Well I can only describe my experience but I’m sure many other women can relate. Just as a disclaimer, this is not from the point of view of encouraging all black women to go natural. I have my opinion about this topic of course, which I will share. But it is not a prescriptive notion that needs to be pushed on everyone. It is important to remember that our hair is just a small fraction of who we are. There are more important aspects of ourselves than simply hair. I certainly didn’t feel ‘more black’ because I went natural. I was still the same on the inside. So I think it is silly to accuse other women with relaxed hair or weaves of not embracing themselves or being ‘less black’.
So what made me chop off my hair one day and decide to grow out the same hair I had when I was a kid? Well just to be clear, I never had long flowing hair to begin with. Always half way between my jaw line and collar-bone, but I always had thick hair and not too many issues with breakage. From the age of 15 I actually began to relax my hair myself. I think I was about 13 when I first relaxed my hair and then I got fed up of begging for a re-touch and having to rely on my mum to find someone who could do my hair that month. So I bought the kit, read the instructions and relaxed my hair myself. The main motive behind this was to take the care of my hair into my own hands and no longer be subject to the bullying I had faced for three years in secondary school. The thing is, it worked. My hair was never overdue a relaxer again. I certainly was no hair expert, neither was I doing what was best for my hair but I was able to ensure that it didn’t get ‘unmanageable’. I would relax it every six weeks without fail.
So between the ages of 13 to 27 I relaxed my hair and in my twenties I would wear weaves most of the time or have a few tracks in there for good measure. My hair never really grew past a certain length though. I just put this down to genetics or didn’t really pay much attention because it was in weave most of the time anyway. So at the age of 27 why did I decide to go natural? There wasn’t any major hair breakage that made me want to chop off my hair and start again. I was simply wondering why my hair was the way it was (Afro) and why for my entire adult life I had never truly experienced it in its natural state. I remember the bullies on the back of the bus when I was about 12, calling me names and even asking me in front of everyone; “when are you going to relax your hair”? When did getting a relaxer become a rite of passage for young black girls? I remember, even me, talking about a girl who chose to never relax her hair in secondary school. Talking about her with insincere concern about how she would struggle to fit in at college and university with her hair ‘like that’. How would people take her seriously?
Where does this train of thought come from when we don’t even understand when a girl chooses to avoid relaxer? I was thinking about all these things and it made me realise that there was certainly something wrong with my thought processes in relation to my natural hair. I couldn’t even imagine how women managed to get by before relaxer was invented. I couldn’t even imagine a time when women didn’t relax their hair. But I knew there was something wrong with that way of thinking because I knew of a couple of friends who had ‘gone natural’ at least at some point in their lives, although they had since relaxed their hair again.
Most importantly I knew that God didn’t make any mistakes when he made us the way we are, whatever our skin colour or hair texture. So just as people with European hair could enjoy their hair just the way it grows out of their head I was convinced that God intended for those with afro hair to do the same. Surely our hair was fine just the way it was, without manipulation? I got to the point where I could no longer accept that we had to manipulate our hair not as a matter of preference or for an occasional change but as a matter of necessity. When you really think about it relaxers are permanent and we are actually putting acid in our hair! Just examine the PH levels of relaxers. After years of relying on weaves and relaxers I got tired of trying to keep my natural hair a secret from the world. Weaves got expensive and the mixture of tracks and my relaxed hair meant that the length of my hair became uneven. The back was excessively longer than the front and this caused me to rely more and more on weaves. I wanted to get out of this dependency on what they call the ‘creamy crack’ and wearing weaves.
