Saturday, January 1, 2011

What I've learned in my 3 yrs being natural

My Story:

I stumbled upon the natural hair scene mostly by accident. From 2005-2006 I toyed with the idea of going natural but found little support online or in my community. Slowly I started stretching my relaxers (taking 3-4 months between relaxers) and wearing my hair in what is now are known as transitioning styles like braid/twist outs and tight roller sets. By 2007 I knew I couldn't continue to relax my hair because I was experiencing severe dandruff, my scalp ached and burned all the time, my hair was balding in spots and all the burns on my scalp after a relaxer just made my heart hurt. By 2007 there was much more online support and I became stronger in my resolve to wear my hair natural even if this meant having "nappy" hair as my family warned (this self-hate needs an entire post!). I joined and found the support I needed as I transitioned for 7 months. In early July 2007 I cut my hair from Arm Pit length to Neck length and 2 weeks later cut my hair to about an inch long. Two and a half years later, even after some major setbacks, like the big trim of 2008, I've gone from an inch of natural hair to past Arm Pit Length (APL) and well on my way to my 2011 goal of Bra Strap Length (BSL).

What I've learned:

1.If you can't fully accept whatever hair type grows from your scalp then you are not ready to be natural...or at least not yet.

Deciding to wear my hair natural has been far less about my hair and more about my perspective of my hair. Having had relaxed hair as far as I could remember I didn't know what to expect once I did the Big Chop (BC). I was expecting very tightly coiled hair but got curls, coils and waves with a patch of kink. So I thought, okay curly hair=Tatyana Ali type hair right?? Wrong, although my hair was curly (like 98% of most people of African descent)I had yet to understand that hair density, porosity and curl size all play a part in hair texture. For the first year I struggled trying what seemed like a thousand products seeking this elusive silky Shirley Temple type curl when my hair is puffy, the curl pattern is not very defined and my hair has sheen and will never have shine. Now I accept my hair for what it is and it has flourished since I let it be what it is. Don't worry if you struggle with this notion at first, and even years later because most natural women have, to some degree, struggled with complete hair acceptance. Some women go natural only to relax later and then go natural again with more knowledge, conviction and determination to embrace and love the kinks/curls/coils sprouting from her hair.

Side Note: Even if you plan to straighten your natural hair know this will still be different than managing and styling relaxed hair

2.K.I.S.S Keep It Simple Silly

This principle applies to SO many things in my life but I find I use it more in reference to my hair than anything else. I can not tell you all times I've layered product upon product hoping to achieve some look I probably saw online to only end up with a crunchy, dry hot mess lol. Generally when I keep my products per style under 3, focusing on moisture,I get fluffy, soft, moisturized hair every time. In the beginning it will be necessary to try different things to figure out what works for your hair type but after about the first year being natural you should fall into a "groove" of a few products that just work. The same holds for hair styles and regimen. Most days my hair will be in a bun and if I'm feeling really excited you will find my hair in a twist/braid out. I wash, do deep treatments and trim regularly. I use the same 5 products pretty much weekly and straighten every blue moon. That's it!

3.Hair Growth is almost entirely about those ends

Unless you have a medical condition that would prevent your hair from growing, everyone is pumping out about 1/4 inch to 1/2inch of new growth monthly. I find many African-American women have the misconception that our hair won't grow or that some miracle product is needed to do so. The thing is if your ends are breaking off at the same rate it is growing you will net a whole 0 inches in length. Yes, genetics play a role in hair growth but is far less an indicator of potential hair growth than things you do have control over. To see your hair grow to new lengths you must keep those ends moisturized, do protein treatments as needed to reinforce the hair structure, trim split ends as soon as they appear and by all means keep the ends away from the elements that strip them of moisture or tear them. These elements include extreme cold, extreme heat (especially heat from flat irons/blow dryers/hot combs), combs/barrettes/brushes that tear your hair and in my case my constant needs to touch my hair LOL. As a natural you may also experience knotting of your hair that appears as "Single Strand Knots" or SSK/Fairy Knots/Pixie Knots. In my first year these darn knots caused me to cut almost 3 inches of hair because they are in essence split ends. To prevent these pesky things from popping up I always moisturize, use oil on my ends and stretch my ends with rollers to prevent the hair from balling up on itself and causing knots.

4.Results may vary

Yes, that girl's hair looks awesome after she used X product but this by no means translates into the same results for you. Every natural has probably at least 2 different textures of hair on the same head and considering things again like porosity, density, curl size, products will work differently. This shouldn't stop you from trying different techniques, hair styling tools or products but be sure you are doing it to achieve the best look for your hair and not trying to mimic someone else's curl pattern.

5.Be prepared to commit time and $$...especially at first

If you don't want to or can't find time to thoroughly research natural hair or try different things on your hair then again, being natural may not be for you. The time and money is relative but inevitable. For about the first 1-1/2 years I spent numerous weekends researching natural hair, trying new hair styles and purchasing products that for the most part didn't work for my hair. Luckily now natural hair information is readily available and many products you could only buy online are now in stores and beauty supplies in most cities. For the past year I've had a solid regimen and spend no more than $20 a month on products but the first year I easily spent $50/month including products and styling tools.

6.Be patient

Understand you are learning how to handle your hair ALL over again. Things won't happen over night but the pay off is tremendous. There will be times when you become ridiculously frustrated with your hair but remember it is all part of the process. It takes a certain level of courage to be everything you are in this society so don't be afraid to seek support to keep you encouraged. Understand choosing to wear your hair natural is a choice just like choosing to relax or texturize. If by chance you decide to relax again it is not "giving in" but a choice. We all have to choose the path that works best for us.

There are a TON on online resources for natural hair and I'm lazy now (LOL) so I don't feel like listing 30+ websites, youtube channels and twitter pages I frequent so I've listed a few of my favorites below:

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