I was raised around cousins and aunts with beautiful, hip-grazing hair. Long, straight hair was a token of a pride for most of the women in my Saint Lucian family. My own hair stretched down to my butt as a child, thanks to the relaxer my mom put in my hair at the age of 9.
Once a month, my mom would sit me in the bathtub, paste my scalp with Vaseline (to protect my skin from the burning sensation of the relaxer), and perm my strands. Then, every week she'd blowdry my hair and let me style it for school. Being able to tie my hair in a ponytail or wear it straight down made me feel grown up and in charge — especially in middle school. This was the regular hair routine for me, until I went to college.
I discovered the natural hair movement during my junior year at Berkeley College in New York City. Around that time, my younger sister transitioned from relaxed to natural, and I was in awe of her process. I remember sitting her between my legs, combing through her two-textured hair, and thinking, "I want my hair to do that," as her roots curled up.
I decided to hop on the bandwagon and grow my curls out, too, but the process wasn't silky smooth. Hours meant for homework turned to hours spent on YouTube watching tutorials and testimonials. And I immediately wanted to put a flatiron to the slightest bit of curled new growth that emerged from my scalp. But, eventually, I became more comfortable, experimenting with flexi-rods, twists, braids, and buns.
Growing out my hair in college (while writing papers, passing tests, and working part-time) was a tough job. But it was one that I am so glad I stuck with. Today, I wear my strands both curly and straight. Breaking up with my relaxer gave me an opportunity to discover the true versatility of my hair. Ahead, read the stories of eight other women who decided to grow out their natural curls in college — and don't regret a thing.