I also craved hair that had much more volume. I have always had thick hair but I felt relaxers stripped my hair of its volume and character. I always preferred my hair the way it was a couple of weeks after getting it relaxed, because it was thicker. So I started to relax it less (maybe every eight weeks instead!) and started to wear braid-outs with my relaxed hair. I really enjoyed the volume and the texture this gave my hair but it wasn’t enough. So after watching a few videos on YouTube and researching the best products to use in natural hair I began to realise that our hair isn’t the problem. It is our lack of knowledge about our hair that is the real problem. We expect to put a fine tooth comb through our hair from root to tip like many people with European hair can do. Not being able to do that means that our hair is coarse and unmanageable. We treat our natural hair like a joke because it doesn’t flow like the hair of women in the Loreal adverts. I began to realise that our hair is simply different not inferior to other hair types. European hair is more like silk and afro hair is more like cotton. Both materials are valuable but are different.
Watching certain YouTube videos taught me for the first time in my life how to comb my hair! Isn’t that sad? We don’t even know how to comb our own hair or our childrens’ hair for that matter. Putting them through unnecessary pain and joking about how much pain we suffered when our mother’s combed our hair. Not knowing that the best way to comb our hair is from the ends down to the roots and even better when our hair is damp. We use shampoos advertised on TV that are really not made for our hair type and wonder why our hair gets so dry. A little research gave me the confidence I needed to finally go natural. I no longer thought that my hair had to be beaten into submission nor that it was simply unmanageable. I understood a bit more about how to manage my hair. I decided to go for the big chop. I didn’t really transition for long. I waited until I had enough re-growth, continuing to do the braid outs for a couple of months. Then when I felt I had enough hair on my head I cut the relaxed bits off and rocked a short hairstyle for a while.
So how have things changed?
Being natural is exciting and I am always learning new ways to manage and care for my hair. For the first couple of years I still didn’t have a great deal of knowledge. I would blow dry my hair once a week to keep it stretched out. When it was short it was a lot more curly and it was good to see my real curl pattern. Afro hair is curly and I had always wanted curly hair. I had it all along and didn’t even realise it. Some people even asked me if I texturized my hair and referred to my hair as soft. Of all the ways to describe my hair for the first time in my life it was referred to as soft, to my utter surprise. In fact I have a very tight curl pattern but yes it is soft. But all afro hair is soft believe or not because that’s the texture of it. After all, our hair isn’t made out of concrete! Can I put a fine or medium tooth comb straight through my hair ordinarily, NO! But that is simply because of the way afro hair is structured, not because it is tough or unmanageable or there is something wrong with it. We are simply not meant to manage our hair that way. Of course if I was using shampoo with sulphates in it and not taking the time to regularly detangle, moisturise and wash my hair, then yes it would be a lot less manageable. It’s our lack of knowledge that’s the problem not our hair. It’s funny how there is no screaming when I comb my little sisters’ hair. This is simply because I know how to comb their hair as I am use to doing mine. Shouldn’t we do our research for the sake of our kids at least?
I can do so much more with my hair in its natural state than I could ever do with it relaxed. Every time I go on YouTube or on other internet sites there is always a new style to try. There are so many different forms our hair takes. From braid-outs, twist-outs, puffs, blow-outs, cornrows, flat twists and yes we can even straighten our hair if we wish. The difference is it is not permanent when you use a blow dryer or hot iron. There is so much more choice and it is nice to stand out and be me rather than trying to conform to what society dictates as being beautiful. If we don’t embrace our natural hair society will not. If we don’t accept that we are beautiful naturally then things are not going to change. More and more women are going natural and people are noticing and paying attention to that fact. Perhaps having natural hair will no longer be considered unprofessional or ‘making a statement’ if it becomes the norm rather than the exception. It is a lot of fun learning how to care for my hair. I’ve even learnt how to stretch out my hair without using blow dryers and have discovered protective styling, which is great for retaining the ends of my hair and thus maintaining the length. My hair is now the longest it has ever been and it is continuing to grow and has never been healthier. It is an ongoing process. I go for job interviews with my natural hair and I have even got married with my hair natural, this is the norm for me now, not an exception.
Why did you decide to go natural? Do you feel encouraged to do so if you haven’t already? Share your comments below.