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“White girls worry about their bodies and black girls worry about their hair.”

I heard this saying a few times growing up, and while it’s a gross generalization, I found it vaguely true. My Caucasian friends would obsess over body types and “skinniness” while my Black friends would watch the sky like a dual Doppler radar, fleeing at the first drop of rain that might ruin their blowout or weave. On the flip side, I grew up home-schooled and an athlete. When I wasn’t hunched over books, I was running track or spending hours on the golf course practicing. My hair was the least of my worries. My mom gave me a few relaxers a year. I slapped a baseball cap over my ponytail, and was out the door, with fairly thick hair down to my neck.

However, with college came stress, and the pressure to “look nice” at all times. Popular images and my own family had taught me that looking nice = completely straight hair. I used more heat products, and with such a busy schedule, rarely spent time wrapping it properly every night. Before I knew it, my hair was breaking off in the back. I began to do “no heat summers” for the three months I was home from school and only used two relaxers a year: one at the start of each semester. By junior year I was back to my old length. I began studying natural hair and transitioning, which was more appealing than the big chop. I decided to make the leap for one very specific reason: Your body shouldn’t be a mystery.

I realized that I didn’t know what my own hair was like. I had no idea what my curl pattern was. Yes, I had a thick, dense mane, but was it curly? Kinky? Black or brown? I knew what every inch of my body looked like except for the one thing I styled every morning: my hair. Suddenly, the very strands growing from my head didn’t feel like my own; they felt very much like an impostor, and I didn’t like it. Chemically straightening it felt like I was altering my body when I didn’t have to, when I didn’t even have a reason. I’d spent my entire life from age seven until that point learning to look like a commercialized Western ideal of beauty, without ever knowing my true appearance.

I’d spent my entire life learning to look like a commercialized Western ideal of beauty, without ever knowing my true appearance.

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It’s been two years since my final relaxer and 16 months since my big chop and I couldn’t be happier! Seeing my thick, dense, coarse and kinky hair was like meeting myself for the first time. My hair is a lovely deep black — nowhere near the light brown, reddish color I’d always believed it to be. For most of my life I thought my hair had to be straight to be pretty, but the more I spend time with my tresses, the more I realize those thoughts were wrong. It’s rewarding to be proud of who you are and my hair is a thousand times healthier!

The single most important thing to do when you’re going natural for the first time is follow women that have YOUR hair texture. If you think joining the natural movement is an exemption card from texture discrimination, think again. I wish we were more accepting within this movement, but it’s difficult to find people who embrace kinky textures. The natural world loves long flowing Type 3 corkscrews, which is very uncommon if you’re not of mixed heritage, and can easily discourage you. Do some Type 4 searches and learn to rock beautiful styles that fit your personality.

I am encouraged that so many women are returning to their natural hair, because it will have a positive impact on our daughters. It’s refreshing to see women refusing to relax their daughters’ hair in an effort to “tame” it, as if their hair is a disobedient child having a temper tantrum. We need to raise a generation of women who grow up loving and caring for themselves properly – not morphing into an idea that mainstream media handed them without so much as a choice to opt-in or opt-out. Never make your hair a secret — especially to yourself.

This post is part of HuffPost’s My Natural Hair Journey blog series. Embracing one’s natural hair — especially after years of heavily styling it — can be a truly liberating and exciting experience. It’s more than just a “trend.” It’s a way of life. If you have a story you’d like to share, please email us at [email protected]

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