What I Have Learned in My First Year Being Natural

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Me as a baby! Ball was life. Circa 1999

I stopped using relaxers in May 2015 and did the big chop (cutting off bits and pieces over a span of two weeks, but a big chop nonetheless) in July 2016, not knowing much about my own hair texture. The last time my hair was worn in its natural state, I wasn’t even old enough to do my own hair– I was no older than seven or eight. Furthermore, I had just finished my senior year of high school by the time I did the big chop, meaning that at seventeen years old, the majority of my life had been spent with relaxed hair.

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Me, still a baby. I think I’m crying? Circa 1999

For any black or Latina woman returning to the curls after years of chemical processing, there is definitely a learning curve for your new style, which ultimately has great effects on your identity as well. It’s never just hair, which I learned quickly.

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Faith (currently 20), Charity (currently 23), and me from left to right. Circa 2001

1. There is a stigma against natural hair.

This seems like a no-brainer, right? I mean, isn’t curly hair in general considered less beautiful than straight hair?

Well, yes. But if you have Type 4 hair, then you know that there is more to it than that. It’s unprofessional. It’s untidy. It’s gross. These are all things that I have heard about natural hair. Even worse? Some of the most hurtful reactions I have gotten about my hair in the last year have been from black women.

Living in a house of all women (okay, there’s one man… my dad), you’re going to find hair. You just will. And you can always tell who it belongs to. Short, thin, straight hairs belonging to my mother, my eldest sister’s wavy caramel hair lining the sink in her bathroom, my older sister’s long relaxed hair clogging our shower drain. This is just accepted as the norm. I mean, obviously we sweep and all, but you know what I mean.

However, I noticed that when I went completely natural, I received a lot of complaints when I left even one or two hairs in the sink before work in the morning (which I am usually running late for). “Stop leaving your disgusting hairs in the sink” is a common statement that my sister would often frustratingly say. When I questioned why she referred to it as “disgusting,” she claimed she thought that about all types of hair.

However, one day she told me that my hair looked like pubic hair.

She would never have said that about straight, wavy, or even curly hair. This is a comment that specifically referred to my 4b/c coils, and proves just how prejudiced people are still conditioned to be against natural hair. I mean, heck– my sister herself is black, and the fact that she could say something so… well, kinda racist, proves the point that there definitely is still a stigma against natural hair. However, you must learn to ignore it. I love my hair, and I’m not changing it for anyone.

Life Lived in G Major

2. People will say weird things about your hair and/or touch it.

People have said that my hair looks like a sea sponge, one of my first-graders at a field experience patted down my “poofy hair,” people have looked at me in utter confusion, asking, “how does your hair do that?”

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I don’t know what was going on with the left puff. It kinda did look like a sea sponge. Circa 2006

I’m not offended, though. These people do so without malicious intent. In fact, sometimes the awkward things people say about natural hair are actually intended to be compliments. And in terms of touching black women’s hair: don’t, or at least ask first. I honestly don’t mind when people touch my hair, so long as they 1) ask first and 2) don’t complain if the oil-or-cream-of-the-day gets on their hand.

march 09

There is so much wrong with this picture. Out of view I’m wearing boot-cut jeans and a white tee under this shirt, but I can only take so much embarrassment. I mean, we’re all thinking it: I looked like Dora. March 2009

3. Don’t shop by hair texture.

When I started transitioning, I became familiar with my hair type: 4b/c. However, there are so many other things to take into consideration– porosity, color treatment, thickness, length– the list goes on. This goes to say that just because a product works on your favorite beauty blogger (my favorite is Ana Lidia Lopes) does not necessarily mean it will work for you.

grade 8

There were much more cringe-worthy photos from middle school, believe me. This was actually a good day for me; I saw For King & Country in concert. March 2012

The Curl Enhancing Smoothie? I’m so mad that I spent more than ten dollars on it; it weighs my hair down. It’s just way too thick for me. But I thought that since literally everyone was talking about it, it must work pretty well, right? Yeah, no. I mean, it is a good product. Just not for me.

