November 21, 2011

Going Naptural

The Lovely and the Ugly about my natural transition

Okay, so there really isn't anything ugly about going natural. I think challenging is the better word, but there are definitely pros and cons to consider. Maybe chopping all your hair off isn't considered a major contemplative occurance to some people -- it's just hair. This is true, but I'd have to disagree. I actually think the act of cutting off all (okay, in my case not all, but MOST of) your hair is a big deal, and depending on the context, hair itself carries the weight of an endless amount of connotations including ethnicity, race, sexuality, health, age, personality, decades/time. I could probably talk on and on and on about hair alone, yet at face value, hair is really nothing glamorous. It's just keratinized dead skin (or something like that). People are especially good at taking something small and simple and turning it into something large and complicated. I think hair is a great example of this.

Even though I realize that hair is "just hair," I still can't deny that it may actually be much more than that. My hair has actually caused a lot of distress. This sounds silly now, but I remember being on the swings with my friends as a little kid wishing my coiled hair would sway in the wind just like theirs. I think my hair insecurities were likely because I am mixed, so me and my mom have totally different hair which means she had no idea how to take care of it. I have to give her credit though, because unlike many moms who resort to relaxers and detexturizers for their textured hair children, my mom always tried to convince me to keep my curls and steer clear of chemicals. Convincing her to schedule an appointment to get my first relaxer took a lot of effort on my part. The real issue was I didn't know how to take care of my hair, either. The truth is, not many people do. As I've said earlier, Black women make up about 80% of cosmetic purchases, yet when you walk through any hair care aisle the serious majority of products are not for Black hair. There's usually a tiny segregated section hidden off in the corner labeled "ethnic hair care," that shelves maybe 20 Black products.

There is also the myth going around forbidding Black women from using White products. I don't really know if it's true or not, but I've had a lot of Black hair stylists warn me to never use white products because they are damaging to textured hair. They have all had their different reasons. I've never actually compared the ingredient labels of White and Black products to see if there's any difference, so I can't say if there is or not. Also, I've heard good reviews on certain products that aren't in the ethnic sections from texture haired people.  Point is, instead of applying Jim Crow-like segregation to hair-care isles,  I think there should be more products for minority hair textures and some hair care integration.

Aside from the extremely limited selection of products for mixed, Black, textured, curly, kinky...(list goes on) hair, is the limited amount of information out there for the caring of textured hair. Now that there is YouTube and every other social media sharing source on the web, finding information is a lot easier then it used to be, but only for those who are searching hard for it. As a little afro-headed girl living in the early 90's, there were literally almost no sources other than word of mouth. Neither me nor my mom had ever even heard of a "twist out" or "Bantu knots" until recently, and when I say recently, I mean 2011. When we would ask for hair advice, more often than not, the answer would be "Just For Me -- their hair relaxers are gentler." No one ever said "try a braid-out" or "try a Denman brush." If we had known about any of the multitudes of natural hair styles, our experiences with my hair would have been very different, and maybe I would have never begged for a perm in the first place.

After 10 years of chemically straightening my hair, I finally mustered up the courage to just stop. Maybe it sounds silly to call going natural a courageous act, but it really felt like one. I think most of what motivates people to continuously and voluntarily apply damaging chemicals and heat to their hair, is fear. Fear of just being who you are. Fear of not being what people might expect you to be. Fear of being incomparable to Cosmo girls. Fear of being excluded from what constitutes American "beauty." Fear of looking anything less than "business professional." Fear of simply not being able to manage your hair.  I obviously can't speak for everyone, and everyone has their own reasons for styling their hair in the ways they choose, but after a while I realized fear was the only thing keeping my hair straight and smooth and swaying in the wind. So I decided to shed some of that fear and start over. So far, I love it.

There are times when I love it slightly less, though. For those considering going natural, or for those who just like hearing my thoughts, here are some pros and cons I've noticed from being natural for about seven months now.

The Ugly (not literally)

  • I Miss My Length --- No ponytails. No messy buns.  Even headbands look weird. I've put most of my hair accessories on hold for now while I wait for my hair to grow. Plus, I just miss the long hair look sometimes.

  • Dressing Up --- A huge component of getting dressy used to involve doing my hair. Now, when I get dressed up there's not much I can do in terms of new styles. There's something psychologically pleasing about changing your look for special occasions. I know it's all in my head, but having to wear my hair exactly the same makes the special occasion feel slightly less special. 

  • Air Drying --- I try to use minimal heat. It seems silly to cut off all of my damaged hair just to damage it again. I'm not opposed to heat-styling every now and then, but I try to avoid blow drying because of unnecessary heat damage and extra frizz.  I bought a diffuser, but those still take a long time. Sometimes waiting for my hair to dry... Just. Takes. Forever.

  • Detangling --- Forget about dry combing my hair. It gets really difficult to send even a wide-toothed comb through my hair even when saturated with conditioner. I could put it in twists to avoid tangles, but I like how it looks out better and twisting TWA's is a tedious process. When I do detangle my hair, I also lose a lot of hair it seems.

  • Girlyness --- Super short hair can give off a more androgynous look. Hair alone shouldn't define sexuality, but every now and then I feel like I look less girly than I am. I don't have a problem with a more tom-boyish look, but sometimes I feel like I don't really look like myself. 

The Lovely 

  • Time --- I probably spend under 3 minutes on average, if that, doing my hair every morning. This is a blessing. Since I don't have to fuss around with my hair so much, I also have more time in the morning for other arenas like wardrobe, makeup...and things that really matter, like breakfast. 

  • No More Brushing --- Bristles are the afro's worst enemy. I don't even think I own any brushes. I only detangle my hair with a wide tooth comb once a week when I wash it. That's it. 

  • Less Products --- Since my hair is so short, it doesn't need a lot of product which means I go through bottles a lot slower. I put a tiny bit of moisturizer and a few spritzes of oil in every morning. Always soft, never greasy, and a lot less product build up making shampooing a breeze. 

  • No More Thinning --- When my hair was longer and relaxed, I used to come out of the shower with a rat tail for hair every time I washed it. After I'd style it and fluff it out, you couldn't tell, but my hair was so thin. I lost a good deal of hair every time I relaxed it and every time I brushed it and every time I washed it, which all used to be more often. Even though I still have breakage, my hair is far from thin now. 

  • Color Treatment --- I dyed my hair a few times while my hair was relaxed which is a double wammy when it comes to damage. Deep frying already fried hair. I'm probably going to dye my hair again in the future just because it's fun and knowing me, I will get bored, but this time, the damage will be far less. 

  • A Better Kind of Attention --- I noticed I get a lot more genuine compliments on my hair now from friends, family and strangers. Teeny weeny afros stand out. When I used to straighten my hair, I seemed to get more of the different, more annoying kind of attention if you catch my drift. Maybe this is a bold statement, but I feel like natural hair has attracted more genuine people. 

  • Liberation --- Call me crazy, but sitting in the salon chair under the stylist's scissors was like being drenched in a wave of freedom. Seeing all the straight, fried strands fall to floor was surreal almost. It felt spiritual, like I walked out of the salon a different person than I was walking in. I say try it out for yourself.


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