“My hair is flip flops, a t-shirt and some shorts. It’s laid back and it’s all me. Now I’m on a natural journey, I don’t need the fake hair for status.”
I had just finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In it she says, “Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You’re caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn’t go running with Curt today because you don’t want to sweat out this straightness…always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do.” Sitting with Kristal, I was reminded of this quote as she told me about herself. “When I was younger, I put myself in a box. Maybe my hair defines me, it’s messy, but it can be clean. It’s colorful and ever changing. I feel that I’ve been growing and it is growing.”
Kristal has a hunger for living fully, living well, and living honestly. Founder of the non-profit organization, Bahamas Plastic Movement, she strives to cultivate awareness through educating others about the impacts of single-use plastic on her island nation. It is her purpose to do this work. In thinking about the ways in which our actions can inform our understandings of self, I wondered if her commitment to preserving the natural land and seascape translated to her own image. “Actually, it has…” Kristal’s hair has seen vaporizing chemical clouds and afro-kinky twists, candy curls and beeswax, but now, she seems to have found herself relaxing into dreads and coming up on five years.
For a while, Kristal’s hair was damaged from years of chemical treatments, said to make her hair more manageable. She had painful bad hair days after crimping her hair with girlfriends, only to be asked: “What the hell did you do to your hair? It looks like a palm tree”! But there were also days when Kristal made intricate art of her hair. She weaved ‘zigzag paths’ through her scalp, she would ‘twist and twine,’ patting her hair, then twisting downwards from the roots. Paper bag curls were for occasions when she wanted a fro: rip a bag up and curl the hair into it. Another style was called Danger, consisting of a pony tail gelled upwards as a Christmas tree, dressed with rubber bands. “I never wore it, but I did modify it. We did the Christmas tree, but in our version there were strands reaching outwards.” When going back to school, she rocked the curls, painted with bows and ribbons to match her uniform. She made ‘plastic straw curls,’ by slicking her hair with gel, winding it upwards into a straw and sticking it with a pin to maintain the form. In the morning, she would rise with a head full of bouncing ringlets. “We always used to go to Wendy’s and steal the straws,” she laughs. But her absolute favorite was the drawstring ponytail, the hair is wrapped into your natural hair, the strings are then drawn and secured with a built in comb. “I had the romance curl, it was a huge curl, and mine was burgundy.” But this business of buying hair isn’t cheap. Now, Kristal prioritizes protective style, “but for many people in the Bahamas, the status quo is looking good. Fifteen or sixteen inch-long hair is status…eighteen… shoot…a long weave is status. Some people put it before their kids.”
Kristal permed her hair to avoid‘peas’ or fly-aways until 2009, deciding that it was time to take a new path in a new place. Deciding to braid her hair was a decision tied just as much to ease as it was to her desire to be natural. For two and a half months she worked as an aquarist and marine research intern at The Perry Institute for Marine Science. Bringing her ponytail to work, she would throw it in her locker prior to diving. Afterwards, she would fix it back on. “People thought I never got wet… but I switched to braids and they suited me…I could just shake it, and they don’t get rudup. Shelly, my Jamaican friend from Nassau did my hair best. She would take kanekalon fiber and twist it with beeswax.” Kanekalon is made from synthetic material and is used for human hair extensions, wigs and doll hair. Overtime, a change of heart led her to begin locking her hair. Locs are a process- this style is more than form or fashion; it is weaved to personal journey. Kristal started these locs with extensions, her natural hair was braided and wrapped with an afro-kinky twist, the illusion of dreads. Her hair was a collage of dreaded, natural and permed hair. It was getting long, but a quarter of it wasn’t hers and the extensions weighed on. Some of them were starting to fall out. Deciding to remove the extensions she says, “it was big, I was nervous. I didn’t know if I was ready for short hair. Afterwards, I thought I did it too soon, but I was like ‘hey, I’m gonna own it’ and for the rest of that year I had short hair and I felt pretty.” This was the start of what Kristal describes as her journey of health reclamation. She challenged herself to swim a distance of four miles in the ocean. “It was a process of self-discovery, self-discipline, determination and endurance.” She developed a new look, her hair got lengthy and her body shrunk.
Kristal feels good in her dreads. For her, hair symbolized the process of finding her inner beauty and being confident. “I think my hair is a representation of me, whether it is the strength, the difference, the versatility and flexibility, the rugged and roughness, but also the tame slick. It’s different and I’m different. I still do it up sometimes though, my hair can be straightened and pulled up going with a freakum’ dress.” If you’ve ever seen her get done up, you certainly know it can.