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Singing at the 2012 National Fine Arts Festival. That’s temporary dye, because you know, I was thirteen. August 2012

4. Your hair is going to grow rapidly.

A friend of mine recently sent me a picture of the two of us shortly after I did the chop, and I can’t believe my hair was ever that short. Now, looking in the mirror, I can definitely see progress. In fact, if I didn’t trim my hair so often (about every 2-3 weeks), my hair would be even longer than it is now.

When I was regularly relaxing my hair, I would often complain that my hair just wasn’t growing. The closer it got to shoulder-length, the more it snapped off. In fact, throughout middle and high school, I often alternated between pixie cuts and bobs; my hair was rarely longer than chin-length.

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I’m a thirteen-year-old freshman here. September 2012

Now, however, my hair is past my shoulders when stretched, and this could be due to multiple factors. First of all, taking care of my hair is so much more fun now that I have an Afro, so I put more effort into moisturizing, washing, and detangling (well, the detangling part might not be 100% true). Second, I have not even touched a flat iron since I chopped off my relaxed ends. Third, I utilize low-manipulation styles, often putting my hair up with a headband or bandana, or wearing it in a protective style. Finally, now that my hair has no chemicals in it, naturally it will be more healthy than processed hair. Because of this, my hair has seemingly grown at an exponential rate.

chase

I used a curling set to get this faux-natural look. Freshman year I kinda began transitioning (I stopped relaxing for a minute there) but ultimately went back to the creamy crack a few months later. Winter 2013

5. What worked during transition may not work post-BC.

This really took me by surprise. At some point during my year-long transition, I got tired of waking up super early to straighten my hair every single day. At this point, I began pinning my hair up in (extremely lazy) halo twists while using Cantu coconut curling cream.

headshot (drank)

We’re just gonna skip ahead to my transition. This was at the start of my senior year. I was sixteen. October 2015

That stuff. Man. I was obsessed with it. I swore by it. But after I did the big chop, I noticed it wasn’t really working too well on my hair anymore. My hair hardly seemed to respond to it; the only benefit was that it smelled good.

may 2016

My pathetic attempt at halo twists. At this point, I was so done with transitioning, but I wanted to wait until after my friend’s wedding. May 2016

I knew that my curl pattern might change after the chop, but I didn’t expect my virgin hair to respond so differently from the rest. Perhaps my relaxed hair responded so well because it was very porous, due to heat and chemical damage. Whereas, the new growth was normal- to low-porosity. It is almost as if two completely different types of hair used the same product, and therefore got different results.

graduation

I tried to crop my girl Bri out of the picture. Since I didn’t ask her permission to post this, but ya know. Look at me and my seventeen-year-old Baldwin Wallace-bound self!

6. Different seasons call for different products.

In custards, styling creams, in oils, in cups of curl cream, in inches, brushes, in bottles, in trims. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure a year with a ‘fro?

me as a bridesmaid

“I can’t wait to go home and cut this all off.” June 25, 2016

Excuse me while I off-key belt all of Joanne’s lyrics from “Seasons of Love.” I noticed that many of my products that I loved during the cooler months seemed to be overkill during the summer months. For my low-to-normal porosity, 4b/c, short-medium length hair, this is what has worked best:

Summer: Coconut & Hibiscus Curling Gel Souffle (Shea Moisture), Twist & Lock Gel (Cantu), a spray bottle with water and castor oil, Coconut Jamaican Black Castor Oil, cinnamon and olive oil mixture, macadamia oil. Utilize cornrows to like, lower the temperature on your scalp.

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Seventeen-year-old me starting my freshman year at Baldwin Wallace! Natural for more than a month now. Circa August 2016

Fall: Rosemary Jamaican Black Castor Oil, Coconut Curling Cream (Cantu), cinnamon and olive oil mixture, Comeback Curl (Cantu). Utilize twists and puffs, if your hair is long enough. Mine wasn’t long enough last fall, but this time, it will be.

