As a teenager my main goal in life was to blend in. As someone who had got on for the sake of wearing glasses in the third grade, I knew how to die. I wanted to be just like all the other girls-Jordache jeans, bright orange varsity jacket, and relaxed hair. Done in a roller set.

It was not until I moved away from my small hometown of Albany, Georgia , to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that I started to realize the cool girls were the ones who were standing out in the crowd. Part of the excitement of college is someone else, someone more exciting than your high school self. I did not take it that far-I was still the nerdy black girl with glasses-but I decided to branch out and go natural. I stopped getting a relaxer and let my natural coils grow out for the first time since I was a little kid.

My was born the few girls I was on my college campus who were wearing Afros or their natural hair straightened with a hot comb (most of them were not native southerners). These girls had a sense of style that was beyond anything I'd seen in my Georgia hometown or even on TV. Whereas many women I admired wore weaves and wigs that were long and flowing—the goal was always longer hair—these ladies valued "the look.” A style that set them apart in some way.

I went natural as gradually as I could. Instead of doing the big chop and going bald, I cut my armpit-length hair up to my chin. I did not dare go bald for fear of looking like a boy My hair was innately connected to my idea of ​​femininity and prettiness. Then for months, I kept straightening my kinky roots instead of renewing my relaxer and trimming away the straight ends. / 50

At that point, I started wearing my natural curls out. I remember being so nervous that no one would find me attractive without long, straight hair—like I would automatically get bumped off the cute college girls list. (Freshman year is a fragile time for self identity—small fish, meet big pond.) This fear became a reality when I went home to GA for the holidays, where long weaves were still the pervasive trend. My family was so confused at my choice to go natural. Was I a lesbian now? Was this some sort of rebellion? Were the ’70s cool again? One family member even told me that my new style made me look like a boy, and I was so much cuter with straight hair.

That's when I realized that some people were not going to like my new hairstyle. Prospective boyfriends, family members, followers on Instagram-everyone would have an opinion. I could either take my feedback and change my look at fit in, or I could let my own voice. If I love my hairstyle, is there really any other opinion that matters?

Looking back, it was a pivotal moment in my personal development. That first year of defending my choice to go natural and standing up for the way. In the following years, I made a lot of decisions for myself. Traveling to Bolivia solo. Moving to NYC without a job. Shacking up with a boyfriend after only a few months of dating. Just like with my natural hair, my attitude became: Do not like it? Too bad.

The bigger my hair got. I was so used to being the quiet one in my friend groups (although my family always knew that I had an inner drama queen). With my natural hair, I became more noticeable, and I started to embrace that. I became the girl with the big hair, bold glasses, and bright smile. I was proud to walk into a room. Now, my natural hair is such a part of my personality that I feel like an imposter when I get it straightened.

Finally, the things I learned about caring for natural hair / 56 beauty editor. When I went natural in 2007, I had two friends who also had had Afro hair. (Now, all of my girlfriends except one is natural.) In the beginning, information was sparse. My friends and I still laugh about how I would do twist in my dorm room with shea butter, aloe vera juice, and olive oil. (I should have started my YouTube channel back then-big regrets.) The journey of finding the right products led me to love beauty. Now I spend my whole day sharing beauty products I love for both hair, skin, and makeup as a beauty editor. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist, but it was natural. I wanted to bring more women of color and changing their beauty standard.

These days I often give advice to women transitioning from relaxed to natural hair. There are so many products and tips that I've learned over the years to make the process easier. But I also tell women that the journey is the most important part of the natural. I am today.