down and I never spoke unless spoken to, and if I did, I immediately regretted it. It was what I was supposed to do right? These habits soon became part of who I believed I was. I didn’t think my thoughts, my body, and my hair were valuable enough to take up space or someone else’s time. The less attention I drew to myself, the better. I tried to live up to impossible standards of beauty in hopes that someone, one day, would find me valuable enough.
I let my bad habits keep me in a dysfunctional relationship for far too long when I was 16. I was drunk on what I thought was love. When you’re drunk (even on love), everything seems to sound like a good idea. He said he loved me, but did he really? I kept so much of me hidden, so what was there for him to fall in love with? When he did shady things, I made up excuses for him. To me, it was never his fault. It was my fault for not being enough; not pretty enough, not talented enough, not smart enough for him. When he interacted with other girls, I saw it as a failure on my part. I never shared anything too personal with him, for fear of him finding a flaw and deciding it wasn’t good enough for him. What I wanted from him and whatever relationship status we kept was some form of self-validation. I felt like I constantly had to prove that I was worthy of his time and attention. My physical and mental health really took a blow during this time because of how exhausting it was. One day, I finally broke. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I ended it with him.
The summer after I ended things with him was lonely, but I so badly needed that solitude. It gave me time to figure out who I was without someone attached to me. I’ll be honest, it was difficult, but this relationship that didn’t work didn’t have to be looked at as a failure. It was something to learn from. By learning to be gentle with myself, I slowly grew to love myself. I began to expand and discovered this new, creative side of myself that I had no idea existed! Suddenly, I had all this energy to write, run, dance, and take care of myself. Nothing had ever felt so liberating! All because I let go of expectations of myself and began to be okay with just being. I learned that I didn’t have to apologize for who I was and who I wanted to be.
More recently, I’ve been slowly falling back in love with my natural hair texture. My flat iron has been unplugged, put away, and left untouched for the past month and a half (same goes for my hairbrush). Just like I had to stop setting expectations for myself, I had to stop setting expectations for what my hair should look like.
If I could go back in time, I would tell younger self to take up as much damn space as you want. Say and wear whatever the hell you want. Stand up for yourself because you can’t count on anyone else to do it for you. You are important and valuable and loved—don’t let anyone else make you think otherwise. Oh, and guess what? The things you think you hate about yourself are going to be the same things that someone one day is going to fall in with, you just have to love those things first. Work on raising your vibration and the rest will follow. I promise. Oh, and please stop frying your hair.