Change, Decision-Making, and the Sense of Loss

As with any significant change in life, you reflect on what happened immediately before and immediately after the transition-sometimes just to gauge whether or not the changes you made were for your own personal benefit, to benefit others, a total error in judgment, or the best decision you could have made given the facts or knowledge you had at the time.

In my school leadership training, one of the most impactful realities for me is the true sense of loss that you or others may feel when faced with change. For educators, being good often is just good enough, and the time, commitment, and energy it takes to be great (which, ultimately, makes children great) is rationalized as “above the pay grade,” “too much work,” “too difficult given the population, parent engagement, historic performance levels, test scores, etc.”

Still, I think about the new teacher in me, that 1998 teacher, that 2002 teacher who struggled with understanding how changing my thinking, just the slightest bit, to do my part, was merely a piece of a much larger part to positively impact student achievement. Internalizing how big the problem is negates your ability to do your part. Reflecting on how many children are behind grade level negates your ability to do your part. Bitching and moaning about overpaid administrators, low teacher pay, and apathetic Central Office Staff negates your ability to do your part. Challenging an innovative practice in favor of nurturing an ineffective one negates your ability to do your part. Change is, in large part, about the decision-making process, and where there is the least bit of indecision, your ability to do your part will be impeded.

But, what does all of that have to do with hair, Andi? Speaking of change…

Motivated by the fitness results of a good friend and colleague, in late-Spring 2013, I joined an outside, Marine Corps-style fitness program called USMC Fitness Boot Camp (www.usmcfitnessbootcamp.com) run by commanding officer and founder, Sgt. Tony Ludlow. By the time school ended in late May, I was over the initial soreness and exhaustion one feels when you finally start “taking care of” your body. For all of June and most of July 2013, I was determined to jumpstart my weight loss goals and work hard, on most days twice a day for an hour each, sweating, running, lifting weights, along with cardio/fat-burning exercises under the watchful, comedic eye of Sgt. Ludlow. All was well until I noticed the condition of my relaxed hair. I remember feeling a great deal of resentment about my normal routine of going to the beauty shop weekly or bi-weekly. Since I was too tired to style my hair, only to go right back out into the Memphis heat, sweat profusely, and destroy any semblance of a “style,” I needed a Plan B. More important, it was a huge waste of money to even visit a salon for professional hair care, so I got the bright idea to “go natural.”

“Going natural” did not have any significance attached to it other than making my life easier so that I could do what I wanted to do over my summer vacation-work out and take better care of my health. My relaxed hair was an impediment; it was in the way. So, I cut it off. Just that simple. I didn’t discuss it with anyone, and I cut it myself. It was imperfect, and I was not trying to make a fashion or political statement…I just wanted to work out everyday and rest my body when I wasn’t working out. I never went to a professional stylist or barber; my mom clipped away  any “loose ends,” and I tried to make the most of it for about eight weeks.

In my very first post, I briefly discuss that my husband is not a fan of short hair, so as soon as his criticism of the “look” became uncomfortable for me, I succumbed to the pressure and went back to a relaxed, short cut. Luckily, school was about to start again so my exercise activity would lessen. I did not mourn the loss of my natural ‘do. In fact, I was a bit relieved. “Going natural” is more work than people think. I would even venture to say, reflecting on my two most recent experiences with natural hair, having relaxed hair makes you lazy about hair care, in general. I never cared as much for my relaxed hair as evidenced by the ways I now love on my natural hair. That’s the cold, hard truth.

Here I am arriving to a morning Boot Camp session, June 2013:

And again…sometime Summer 2013. My hair was pretty much one length all over, and at that point, it had not been permanently color-treated since the late 90’s. From time to time, when I my hair was newly relaxed, I would add a semi-permanent dark rinse to infuse rich, shiny color. 

That encounter with my natural hair at 45 years of age was short-lived because I lacked the motivation to continue to care for my hair in its natural state. I was looking for support in order to maintain the look, the state of being, and when it was lacking, I folded.

My mother has worn her natural hair for several years now. Yes, I look very much like my mother in this picture of her:

She, like my cousin Len, isn’t shy about wearing a wig every now and then. Here she is on my Wedding Day wearing a salt and pepper number:

While I’m sharing the maternal side, here’s a peek at my father:

With a finer textured hair, my father was fresh from the barber shop in the picture above, but in the one below, his hair is a bit longer:

But, again, what does all of that have to do with hair, Andi? 

To me, there is a certain authenticity in making the decision, finalizing the decision to wear your hair in its natural state. The authenticity I craved was somehow connected to my entire being…hair was just a part of it. I wasn’t ready to be authentic, nor vulnerable enough to let others see my natural hair in 2013. I didn’t want to answer questions. I didn’t want to deal with the loss of relaxed control. I didn’t want to deal with styling trials and tribulations. I didn’t want to think too hard about what it really meant to wear my hair natural.

I’m so over that.

Protective Styles: Protecting Your Hair From YOU!

