Charisse: Pressing For Growth

One of the most difficult aspects of adulthood is having to confront and unlearn some of the things we were taught as children. More often than not, life compels us to explore an alternative method or point of view. The practices and beliefs we became comfortable with in our youth don’t always continue to work for us as we age — such is the nature of growth.

For Charisse, finding and experiencing growth in her personal life was hardly a problem. A native of San Jose, California, she flipped coasts and attended Howard University in Washington D.C. as an undergrad. After obtaining her degree, she moved back to California to work on her Masters, and eventually wound up in Houston, Texas, where she’s been for the last decade.

When it came to her hair, however, the transition was bit more challenging. Like many women of color, Charisse received her first perm at a young age. After rocking the infamous jheri curl through junior high, the stylist her mother brought her to transitioned her into a press & curl, which she would wear up until it was time for her to go to college.

Shortly after arriving in DC, Charisse permed her hair again, but she didn’t really care for how it turned out. She went back to the press & curl style she’d known and worn for so long, but eventually realized that that was no longer the answer, either.

“I decided that my hair would probably be healthier if I just stopped all heat appliance,” Charisse recalled.

She was ready to try a different approach, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. That didn’t stop her from trying, though.

“I went back to trying to wear it natural, but I really didn’t know how to care for it,” Charisse admitted. “I would do it like my mom did when I was a kid — wash it, put it in different ponytails, let it dry, gel it down.”

In the meantime, while tussling with her hair, Charisse found herself back in California pursuing her Masters. As any grad student will attest to, free time isn’t exactly spilling over in abundance. Braids allowed her a low-maintenance way to keep her hair healthy while focusing on other tasks in front of her.

And while life continued to progress for Charisse, so did the challenges with her hair. After completing grad school, she’d gone back to wearing a perm, again in the name of time, energy and not really having any other answers. That came to a head when she moved to Houston, however. The city’s overbearing humidity made wearing a perm way more trouble than it was worth to her.

“I had an excellent hairdresser, but her time management made it tough,” Charisse explained.

In addition, Charisse’s love for exercise and outdoor activity made dealing with her hair even more difficult. She’d finally reached the point where something absolutely had to be done. So she did what anybody else with a burning existential question would — she Googled it.

“One day, I decided to do a search on ‘caring for Black hair’. I felt crazy for looking for that, because I felt like I should know how to take care of my own hair,” she confessed.

But to her surprise, Charisse was introduced to an entirely new realm of information. She was astounded by all of the things she was learning just by conducting a simple internet search, but was excited by a newfound clarity on how she could finally make her hair work for her. Charisse had long been intrigued by the idea of transitioning, with sources of education at her disposal, she was ready to embark on a new journey.

“I told my hairdresser, and she kind of just laughed and said ‘Yeah, sometimes you just wanna cut it all off and start over. But you’ll be back and you’ll perm it again’. But I knew that I didn’t want to have to keep coming to the hairdresser, especially when there was other things I wanted to do,” she declared.

Charisse began the transition by gradually cutting her ends every month or so. Furthering her motivation to complete the transition was the pending adoption of her daughter.

“She was in foster care, and someone had put a perm in her hair. I knew that I didn’t want to put relaxers in her hair, so I decided that I was going to go natural so that as I transitioned her, she could feel good about her hair, as well.”

So, in 2013, Charisse finally went through with her big chop. The easy part was over — now it was time to find a product to use. In consulting with other naturalistas, Charisse realized she was getting tons of different answers, but none that were consistent across the board. So, she once again consulted the world wide web.

“People that I like and would watch on YouTube would talk about different products, but there were certain consistent products you would see. Uncle Funky’s Daughter’s Curly Magic was one of the ones that kept popping up.”

Through study and self-teaching, Charisse learned how to pull an array of styles, including two-strand twists, wash-n-go’s and flat twists. And in learning and perfecting those styles, she’s learned how to incorporate different UFD products to bring out the best in her curls. In addition to Curly Magic, she loves Supercurl Brilliant Shine Creme, Shining Star Hair & Scalp Elixir to use on her — and her daughter’s — hair.

“As I started looking at different natural products and what types of things you don’t necessarily want in your hair, I kind of started paying more attention to that. There were certain things I was looking for, and I knew that Uncle Funky’s Daughter had those natural ingredients in it,” Charisse explained.

All in all, Charisse is grateful for her journey, if only for the opportunity to pass down what she’s learned to her own daughter. For women just starting out on their own natural hair journey, she offers nothing but words of encouragement and tangible advice.

“Stick with it, find what it is that works for you, and as you learn more, you can teach the next person.”

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