Mercelle’s Hair Journey
My hair journey is like most African American women in their mid-50s, or so I believe. I wore my hair braided (naturally) when I was a little girl and into my teens. We believed in green and blue hair oils (thick and greasy). I would wear multiple braids or often French braids (corn rows) for the summer. Our parents were particularly fond of the twist styles: two, three, four, five, or six twists (some wore more) with lots of ribbons and barrettes. The hair jewelry of little Black girls was the thing and our ribbons and barrettes matched our clothing. I say “Little Black Girls” because my birth certificate says Negro, but by the time I was in school, we were saying “say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” The term African American did not come into play until my oldest daughter’s life, but her birth certificate says Black, and then we became African American.
If school pictures, Easter Sunday, Christmas, other special events and holidays, or family pictures were coming up, we usually got our hair straightened with a hot comb in the kitchen. Our fancy doos did not last long as we played hard in the neighborhood and were back in our two, three, four, five, or six twists and braids within days from sweating in the Oakland streets. If we were spending summers in Texas or Washington, D.C. with family, cornrows were a must for that kind of heat.
I believe I began perming my hair in high school. Long hair was hailed in our community and we’d moved from the Afro stage to feathered doos, bobs, flips, etc. I had a head full of hair and I remember the boy in high school who told me how pretty it was; and then the straightening and “down hairdos” began. I permed for a while in high school but our plight, or my plight as a Black girl, is that someone always took care of my hair for me, be it a salon, my grandmother, my mother, or the woman who braided the cornrows. During my perming stage, I was going to the salon often because I had to have the latest style and that sometimes-included cellophane colors (burgundy was my favorite). I never “cut” my hair, but I was allowed to get trims. I never dyed my hair, with permanent dye, but cellophanes were acceptable because they were temporary and faded following each wash.
College is where my hair nightmares began. I moved to Colorado which is all desert land and I was responsible for taking care of my own hair and it took a year or more for my hair to adjust to the climate. I was wearing weird styles using gels, spray in colors, etc. and I continued to get my hair permed which was a mistake in this climate without a reputable stylist. My first hair salon experience in Colorado was with a white man, in the now famous Cherry Creek area, who did a botch job on my cellophane and style. He had no idea what he was doing but marketed himself as one who could do “any type of hair.” I started losing my hair and well, my friends in college started helping me out…
I finally found a woman who took care of my hair until my first pregnancy. For years, I went in and out of perming. I could not perm while I was pregnant and that was when my hair grew like crazy. Throughout the years, I went back to perming, using permanent dies, I even did weaves (which I did not need). I called my weaves “holiday hair” and only did them for special occasions. When my youngest daughter was born, I decided no more permanent dies, and no more perming, no more weaving, etc… My wonderful hairstylist, a beautiful woman of color, trained my hair to stay straight for weeks until my next appointment. I cut it off and started again, but it was wonderful! For years, I stayed in this state of regrowth. In the early 2000s, my stress levels were off the charts, my hair fell out in clumps constantly. I had some health challenges as well. As I got healthy again, I went back to straightening and my hair did just fine- it grew quickly, was healthy, etc. About 8 years ago, my stylist, a different woman (my original stylist moved to another state), over processed my hair with color. I had no idea. My hair fell out and when I asked her about it, she told me I had alopecia and “to see a doctor”. My doctor confirmed it was chemical over processing and that I did not have any hair related medical conditions.
A new stylist (recommended by a friend) spent a year minimizing the breakage and strengthening my hair but I had to wear it naturally for my hair to fully restore. I hated not having much hair because I have a big head and need my hair. Since then, I’ve stayed consistent with the natural styles and/ or braids and have been here since. I have toggled back and forth between natural products and mixtures. I straighten every now and again. I love being a woman of color because our hair can do the most!