Until recently, I’m not sure if I really understood the technical term, “protective style.” More accurately, I’m not sure if I knew from what, exactly, I might be protecting my hair. I have lived in Tennessee for most of my life, and in West Tennessee, it’s just hot. Not hot like Arizona hot, but hot like humid, sticky, fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk-hot. Sure, in the Deep South, we have wind, snow, cold, and sun damage to consider as it relates to hair care, but styling challenges are the insidious kinds of damage that can stunt hair growth and health. As far as I knew, a head covering, of any type, was the best way to protect my delicate tresses from damage. Over the years, I’ve come to associate protective styling with any way that I  cover my hair (relaxed or natural) so that it can relax (pun intended) and rest from the many drastic and often damaging ways that I style, prepare, or handle my hair.

In the past, I have shunned sew-ins, wigs, and weaves. Why? Well, I’m from that “old school” mentality of – “Just wear the hair the Good Lawd gave you. If you’ve got hair, it’s good hair.” However, in my late 30’s and for all of my 40’s, I see braids and the use of weave for braiding as the lesser of the protectant evils-a weave or sew-in is just “too permanent” a fixture for my lifestyle, and I have visions of my hair being “trapped” underneath it-sweaty, moldy, stinky, hot, and I have seen horror images of spider webs and larvae literally growing in unkempt weave. Okay, I know…dramatic and way over the top. It’s my perception though, and as ridiculous as it may seem, it’s the one out of a million reality that keeps me from wearing a sew-in weave. As I said in a previous post (See: Product Junkie: Not I… Well…), I sweat, a lot, particularly at night and during the warmer months in Memphis (May-October). Every single time I have worn braids, I have either 1) planned and increased my exercise activity exponentially, 2) undergone a drastic hair transition, or 3) was indecisive about what I wanted (or needed) to do with my hair and needed an easy style to wear until I determined my next hair move.

Living the easy life of a TWA-er means I am finger-styling my hair on most mornings, beginning with a steamy shower and continuing throughout the ten minutes it takes me to get dressed and to put on a little make-up. Water is my first and most needed protective styling “product,” and considering the manner in which I sleep and wake up, it preps my hair for moisture-infusion and IS my hair protectant in the most basic and necessary way. Along this natural hair journey, I’m learning how to better protect my hair, from me, each day.

Here I am wearing braids, my second most preferred protective style:

A baseball cap does the trick every time! On a casual day, it definitely beats a “bad hair day” like no other.

Scullies (or is it, skullies, sculleys, you get the point…) are a quick way to cover your tresses on a cold day and most appropriate when you’re representing your sorority! 

My late grandmother, Sister Berry, loved hats! In fact, for her December 2009 funeral, each woman in the family wore one of her hats as a tribute to her good taste and fashion sense. Here I am, at a recent sorority fundraiser called Hats for Bettye, wearing the hat that I chose from my dear grandmother’s collection of hats:

Ah, yes! Braids…my “Braidist” (is that a word?) – Braid Stylist – Natural Hair Stylist is one of my former students. She’s licensed, talented, professional, braids in one seating, and gives me the “teacher discount.” I know that I’ll be pleased with the results, and she braids my hair without very much notice although she works as a fellow educator.

Every time I look at the picture below, I smile. Pictured with me is my first love, my cousin, Valencia (Len). We are just nine months apart in age, and we were each other’s best friends growing up; our mothers are sisters.

Here are Len and I together during the Christmas Holiday 2014:


I view my cousin, Len, as a quasi-wig expert. She LOVES wigs, and changes her look often and dramatically. She has worn weaves and wigs for almost twenty years, longer than anyone else I know except our grandmother, Sister Berry, a fashion icon (in the First Lady, Southern Missionary Baptist tradition). Interestingly, Len has some of the most beautiful Type 3b-c hair you’ve ever seen. When she was in her mid-20’s, she just stopped wearing, publicly, her own natural hair and decided to wear wigs and bonded hair. I don’t know what her natural hair looks like now; the last time I remember seeing it was when she was the Matron of Honor for my first wedding in May 1998. She always looks fabulous though, and I call her “Rapunzel” every time I see her in her long, luxurious wigs!

Here are some other pictures of my gorgeous cousin and her many wigs:

Get yourself a fierce wig as a versatile and protective style! Thank  you, Len, for the hair inspiration!

Not only do I have a pretty good tan in the picture below, the “bun” I have fancied as a messy top knot is really weave haphazardly twisted around a ponytail on my short-lived road to relaxer-sanctioned, permanent colored-treated hair growth. The colors of my relaxed, color-treated hair and the weave hair are “off”…the “blonds” just don’t match. Funny thing is I took Len with me to the beauty supply store to choose the weave.

In the store, the colors blended well, and the weave hair really was the closest color we could find to my own. As far as that visit to the beauty supply store goes, we both got it wrong that time-looking at the photo. Because of that photo, I never wore the “bun” outside of my house, but I keep it as a gentle reminder to myself: Do NOT be the one who everyone thinks has no friends. Your close friends or family members should be able to state the truth (in a loving way, of course), “Girl, no one told you?! Take that thing off your head!!”