Tag Archives: Good hair

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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Does hair typing set us back?

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I have never been overly concerned about what my hair type was. However I do consider it useful information when learning how best to manage my hair. For example I knew that certain styles demonstrated by bloggers would not necessarily turn out the same with my hair and I would have to adapt them accordingly. Also, when it came to my hair care regiment I was able to develop techniques that worked best for my hair type. I understood that not every method would work the same with my hair.

However what happens when hair typing becomes detrimental to the way you see your hair or to the way other people respond to you. Have we just replaced the derogatory terms ‘good hair’ and ‘bad hair’ with type 3 and type 4 hair. Unfortunately this is the negative result of hair typing and I think it is becoming more and more evident.

There are a few hair typing systems. One of the most popular ones is the one formed by celebrity hairstylist Andre Walker. Have a look at the diagram below:

While this information can be useful it should not be used as a ranking of good to not so good. We must respect the fact that natural hair is very diverse. Some women don’t have one hair type overall, their hair may be made up of a combination of the different hair types. So not everyone fits into a particular box  of a certain hair type.

Esperanza Spalding
4a

Shingai Shoniwa
4b hair

We spend a lot of money on curl enhancing creams, puddings and serums. When the fact is if the curls aren’t there to begin with they are not magically going to appear just because you apply these  products.  Rather than being disappointed, a person in this position should accept their hair the way it is and focus on the many of styling options that are available to them to create curls and waves. I hope these products haven’t become the new ‘creamy crack’. I dread to think that another woman would look down on someone with hair that is say 4b as opposed to the more curl defining hair types. Corinne Bailey Rae and Tracee Ellis Ross have stunning hair but they are not representative of everyone with natural hair,  when you consider the shear diversity of natural hair. Other hair types are just as stunning but in a different way, neither one is superior or better. If you fall into the trap of thinking like that you need to remember why you went natural in the first place. For many of us  it was to be free from the pressure to conform to what society typically states is beautiful and to embrace our natural beauty.

Debra Messing
3a hair

Keri Russell
3b Hair

I’ve heard horror stories of certain naturals attending hair care events and being told that their hair wasn’t kinky enough (simply because they were of mixed heritage) or being told that their hair was too kinky for the products on display and both were made to feel like they didn’t belong there.  Neither scenario is acceptable and is the result of nothing but ignorance and the same attitude people had about natural hair being inferior to straight flowing European hair. I know white women who use afro hair care products because they have very curly hair, would we turn them away just because they’re not black? That would be absurd.  Some of them can relate to us because they felt the pressure to straighten their hair for years. I have  also heard of some YouTube vloggers who have decided to close their accounts and delete their videos because of  a lack of interest in their channels.  They have claimed it is because they don’t have what is perceived as the ‘good hair’ type that usually is related to having super defined curls and really long hair.

We are supposed to be moving forward not replacing derogatory terms with different ones with the same sentiment.  More and more women are deciding to go natural, this is a good thing that should not be met with disappointment. If we accept that natural hair is diverse we can avoid this. The same applies to women who have relaxed hair, it all comes down to choice and it would be just as wrong to make someone feel inferior for having relaxed hair as well. Inspire them don’t bash them!

Alicia Keys
3c hair

What do you think about hair typing? Is it a good thing or has it set us back to where we were?