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Me after attending a Hillary Clinton rally. Circa October 2016

Winter: Peppermint oil, tea tree oil, coconut oil, Peppermint Jamaican Black Castor Oil… basically, shower without a cap and seal with a heavy oil and/or butter every night. Wear lots of hats and scarves with a plastic cap underneath to keep the moisture in.

winter hair

I may or may not have made this horrible-quality photo my FB profile picture… Christmas Eve 2016

Spring: Spray bottle with water and castor oil, leave-in conditioner (Cantu), olive oil hairspray (Proclaim), EcoStyler gel. A “wash ‘n go” will usually work best in the springtime, in my opinion.

spring hair

Celebrating my friend Anne’s nineteenth birthday at her school, Kent State. March 2017

7. Protective styles save lives, yo.

I might be exaggerating. But if there’s anything I should have done more of this past year, it’s protective styling… and detangling.

I’m lazy. I really am. At least when it comes to detangling and styling my hair. This is why I usually just put on a headband and call it a day (irresponsible, I know!). You can imagine how many single-strand knots I’ve had to cut out of my hair. My hair has managed to grow at a pretty fast rate nonetheless, which proves that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have the talent to braid/twist your own hair or the money to either pay someone else to do it or purchase weave/braids. But still, it would have been much easier to manage (and I would have had longer hair) if I used protective styles more often.

8. Always, always wear a headscarf.

It doesn’t matter how tired you are. Put. It. On. Just like you’ve gotten into the habit of wearing deodorant and brushing your teeth, be sure to make a habit of this. Getting too drunk to properly protect your hair at night is not a smart move. Not that I know this from experience or anything, but… it’s just not. Your hair will be matted beyond belief. Which leads to the next point…

9. Do not sleep with an Afro.

I did this pretty much all year, and like I said, I had a lot of tangles that could have been avoided. If you don’t have time to keep twisting and re-twisting, buy a pack of tiny combs to separate and elongate your sections at night. That definitely helped to keep my hair stretched out.

10. Scalpicin will get you through those last couple days before wash day.

You know the feeling, especially if you have a sensitive scalp like yours truly. You just washed your hair two days ago, your style is looking on fleek. But. You scratch that first itch with the tip of your fingernail, and before you know it, the rest of your scalp is on fire, too (cue “Girl on Fire,” written and performed by the singer-songwriter Alicia Keys). Your scalp is YELLING– no, SCREAMING at you to shampoo it. “PLEASE, girl, PLEASE!” But you can’t. And you ran out of tea tree oil yesterday, so all you can do is pray.

Well, buy Scalpicin from Wal-Mart and you will never have to know this agony ever again. I’ve been using it on-and-off since I was a baby, so I know it works.

11. Dry your hair with a t-shirt, NOT a towel.

The soft fabric of shirts will keep from tearing any delicate strands.

12. You might find yourself stuck after six months or so.

I’m going to be honest here. My hair has been stuck at shoulder-length for a long time now. Considering that this time last year my hair was only a tad bit longer than John Legend’s, this might come across as a little dramatic. Even so, it’s still annoying that I still can’t seem to fit my hair into a puff. We’ll see with time if my hair gets past this.

13. Castor oil is magic on bald spots.

Be aware of how long you keep your protective styles in, because braids can be tough on your edges. However, if you happen to misjudge how long your style should be in and end up snapping off some edges as a result, all you need to do is massage in some castor oil for a few days and it’ll be back.

AND THE FINAL LESSON: SET GOALS!

As I wave goodbye to my first year and hello to a second year of being 100% natural, here are some things that I hope will happen.

  1. I will begin working out more (2-3 times per week), especially focusing on cardio.
  2. I will begin watching what I eat. I plan on eating protein and carbs before workouts and salads and vegetables/fruits after workouts. On days I do not go to the gym, I will allow myself to eat more normal food.
  3. I will use the inversion method more often when oiling my scalp.
  4. I will thoroughly detangle my hair both before AND after washing.
  5. I will find a wash day regimen that works for my schedule.
  6. I will learn how to do more hairstyles.
  7. I will stop comparing myself to other naturalistas with “good hair.”
july 2017

One year of owning my ethnicity and loving my hair! July 2017