before and after

Photo: Courtesy of Bridgett Davis

1 of 4
She Stopped Relaxing and She Was Fine!
I noticed it on day one: I was the only woman in the room with relaxed hair. While I should've been thinking about the thrilling journey I'd just embarked upon—I was directing my first film, which I'd also written—I couldn't stop looking at the female actors and crew, with their long dreads, chic Afros and springy twists. How was it that I—the writer of a film about a woman learning to reveal her true self, the director who'd purposely cast women with natural curls—was too afraid to embrace my own real hair?

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."