I can’t go natural! My hair is too tough (part 1)

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In part one of this article, I address one of the greatest misconceptions about natural afro-textured hair.

I have heard this statement many times from women who are apprehensive about avoiding chemical relaxers and wearing their hair natural.  When I point out that I no longer rely on chemical relaxers, they tell me that I must be fortunate to have soft hair and this has allowed me to stay natural. I usually laugh out loud when people tell me this because the last thing people used to say about my hair was that it was soft. I have certainly broken a few combs in my day and remember constantly having to replace the comb attachment on my blow-dryer, and this was when my hair was relaxed!

Re-growth terrified me because the more re-growth I had the harder it was to manage my hair. So I would relax my hair every six weeks without fail, whereas most of my friends could wait at least eight weeks.  I have terrible childhood memories of the first attempt at relaxing my hair. The first time, my mum used a ‘kiddy kit’ and it was as if she simply put moisturizer in my hair. Nothing happened. Then we tried again a few weeks later, with an adult relaxer. My aunty, who happened to be a hair stylist, left the relaxer in my hair for a very long time and my scalp was burning, only to find that my hair had barely straightened. I was so disappointed. On the third attempt it finally worked but my hair never really stayed sleek for the full six weeks. After two weeks it would start to look frizzy. So for as long as I can remember I used super strength relaxer. If anyone was to say their hair was ‘too tough ‘to go natural, it would be me.   In fact, isn’t that one of the main reasons the majority of black women use chemical relaxers in the first place?  According to a recent article in Ebony magazine, over 65% of black women in America opt to use chemical relaxers to straighten their hair. One of the reasons for this is this misconception that afro textured hair in its natural state is hard, unmanageable and doesn’t look presentable.

After years of believing that lie I had to really ask myself why people of other races could manage their hair with no problem, but when it came to black people we had to resort to chemically treating our hair as a norm. The pain of harsh combing when I was a kid, the burning of my scalp when I relaxed my hair, only reinforced the lie, that there was something wrong with my hair and that it needed ‘fixing’.  The solution for that was relaxer. Getting a relaxer was seen as a rite of passage among young girls when I was growing up in the UK. In fact I didn’t get my first one until I was 13. As a result I was bullied in school for being one of the remaining few to still have natural hair. When my hair wasn’t braided it looked messy as I didn’t know how to style it and I received negative attention from some of the other children. I couldn’t wait to get a relaxer (or perm, as it is referred to in the US)!

So what changed?  Well I grew up and was no longer an impressionable kid trying to fit in. I was a grown woman approaching thirty, who refused to believe that there was something wrong with my hair or that afro textured hair had to be fixed. I realized that I never really learned how to look after my hair in its natural state. I had only learned how to alter it and never embraced it as it was. I was also curious to see what it looked like in its natural state.  Perhaps if I learned how to manage my hair it wouldn’t be so unattainable to have it natural. I stumbled across some helpful advice and information on the internet and saw positive examples of women with natural hair on YouTube. If they could do it then surely I could.  I was tempted to simply dismiss their success by telling myself that they must be the exception, perhaps they are just fortunate to have ‘good hair’, hair that was soft, or maybe they were mixed.

I cringe every time I hear women make such statements to convince themselves that there is no way they can go natural even though they are interested in doing it.  The number of black women wearing their hair natural is increasing. According to a 2010 study commissioned by Atlanta based black hair care company Design Essentials; the number of black women wearing their hair natural increased to 36% in 2011. Sales of chemical relaxers were also believed to have dropped by 17% between 2006 and 2011, according to the market research firm Mintel.  So more and more women with afro textured hair are learning how to manage their hair and no longer rely on chemical relaxers, something that seemed unattainable just a few years ago.  There is also a greater awareness of the dangers of relaxers and the effects they have on the health of our hair and scalp. Many women with natural hair testify to the improvement of the health of their hair and scalp since going natural. The American Academy of Dermatology states that highly textured, curly hair is, “by its nature, more fragile than naturally straight hair,” and “relaxers make curly hair more fragile.” My hair is the longest it has ever been simply because I handle it with care, keep it well moisturized and wear protective styles from time to time. 

Afro hair is very diverse and no two heads of hair are the same, even within the same family. Some of us have more kinks than curls or more coils and some have a combination of all of these.  However, the principles of managing afro textured hair are the same and if they are applied you will have healthy, manageable and yes, long hair. We may all face different challenges; our hair may grow at different rates, vary in thickness or retain moisture differently.  But if you learn how to manage your natural hair then it will thrive. I always say that it is our lack of knowledge that is the problem not our hair. There is nothing wrong with your hair; you simply need to learn how to manage it. Any hair that is dry, knotted and damaged from styling will be harder to manage, whatever type of hair it is. I have always had very thick hair and that was one of my biggest challenges I had when it came to managing my hair. The very thing I hated about my hair is the main reason I receive compliments today. I have learned how to manage my hair so I no longer consider it ‘unmanageable’. In part two of this article I will list some of information I learned about natural afro textured hair.  This information gave me the confidence to take the next step and continue on my natural hair journey.

What were some of your main concerns about going natural?

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5 responses »

  1. In the western society we live in the external pressures have always been there. I have recently been reading a book called Hair Story and the authors explain the origins of negative attitudes towards natural afro hair. After slavery former slaves were scared to look ‘too ethnic’ through fear of being persecuted for it. It’s amazing how these attitudes still exist today, that underlying fear has been passed down through generations.

    Thanks for commenting! It is always good to hear different perspectives. Glad to hear that your wife and daughter are enjoying their hair just the way it is. It is encouraging to hear stories like that :]. God bless.

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  2. I’m a full-blooded male so I’m likely not your target reader! Nevertheless, I have a wife and daughter who insist on natural hair. My daughter is a princess who loves her braids and beads. Her thick, dark, shiny hair gets treated with coconut oil, JBCO, and some other ointments she and my wife decide on. My wife wears many styles, ranging from short fades to long locks (it takes getting used to so many different looks).

    I celebrate and encourage their choice to BE natural. Sisters don’t GO natural because they’re BORN natural. They opt to go UNnatural when they go the chemical route. My belief, having been around sisters all of my life, is that external pressure and self-image clash, often resulting in going the way of the “perm.”

    Neither of these beautiful women in my life concern themselves with public perception of their hair. My daughter is a tween in a gifted and talented school and my wife is an educator. They certainly come in contact with others who believe “straight is better” yet continue to value their choice to remain natural. God bless them!

    One of the more popular concerns I’ve heard from others include not wanting to appear “too ethnic” among their peers (typically white women with roots to various parts of Europe). Interestingly, I wonder how many of those women would think that their long, blonde hair or curly, red locks would be seen as too ethnic around the sisters…

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