Back to the Drawing Board

So, we had jumped on the Jheri Curl band wagon too late. I got my processed curls in 1988, and by two years later I was a laughingstock. Every teenage girl wants to be on trend, so the Jheri Curl had to go. I must admit that I wasn’t going to miss it that much. There were too many limitations with styling my hair. And Geesh—what a mess it made! I can’t tell you how many shirts were lost to grease-stained collars. (And my mom’s poor passenger’s side seatback, LOL).

Thinking about it now, a Jheri Curl is a bit of a wonder. The chemical processing strips all your natural curl away, and then gives you “different curls”. I mean if you wanted curls—why not just keep the ones you had? But God knows, we didn’t know any better back then. We thought we were too cute in our chemical-drenched curls, clogging up our pores, and ruining everybody’s furniture!

At any rate, I was back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to love my Black hair. When even a fourth of an inch of new growth came in, I was reminded of how “bad” my hair is. My scalp would ache as my roots grew, so I knew going back to natural hair still wasn’t an option. Fortunately, the age of music videos exposed me to other Black females to compare myself to. The popularity of R&B music gave me a plethora of beautiful Black women to emulate, and a great variety of styles. Furthermore, I was old enough to do my own hair by then and better products were available. Thus, I was very hopeful that I’d get better results going back to relaxed hair.  

My hopes were met with relief. The first bit of great news was that I didn’t have to do another big chop! I could relax my curls and trim the processed ends away slowly. As a result, when I got the first relaxer after my Jheri Curl, my hair was the longest it had ever been! I was delighted and immediately took advantage of my newfound glory. Black girls with “real” long, straight hair were uncommon at that time, so I moved into “first place” in the hair competition amongst my peers.  

With the use of improved products for relaxed hair and me being able to style my hair myself, I was finally enjoying my appearance. Touch-ups were still a necessary evil, but I was able to reduce re-application to once every six weeks. However, leaving home at sixteen presented me with a new challenge in my hair journey. Who was going to do my hair now that I could no longer count on Mama?

Being on my own as a teenager meant that I was broke. Being broke meant that I was looking for the cheapest price I could get. The old mantra, “You get what you pay for” was a painful lesson when it came to my relaxed hair. The first touch-up I got in a salon was brutal. The stylist insisted that my hair needed a maximum strength relaxer. I protested vehemently because my mom had always used a mild relaxer and even that burned my scalp. But the woman INSISTED that she, as a licensed stylist, knew better than my mama.

Foolishly, I trusted her, but we both found out that she was DEAD WRONG! I left her salon with visibly open sores under my hair. The next day I woke up to puss on my pillow, and I was picking scabs out of my hair for weeks. Sigh… just when I thought I had this all figured out…

Come back for the next installment to find out what I did next!

I am SouLah the Legend,


speaking the universal language of the soul…

Photos by SouLah the Legend

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