For nearly as long as she can remember, Josephine Hamilton warred against her hair.
She says she didn't know that African-American hair could be beautiful without chemicals.
"I know for a fact by the time I was in the third grade I had a relaxer," the 27-year-old Wichita resident said. "I think I probably had a relaxer when I was in kindergarten, maybe first grade."
When a friend said she was going to stop using chemicals to relax and straighten her hair, "I literally thought: 'You're going to look crazy. Let me know how that works out for you,' " Hamilton said, laughing.
Now Hamilton herself has "gone natural," vowing to embrace the hair she says God gave her. She has documented the transition in videos on YouTube.
African-American women have long relaxed their hair to try to make it straighter.
Comedian Chris Rock explores the African-American hair industry in the new documentary "Good Hair," which recently played in Wichita.
As the story goes, Rock's daughter Lola one day asked him "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?"
Rock then set off to investigate why his daughter felt that way.
Hamilton says she knows.
So-called "nappy" hair, she said, "isn't acceptable by either culture. It's really like a taboo type thing."
To fit in with both black and white people, Hamilton says she felt she had to relax her hair.
"When it was relaxed, it was soft and silky," she said. "Fast forward to now, obviously there's no more soft and silky. But what is better, which goes back to what is good hair in the first place? I think it's better because it's what God gave me."
'A cultural thing'
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau says she spends more time on her hair than any other part of her morning routine.
"When we were growing up, our mother said, 'When you go out of the house, your hair always needs to look nice.' That's a cultural thing," she said.
She has never chemically relaxed her hair — she doesn't have to, she said.
"For me, with my father being a Frenchman and my mother being black, I kind of enjoy both worlds," she said. "Fortunately, I only have to wash and blow dry and use a curling iron."
However, when she can afford to do so, she spends $120 every two weeks to have her two daughters' hair relaxed "in order for them to look nice and have that self -confidence. Hair is a big part of how we present ourselves to the world I think for every race but I think particularly for the African-American race," Faust-Goudeau said.
She said she's talked to her daughters, who are 15 and 17, about going natural.
"I've suggested it to them. This is who you are. Be happy in the skin that you're in and the hair that you have. But you are judged on the way you look. Even within our own culture, we actually judge each other on the texture of our hair, the length of our hair. Hair, it's a big deal."
Other African-American women have approached Faust-Goudeau, she said, and told her 'Oh, you have good hair. What type of relaxer do you use?' "Even my younger daughter, whose hair is really different from mine, she has said to me, 'I wish I had hair that looks like yours.' "
"It is sad to have to go through all these procedures to look like what we think society accepts. But at the end of the day, I think all of us want to look good."
Back to natural
Twanda Hamilton, the founder and president of Tangles Unlimited Inc. in Wichita said she has noticed more younger African-American women choosing to quit relaxing their hair.
A stylist since 1982, she said she quit relaxing her own hair. It is thinning as she gets older and the chemicals were breaking her hair off. She couldn't relax and color her hair, too, she said.
She serves a mostly African-American clientele and said she has noticed that her mixed-race clients in particular want their hair to be straight.
Carrie Jones, a stylist at Urban Image, returned to her natural hair about five months ago.
She had relaxed her hair since high school.
"I always liked my hair natural when I was a little girl," Jones said. "I liked the texture. My mother brought us up to believe that there was no such thing as good hair."
Jones said she feels "sassier" with her natural hair.
"I think it's beautiful," she said.
But she said there's pressure to look a certain way.
"We relax our hair so you relax around us," Jones said.
She said it was "liberating and exuberating" to embrace her natural hair.
"I feel beautiful the way I am," she said.
Josephine Hamilton feels the same way.
"I'm extremely happy. I would never, ever, ever relax in my hair again," she said. "I don't think relaxed hair is good hair. I think it's relaxed hair."