Friday, April 4, 2014

Can We Get Further in Life With a Perm vs. Natural Hair?

By today's Urban Chameleon contributor
Brooke Lugo Smith

"It took a lot of self discovery and rebuilding for me to even train my own eye to love myself the way I am."

I was born with a full head of black, vibrant curls. Today, I would say this was a great thing but at the time being born in the 80's when mixed kids weren't trending, I developed a distorted perception of myself. In grade school, while other little girls' moms were taming their natural hair with relaxers, my mom refused, and therefore I was limited to pony tails and buns because I was too uncomfortable to wear my "wild" hair any other way. Growing up I never saw any images of women with hair like mine, not on TV, in videos and surely not in my classrooms. I have memories of little girls picking at my hair with looks of disgust saying, 

“Why don't you get a perm?” 

What was this “perm” they spoke of? Soon I realized it was the reason every Black girl I knew had straight silky hair. So I did what any other thirteen-year-old would've done in my shoes. I BEGGED my mother to relax my hair. I cried when she denied me. It was hard to be a plus size girl and have wild hair. Both of these traits made me unpopular.

It wasn't until graduation that my mom finally allowed me to get a perm.  Now I had hair that every girl envied. It was extra long and thick, a mane of black hair that almost reached my butt. It was amazing to see how people who never spoke or acknowledged all of a sudden want to crowd around me  just to see if my hair was real and ask to touch it. Everyday people stared in amazement. I was a hair goddess. Because of this new found attention I became addicted to the creamy crack (relaxer). At the first sight of my natural hair growing out at the roots I'd run to the store and touch it up before anyone could see. This habit continued all the way through my mid 20s. I was not prepared for the amount of work it took to maintain this look. I now had to flat iron my roots, curl my ends with a curling iron every day and use tons of heavy greasy products to keep it from frizzing; anything to stop my hair from going back to "wild." Slowly but surely my long mane that had once reached all the way down my back wouldn't grow past my collar bone. One day as I looked in the mirror, I couldn't help but look at my damaged hair with split ends and say, “What did you do to yourself?!” 

In 2005, I started growing my natural hair again. In addition, I decided to do a spiritual makeover. I needed to redefine my definition of beauty from within. No, I didn't do the “big chop” where some women cut off all of their hair completely and start from scratch. However, I went through what is known as the “in between” stage, where you allow your roots to grow out, looking puffy and crazy and slowly cut away your ends until the relaxer is completely gone. The transition was very awkward. Even though I was finding this new wave of confidence in the "natural" me, men, didn't seem to take a liking to the new look. I could go out with straight hair and have several suitors, and where the same outfit with my curls and only receive a handful of hellos. It took a lot of self discovery and rebuilding for me to even train my own eye to love my natural self. And I mean LOVE not just settle or be content. 

Even though society is slowly beginning to embrace the natural look many of us have a long way to go with self acceptance.  I know I have come a long way but I still haven't arrived.

Let's talk corporate America. When I have meetings, specifically an interview, I still hesitate on whether to wear my hair natural, in fear of  coming across unprofessional. We are all a work in progress. I try and hold on to the principle that I am fearfully and wonderfully made! 

Be confident and be you. Honestly anyone who doesn't accept that is doing you a favor by weeding themselves out of your life! Being myself has even allowed me to find a spouse that loves me with no filter. Shoot, the day I met him, I was sporting a curly side ponytail, a Thunder Cats hoodie, jeans and Converse sneakers. He later told me, his dream girl was a women with natural black curls... go figure. Funny thing is my husband suffers from low hair esteem himself. He's been trying out this fro/hawk style but gets uncomfortable when his hair grows in thinking it looks too nappy. I even had to explain to him that the hair that grows out of our scalp is not bad even though we've been taught otherwise. I believe we simply haven't been given the option to love our natural hair. Growing up, there were no tutorials on maintenance, no products and no support. Luckily, today we have platforms like Urban Chameleon to shed some light on why we do what we do including the need to chameleon. I'm excited to teach my unborn baby how to rock their hair, curls or not. With the right products and styling (the key to any great hair style) we all can shine! In the words of one of my favorite movies, Just let your soooooooooouuuuul glow!

Brooke is a Gospel Pop Artist and the Star of Oxygen's hit reality show, My Big Fat Revenge. She is also the vocalist behind several  commercials including Old Navy and Kia Motors. Follow her at

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