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Curly Commentary: Kimberly Elise on Learning to Love Her Hair

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Kimberly Elise LEAD
Photo Credit: Michael Rowe

When I was growing up, I couldn't wait to get a relaxer. Back then, mamas believed that young girls couldn't get them until they went through "the change." Well, once that phase happened for me, I was so excited to get my first perm. I wore that for several years until the Jheri curl became popular. Believe it or not, I loved my Jheri curl and thought it was beautiful on me. It actually made my hair grow like crazy. What they didn't tell you back then was that once you get the Jheri curl there's no way of getting rid of it, so when I was over it, I ended up having to cut off all my hair and start all over again.

In my college days, I went wild with my hair. I dyed it every color in the book and quite naturally, my hair would break off from all the damage. When our hair breaks off, of course there's only one thing to do —braid it up. I wore braids for a while and would always feel like I just never knew what to do with my hair. I was always trying to figure out this "hair thing."

Around 2000, after years of color, relaxers, weaves, you name it, I had finally had enough. I had enough of the burning scalp and scabs on my ears. I stopped putting chemicals in my hair altogether and went back to wearing a press-and-curl and would add in extensions for different styles. One day, I saw a photo of myself on the red carpet wearing long, straight hair down my back and I realized that I didn't even look like myself. I said to myself, "Who is that? That's not me." I thought to myself that there's nothing wrong with my own hair and I started to feel like I no longer wanted to wear my hair in these long, straight styles.

I decided to start embracing and wearing my natural hair but there was only one problem; I didn't know what to do with it or how to style it. Growing up, all I knew was my relaxed, processed hair so I had to go through this learning phase. I remember going to hair stylists to help me with my hair and all they wanted to do was straighten it. Fed up, I decided to figure it out on my own. I went on YouTube, started reading all the natural hair blogs and just sat on the Internet for days soaking up all this newfound knowledge about my hair. These girls were loving their hair and caressing it gently with all kinds of butters and oils. I was amazed and knew I wanted to treat my hair like that, too.

A few months after I cut off my heat damage and started wearing my hair naturally curly, my mom decided she wanted to go natural, too. So here I was helping my mom and giving her advice just like the girls on YouTube had helped me to do. A little while later, my youngest daughter who is 12 years old said to me, "I want my hair natural, too" so we trimmed off a little heat damage that she had on the ends and now she wears this big natural hair and it's so fierce. I love seeing my mom and my daughter embrace their natural hair. I'm glad I've embraced it, too. Now when I see myself on the red carpet, I say, "There I am. That's the real me."

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