Lupus forced me to become a natural black woman
Almost three years ago I made one of the most challenging decisions of my life. I decided to put down the tub of relaxer, pick up the pressing comb and head towards a ‘natural’ hair lifestyle.
The decision for me to leave the box of relaxer on the shelf and put an end to the use of harsh chemicals was an instructed decision rather than a chosen one.
I can remember the day like it was yesterday – a line used so many times but one that is entirely true for me, when thinking about the day I started my journey towards a natural hair lifestyle.
It was the week before Christmas in 2008 and I was getting ready for my mum to do my Christmas hair style. My mum being a hairdresser meant that I was planning on getting the works done consisting of a relaxer followed by a semi-permanent colour and a gel ponytail.
However, I needed to take out the weave tracks that I currently had in my hair, so I started to take the weave out of my hair the night before it was supposed to be styled. I got the shock of my life.
“Don’t cry Yasmin it’s only hair – it will grow back and if it can’t grow back we will make you some nice fancy wigs. If you can’t achieve it weave it – you are still my beautiful little princess.”
These are the exact words that my mum said to me as she wiped away the stream of tears running from my eyes through my nose and down the side of my face onto the pillow. I lay on my bed crying all night as I stared in the mirror at the three tennis ball-sized bald patches on the left side of my head.
I have suffered from Systemic Lupus (SLE), an autoimmune illness for 10 years, and it was the cause of my drastic hair loss which developed as a result of an SLE flare up. This experience was very traumatic for me, especially as I was not a confident person when it came to how I looked. All I could think was “first my face then my weight and now my hair – Lord what next?”
During the next few months that followed, the realisation was delivered to me via my mum that I would now have to stop putting chemicals in my hair and become natural. “ You have to stop relaxing your hair until your scalp settles down and the hair grows back fully, because the chemicals will continue to irritate the scalp,” my mum explained, in the most soothing way possible knowing I would not be impressed.
However, I still could not get my head around the idea of being an outcast by having to wear a wig or natural hair styles such as cane row, braids and Bantu knots. These were all hairstyles that I had to adapt to wearing during the start of my journey to going natural with my hair.
I must admit I was neither happy nor impressed by being natural, as wearing natural hair was not an appealing element to what it means to be beautiful as a black woman – at least this is what I thought three years ago.
As I approach my third year of being a natural black woman, I can testify that I have not resorted to using the white substance within the plastic container that many naturals refer to as ‘the creamy crack’.
The idea of going natural has become more than putting a stop to using chemicals on our hair – it has allowed many black women including myself to appreciate and accept our natural beauty as well as helping to connect with who we are as a people, both on a psychological and spiritual level.
My close friend Khali Poopola, from secondary school, has recently decided herself to go natural, which I found strange when she told me as she was in love with relaxed, silky hair. I remember two months ago sitting in her living room and seeing a relaxer box on the table.
I asked her “ are you getting your hair relaxed today?” and she confidently replied with a smile and said to me “ No, I am going natural” then she handed me a book called Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide for Caring and Maintaining Natural Hair by Chris- Tia Donaldson.
We looked at the book together and I found some useful tips about the benefits of being natural and the consequences of using chemicals in afro textured hair. The book explains that if the relaxing treatment process is not followed every six to eight weeks, it can cause damage to the hair resulting in breakage and loss of hair.
After reading this book with my friend, I became much more satisfied with my decision to stay natural even after my hair grew back naturally.
Yesterday, I asked my friend Khali why she decided to go Natural. And she replied:
“It was just something inside me that said stop don’t do it. It has been a spiritual journey for me and as I have become closer to God and was humbled as to what true beauty actually means. It has nothing to do with the way I look.”