I had a LOT of hair growing up. Between my mom and my sister, my hair was styled pretty well, but sometime around junior high, I first discovered relaxers, perms — the creamy crack. Call it naivety, but since everyone was rocking a perm, I wasn't concerned about any damage. I pretty much kept the “straight is the only way” mentality through high school, and the straighter it was, the better.
Fast forward past high school and into college in the year 2001. I was now exclusively caring for my hair (cue the slow, menacing music indicative of an impending catastrophe). Okay, well maybe not quite THAT dramatic, but I was still relaxing my hair, using heat almost daily, and experimenting with a rinse here and there.
By the time 2004 rolled around my hair was pretty blah — no life, no body, no shine. It was just there. That summer, I thought more and more about cutting my hair and just starting over. I have always admired curly hair, but having a relaxer meant no curls for me. I was completely bummed, but motivated at the same time to take my hair into my own hands.
Going for The Big Chop
July 30th, 2004 was the day I made the decision to make my hair do what I wanted. Even though I was nervous, I knew I was doing something good. I went to a local beauty school and had a male student cut my hair for $7. I got the attention of everybody in the beauty school because I was a young African American female cutting off her shoulder length, damaged hair for a close cropped, boyish hair style.
After, I went to the East End Barber Shop where my grandfather (my Paw-Paw) was the only barber I trusted to finish the cut. He made my haircut special. After he cleaned me up, I went to see my grandmother for the official stamp of approval, and after that, it was all good!
The next weekend I headed out of town, excited to show off my new hairdo. I went from having the best time ever, enjoying my new cut, to being involved in a terrible car accident. I was spared my life, and walked away with only a knot on my head and a small cut on my hand.
It took a few months for it to finally hit me that everything happens for a reason. It was not a coincidence that I got in the accident at the point in time that I did. I think cutting my hair was a step in the right direction for me to appreciate what I had, but it wasn't enough. The accident taught me to slow down and be thankful for the life and family I had.
Taking a Step Back
I rocked my short style for the next year and a half, and when I made my annual trek to Atlanta in January 2006, I decided I was ready for a straight style (cue the catastrophe music again). My hair looked good straight, but I didn't realize I was going to pay dearly for that style.
Heat damage is serious, and it happened to me the FIRST time I straightened my hair. I was depressed and in denial for a long time, but I eventually bit the bullet and cut my hair for the second time six months later. This wasn't as dramatic for me, but I was sad knowing that I had done that to my hair.
After enjoying my short hair again, I transitioned through most of the “awkward” phase with braids. Occasionally, I wore my hair in its curly state, but for the most part, I masked my natural.
Coming to Terms
August 2009 was when I became conscious of what my hair was really capable of. Although I had been natural now for five years, I still had NO IDEA what I was doing. I had no guidance.
It was then that I found "Curly Girl," NaturallyCurly, CurlyNikki, Nappturality, and YouTube. I was hooked! I had no idea that I could do such things with my hair, and I was really disturbed by some of my hair practices I decided from that point on I was going to take better care of my hair, stop abusing heat, and use more products that were made with natural hair in mind. I finally felt like I was on the right path, and my hair was so thankful!
Tips for New Naturals
- Natural hair is fragile! I always assumed my natural hair was stronger because I didn’t have a chemical relaxer, but that’s quite far from accurate. Natural hair is actually prone to more tangles, knots and breakage. Handle your hair carefully by incorporating low manipulation styles like twists or braid outs, use a wide tooth comb and a conditioner with good slip when detangling, and fight the “hand in hair” urge as best as you can. I know its fun, but too much tension and/or over styling can lead to unnecessary breakage.
- Moisture, moisture, moisture! This is KEY to preventing breakage and aids in length retention. Water is the ultimate moisturizer, so don’t be afraid of it. The process of “sealing” the moisture in your hair includes using a good water based product, followed by an oil-based product, and finally a cream-based product. These steps will help prevent moisture from evaporating and ensure your hair stays shiny, smooth and moisturized.
- Do your research. You must do your due diligence when it comes to being a natural. It took me 5 years to become a “healthy” natural. There are so many outlets now where you can gather better information on styles, products and techniques for maintaining your natural hair.
- Don't be discouraged! Going natural is much more than not having a chemical relaxer; it’s about the journey and learning about yourself and your hair. Be patient with yourself and keep reasonable expectations. Your hair may not look like Curly Nikki’s today, but that’s okay! If a style or product doesn’t work for you, there are a million others out there for you to try. The sheer versatility of natural hair is endless, so rock your own style and embrace YOUR natural no matter what!
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My favorite saying when it comes to natural hair is, "If you knew better, you’d do better," and I try to live that. I know how to manage my hair, I know what my hair likes, I also know what leads to damage and I try my best to avoid it. I now have the hair that I use to covet and it's a wonderful feeling. I am quick to share the information I've learned along this fantastic voyage, but I also implore others to do a little self-exploration. It's all in the journey and through the fun, and the disastrous, I can truly say I love This Hair of Mine.