The other day, as I sat in the California sunshine, my coiled locks blowing in the breeze, a woman walking by stopped in front of me.
“I LOVE your hair!” she said, taking in my mass of curls.
“Aww, thanks," I said, proud of my tresses and the journey it took to get here.
My hair story is not just about me; it is also about my teenage daughter, who only recently really began loving her hair.
I first chemically straightened my hair at 16; I longed for the sleeker styles the girls were wearing that I could not achieve when my mother washed and roller set my hair.
I continued with the chemical relaxers throughout high school, college, and for the roughly two decades that I was a local and then national news anchor.
In 2008, still reeling from an unexpected job loss as well as a health crisis, I was traveling the country to promote my first book when I got sick on a plane. Ultimately I was diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis, hospitalized, and pumped full of medication.
After my 3-day stay in the hospital, I was released and went to the salon to get my relaxer touched up, something I had been doing every five to six weeks since I first relaxed my hair all those years ago. It was already not in the best shape, having been relaxed, colored and heated with blow dryers and curling irons every day, and now with the added illness and medication, it was dry and very damaged.
Days after the appointment, the unthinkable happened: My hair broke off and fell out! And that was it. I made the decision that I would never chemically straighten my hair again.
A couple of things went into that decision.
First of all, I wanted my hair to be healthy again. As I mentioned, the years of heat and chemicals really took their toll. My once shiny, shoulder-length hair had become thin, wispy, dull and short.
This experience also helped me accept my own beauty. No longer was I going to try to fit into someone else’s standard of beauty. This hair, this crazy, curly, coiled hair, was my true, authentic self and I was going to embrace that.
And lastly, I stopped relaxing my hair for my daughter. My 18-year-old has long, beautiful curly hair. The day she asked me for a relaxer I thought my heart would break, especially given what she has seen me go through. I had to do better, and I was going to start by setting an example with my own hair.
My daughter has since decided that her curls are what make her unique and no longer wants to straighten her hair.
The last several years have really been a journey of self discovery and worth every step. Now I can safely say the "me" on the outside matches the "me" on the inside.
And I LOVE it!