Well, for starters, maintaining it was a skill I'd never learned. My mother began relaxing my hair when I was 8. I have bruising memories of sitting for hours atop telephone books, roasting beneath a hooded dryer, my hair in rollers. The dryer's heat was uncomfortable; the roller pins on my scalp torturous. The more I squirmed, the more time I added to the ordeal.
Still, as a young woman I'd kept relaxing out of habit—and perhaps, I now suspected, out of fear. I didn't know how to have natural hair. I was afraid of the work involved. I wasn't sure I could control it. And I had no idea whether I'd like the way it looked. But what I knew I didn't like was the fact that my hair and I were acquaintances, not friends: Our interactions were largely mediated by a hairstylist. My hair felt inauthentic. That thought gnawed at me. By the time we wrapped production, I'd vowed to go relaxer-free.
There were two things I didn't consider: First, it takes a long time for relaxed hair to revert to its natural texture, and during that process it looks decidedly uneven. Second, when you have a movie coming out, you sometimes have to get your picture taken. Oops.
In photos from that time, my hair looks...transitional. But I was in transition. I was changing from someone inspired by women around her to someone who might possibly inspire others: At a screening of my film, an audience member came up to me and said, "Thanks for showcasing black women with natural hair—and by the way, I love yours."