When I was a kid, I hated my natural hair. It was less about the way it looked and more about how much work it took to take care of it. The first time I attempted to wash and style my hair without my mother’s help, I broke several combs and my curls refused to lay flat, no matter how many times I ran the flat iron through it. This was YEARS before the natural hair movement so, back then, I knew very little about natural hair care. Doing my own hair felt like a bi-weekly nightmare! Today, I have high porosity, 4B/4C hair, but I wouldn’t learn that until much later.
My sister and I wore braids for the majority of our childhood - partly because we liked them and partly because they kept our hair manageable during the summer months. During the school year, we wore small twists with barrettes on the ends or had it pressed, but that would all change once we left middle school. High school was the first time we participated in extracurricular activities - I took up dance, tennis, and theatre, and my sister ran track & field. Because we were much more active, our press & curls would sweat out faster, and there was less and less time to take care of it ourselves.
Finally, in the 11th grade, I decided I’d had enough and wanted to get a relaxer instead. My granny had been a professional hairstylist in the past, so I asked for her help. Much to my mother’s dismay, she agreed to give my sister and I both the perm treatment. As I sat in the chair and waited for the first touch of “the creamy crack” to glaze my tresses, I wasn’t worried about the damage I was doing to my hair, the pain, or my mother’s many warnings. All I could think about was how much easier it would be to comb my hair afterwards. Sounds kind of crazy, right? My granny did an amazing job of course, and I remember smiling brightly as I looked in the mirror. My hair was glossy and shiny and swayed freely when I shook my head, even more so than when it was pressed! I absolutely loved it, and the best part: all I had to do to maintain it was keep it oiled and wrap it up before bed every night...or so I thought.
It sounded easy enough at first, but what quickly became clear was my lack of discipline when it came to my hair. I hadn’t changed my routine all that much, and I still had the same few hours to work with after school and practice. I needed to do more, but I just didn’t have the time or the patience for it. I didn’t really notice at first, but the more my hair was permed the shorter it got. What was once beautifully full, armpit length locks slowly became weak, fragile, and ear length. By the time it was too short to hide any longer, I was in a state of denial.
“My hair looks fine, I’m just not doing enough to care for it”, I’d tell myself when, truthfully, it just wasn’t for me.
I needed to stop and really look at it for what it was: damaged.
It would take losing almost all my hair and my hairline receding for me to accept that I needed to stop getting relaxers. I saw a picture that my mom, my sister, and I took together during my first year of college that made me gasp. After that, we decided to transition completely.
We started small, buying transition kits from brands like Carol’s Daughter or using whatever mom had in the house. Every three months or so, we trimmed off a few inches and then hid the rest under box braids or twists in between times. As time went along, the kits became less effective so I stopped using them but soon even my mother’s products didn’t work. By chance, I joined a student group for naturalistas one day called Curlfriends and it was there that I learned why.
When you’re shopping for hair products, it’s not enough to buy the most popular brand or the first thing you see. You have to know your hair type and porosity. Transitioning back to natural meant my hair was changing, so my wash day routine needed to change with it! The members were super helpful, explaining what type and porosity meant, how to determine my own, and which brands sold what would work best for me. I also learned that it’s common for porosity to change over time and that it was possible for one head of hair to have several hair types at the same time. After taking the float test as suggested, I discovered I had low porosity hair and that I had about 3 different curl patterns. I was surprised, but super happy to know where to start.
My natural hair journey took a long time, but after about seven years of experimenting and embracing my natural-ness, I think I’ve finally found the right shampoos, conditioners, oils and more for my hair! I don’t use heat much and my hair is growing, though very slowly. I’m even thinking of getting a precision cut so that it can grow more evenly! I still wear wigs and braids, but not to hide my hair like before. I protect it at night with a satin scarf much more often and use satin pillowcases. I know my hair will change again someday (we’ve got a bag of old products in the basement to prove it lol), but I’m not in denial about it anymore. I’m not ashamed of its length or trying to prove it to anyone. When it does change, I’ll be ready and willing to go with the flow. Still working on that patience, though.