I got my first relaxer when I was nine years old. This was in the 90’s and I convinced my mom to let me perm my hair so I could wear a French roll with the crimps in the front. She finally gave in and once I got the relaxer, I started doing my own hair, which always consisted of wearing it bone straight and using a bunch of hot curlers and flat irons.

It wasn’t until three years ago that I had an ah-ha moment, as Oprah would say. I was walking down the street with one of my girlfriends and I saw this young lady who had the most amazing, bomb twist-out. I said to my friend, “Oh my gosh, her hair is so beautiful. I wish my hair could do that.” My friend looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Uh, it would if you stop relaxing it.” I stopped and thought to myself, wow, duh. I kind of felt dumb because of course I knew my hair was naturally curly, but it had been so long since I had been relaxing. I realized that I had no real relationship with my natural hair.

At that very moment, I decided to change that. I wanted to see what my own hair felt like because I really didn’t know. I had no clue.  In the back of my mind, I always figured I could go back to a relaxer if I didn’t like it. I started transitioning for a year and a half using sew-in weaves so my transition was fairly easy. My stylist would trim off the relaxer as time went on and eventually, she cut off the last little bit of straight ends and I was relaxer-free. I finally saw my own hair in its natural state.

And then… I cried.

I did not know how to deal with this little afro on my head. I called my best friend crying because I did not want to leave the house. She came over and literally sat me down and said, “Teyonah you are beautiful. Your hair is amazing.” She is really the main reason why I am natural to this day. Later on, we went out in Harlem and I was trying not to feel so self-conscious. The whole day, people would come up to me and say, “Wow, I love your hair. It’s gorgeous.” I was totally shocked. The reaction I got from other people was really comforting. I know we shouldn’t look for approval from other people, but in all honestly, it really helped me see that it was really my own perception of my hair that was holding me back. That was really eye-opening for sure.

Today, I’m still learning how to care for my hair. I’m still on this journey but I am not a natural who thinks you have to wear natural hair all the time. I might have a weave all the way down to my butt next week and I’m totally fine with that. For me what this journey has been about is having a choice. When my hair was relaxed, wearing it natural was not an option because it was chemically altered from its original texture. Today, I can make the choice whether I want to wear it straight, curly or even wear a weave. Having the ability to choose is what has been the most important for me.

It feels good to be a role model for little girls who don’t often see natural hair on the red carpet. I’ve wanted to be an actress my whole life and the none of the women I aspired to be like had natural hair. Today we have Esperanza and Solange who always look fierce and are proud to wear their natural hair. Maybe it’s not a statement for them, but for me, they showed me that I don’t have to equate fierce and gorgeous with long, straight hair. I hope there’s a little girl out there who may see me and say the same thing.

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