The day had finally arrived. It was July 30th, the Saturday I was scheduled to get my box braids.
Ever since I decided to chop off my curls, I’ve had this desire for length, for hair to manipulate and style and play with again. Box braids seemed like the obvious, no-brainer.
They last you a month or two, they’re low maintenance, they’re easy to style, and they act like a razor as they shave time off your schedule in the morning.
My mom was beyond kind when she purchased six packs of hair, booked me an appointment early on her day off, drove to another city, waited four hours for the lady to do my braids, and then paid her for her time and services. The total cost was well over $100, but my hazy eyes, diverted by lust for these braids refused to see the price I would be having to pay.
The process in itself was painful, but that was merely 4 hours of discomfort. The first night with them was much rougher. My scalp, being so exposed and taut, grew irritated and itchy, my head pounded internally, my neck matured from slightly knotted to entirely stiff, and I could not find a comfortable position to lay my head, as the braids tugged at my scalp had I chose the “wrong” one. The dozens of braids, each with their own scraggly ends and flyaways seemed to scratch at my neck in a way similar to when a kitten kneads; it is bearable, but it is still painful. As mentioned, it was only the first night, and my mother continued to reassure me this would all be over within a week. I assumed I just had to “break ’em in” and “get used to ’em”.
A couple days and nights had expired and gone. Each difficulty I had experienced on the first night only managed to enhance themselves to the point where I grew frustrated; warm tears rested in the corners of my blood shot eyes as I was being deprived and denied a good night’s sleep. My stiff neck had now developed lumps in its muscles, and my scalp had shifted into a state that was causing me to scratch uncontrollably to the point of drawing blood from multiple areas. As directed, my only source of relief was to spray water on my scalp and nothing more, but can you really call it a source of relief if relief was a temporarily minor adjustment to the original burning sensation?
Tuesday night rolls around. It was late night to early morn and I still could not sleep, though I so desperately yearned to. I carried my heavy head to my vanity mirror, switched on the light that reflected off my glossy eyes and told myself that no amount of “beauty” should be worth this much pain.
So, that next day I failed to show any sign of hesitation as I messily typed a message to my mother letting her know, once again, of my “terrible tragedy”.
My natural hair today, contrary to just last year, is now only but a few inches long. The woman who did my braids warned this length would mean a decreased expectancy in the duration of the life of the braids. In addition to the length of my hair, my constant scratching, my lively sleeping, and the other forms of rape to my scalp also contributed in the decreased life expectancy of my do. This was proven after three braids detached themselves only three days after being installed. I was in pain, I was frustrated and most upsetting, I was disappointed.
I had wanted this so bad and my mom had made sacrifices to get them for me, but school started in less than a week. I did not want to go sleep deprived, baggy-eyed, and in physical pain from the neck up. I would not look different or prettier for the new school year like I had hoped, but that was something I was definitely willing to accept if it meant being comfortable and happy again.
This goes for anyone out there who is willing to go to crazy extremes for “beauty”. Sure we may pluck our brows, wax some things, or feel the sting of a good exercise, but wearing unnecessarily tight corsets to rearrange your figure, working with shoes that pinch your feet because they look cute, and dragging 10lb, scalp-raping braids because you were told they’d look better than your natural hair are all examples of desperation and none of them are worth their troubles.
Some people that seen my braids were kind enough to describe my appearance with phrases like “goddess”, ” cute”, “so pretty”, and “beautiful”. Seeing me take off my beanie or rock hair that wasn’t two inches long seemed exciting, but all they had witnessed were the pictures and videos I posted where I seemed happy. Yes, I was happy that I had finally gotten the thing I had wanted for so long, but little did they know, the same thing that made me so happy was causing me so much pain. It is kind of hard to admit you do not want something anymore after everyone else has grown excited about it. You kind of feel like you’re disappointing them. No one but the good Lord watched me cry every night, toss and turn in a hurricane of sweat and scratching, and surely not a soul heard me scream into my pillow because my scalp burned and my braids were too tight. So really… I did not care if I disappointed anyone.
I did, however, wish to keep them in for at least a month to get my mom’s money’s worth, but four days later I found myself sitting at that same vanity cutting off the chains I was told to call braids. I will make it up to her, but I would like to address the situation now to avoid looking like an ungrateful snob. I was very appreciative for all my mother went through to get me those braids, but that was masked by the pounding in my head and the tears of frustration. I am very sorry.
Even after removing them, there are still small patches of bumps where the braids tugged too tightly at my scalp, small scabs where I scratched almost uncontrollably, and a raw tenderness distributed amongst my scalp as a result of the slightest pressure. I lost a good amount of hair as well after trying to somehow wash away the pain.
With the absence of makeup and flashy clothes, I do not appear very feminine. I have short lashes, two-inch locks on my head, and a deep brown shade in my eyes that blends my pupils with my iris. Having long braids and a full face of makeup made me feel pretty again, but I did not want to be pretty if it meant going through hell every day for the next month or two.
So, I learned a couple things from this experience: 1) From the outside looking in, something may seem desirable, flawless, fun, perfect, everything you need and want. You feel like you need it because of what you think it is or what it portrays itself as, but once you get it, it may not be exactly that, or there’s a price to pay that doesn’t quite seem worth it. 2) The phrase “pain is beauty” is disgusting. Natural beauty is ultimately painless. So really, we do painful and sometimes even degrading things because we think they’ll enhance our appearance. We are already beautiful, we just have a hard time seeing it when we don’t seem to meet society’s standards and expectations, but it is there. We are beautiful and we don’t have to torture ourselves to be so.
My mom did my braids properly, so here is what that enjoyable experience was like.
Here is a how-to/ quick care guide for box braids.
Pain is beauty image source: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-wM5dJf9LqkY/UUharwp6alI/AAAAAAAA_aQ/MeZVi3kdoqg/s1600/pain+is.png
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