Kayla Greaves is currently working as a lifestyle editor for HuffPost Canada. She reached out to me after seeing a status I posted about Untangled on Facebook. That led to us meeting in NYC and chatting all about her natural hair journey, how it feels to have people touch her hair and what lessons she's learned about her hair over the years. Read here story below. -- JB
ON LIKING HER HAIR
I love my hair. I'm on a hair journey right now. My hair was relaxed, and I'm going natural. I'm transitioning, which is why I've been doing a lot of protective styles. It was giving me a lot of anxiety at first, because I'm like, Oh my god, what's my hair going to look like? Am I still going to be pretty? Am I going to think I'm attractive? Is the world going to think I'm attractive? Is my hair going to be acceptable? I'm really learning to love it, I'm learning to love my texture. Every time I take my braids out, I'm like, Oh, it's getting a little longer! And I think of styles I can do. So, yeah, I'm confident in my hair.
ON RELAXING HER HAIR
My mother relaxed my hair when I was very young -- from maybe grade two until second year university. She just didn't want to deal with my hair, I guess. A lot of black parents did it. It was the thing to do in the '90s. I didn't even know I was supposed to have my hair natural, I just thought, OK I'm a black girl, I'm supposed to have relaxed hair. That's just how it's supposed to be. Also, in the black community, there's this whole idea of "good hair" and "bad hair." You relax your hair in hopes of having "good hair." Any type of hair that was curly or frizzy or nappy was bad hair, if it's hard to deal with it's bad hair. I was used to hearing those terms thrown around. I was addicted to relaxer, because I wanted to have "good hair," wanted my hair to look like my white friends at school so I wouldn't be the different one.
I remember before I had my hair relaxed, when it was just out and big, they were like, "Your hair's so different, I want to touch your hair." It was very invasive. I always felt othered because of it. Everybody had this long straight hair and I didn't and I'd say, "Why don't I have it?" I was the only black kid, so it was traumatizing. But when I changed my hair, everyone was like, "Oh, your hair looks different" and they stopped making comments because it looked similar to theirs.
I did feel more confident, but at the same time, it was promoting self hate, because I was trying to mask who I am and mask my natural hair to conform.
ON HOW HER MOM SHAPED HER IDEAS ABOUT HAIR
When I was growing up, my mom had a very strange mentality when it came to hair. She's Jamaican, she's black, but she's very light-skinned. In Jamaica, there's this hierarchy of skin tones and classism, so because she came from that realm, you always kind of feel like you're better. It's not like she was a nasty person, that's just what she grew up in. She was always saying, "Oh your hair has to be straight." Her beauty ideals were centered around white beauty, whiteness. She wanted my hair to look a certain way and that's how she felt. She would reference my hair as bad and say, "It's so thick, I can't manage your hair." There were a lot of negative things I heard about my hair growing up with her. It wasn't until I was older and had a conversation with my dad, and I asked, "Why would you let her relax my hair?" He said, "I told her not to do it, but she had her own ideals and she wanted to do it the way she wanted to do it."
I didn't have a choice. My anxiety about my hair stems from the things my mother told me. It takes a long time, but you will learn -- this is how God made me, this is how my hair is intended to look. You just have to learn to embrace it.
ON LETTING GO OF HER LONG HAIR
When I was in university -- I think it was my second year -- I went through this crazy, life-changing moment, and I decided I wanted to cut all my hair off. I went to the hairdresser and got a consultation first. She asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" because I had very long hair. (It was relaxed at that point.) I said, "Yes, I want to do this," and she said, "Are you absolutely sure? Because if I cut it you can't go back." And I was like, "I'm sure." She told me, "Come back to me in three months and if you still want to do it, I'll cut it."
I talked to some people about it, and they were like, "You know what Kayla, don't cut your hair." I asked why, and they said, "Well, guys like long hair, and I don't know if you're going to look good with short hair." Some people made comments like, "Oh yeah, guys like to have something to pull on." I was thinking to myself, I'm not cutting my hair for you, I'm cutting it for me. So, I cut my hair, but the stylist didn't cut it the way I wanted it. It was longer, because she was still unsure. After that appointment, I got my dad to basically shave my head. It wasn't completely shaved, but it was very, very short, and I went out that same night, gelled it down a little bit, styled it, and I rocked it. And people liked it. They were like, "Oh, it does look good!" I thought, "Thank god," but it was so liberating to not wear my hair as this mass or shield. I was so used to having long hair, I didn't know what it felt like to not have hair.
ON DECIDING TO GO NATURAL
I think it was when I cut my hair. At first, I thought, Why am I even doing this? Then I had a pixie cut, and I relaxed it again, but that was only for the style. I didn't do it because I didn't like my hair. Then I came to this phase -- I think I had short hair by then for five years -- and I thought, Why am I even doing this anymore? I was tired of relaxing my hair and getting it cut all the time and just tired of the look of it. I saw all these other black girls embracing their hair and thought, Why am I not doing it, too? I should just grow out my hair and enjoy it how it is.
I had an epiphany and tried to unlearn all these things I had heard. I had so much anxiety about going natural, and at the time I was dating somebody who was not very supportive. He wanted me to look a certain way. And I thought, well if I go natural he may not find me attractive anymore because of my hair texture, or whatever the case may be. I left that horrible relationship, and I was just like, I'm tired of this, I'm going to grow my hair out. Ever since last summer, I've been growing it out and I'm so ready to take it out and rock it.
ON PEOPLE TOUCHING HER HAIR
I went to get a wax the other day and a random white lady was touching my hair, and I'm like, "Excuse me?" She was like, "Oh my god, this is so cool! How do you do this?" I would never go to somebody and touch their hair like that, and even if I did, at least I would ask before I did. I don't think she meant any harm by it, and I think she was genuinely curious -- most people are, and they aren't cognizant of their behavior a lot of the time. It kind of makes you feel like a zoo animal. It's like, you're looking at me, and picking at me because you think I look cool, but I'm not an attraction, I'm a human. People look different than you, and that's OK, but it doesn't mean you go touch them. It's very strange.
-- As told to Untangled in New York City. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Photos by Julia Brucculieri.