I have crazy, insane, thick hair – the kind of hair that coils and kinks into tight curls and fights fine-toothed combs with a vengeance. Every day when I was a young girl, I’d spend a tearful half hour as my mother wrestled with my hair, trying to tame it into neat braids.
“I wish you had hair like your sister’s,” she would say as she wistfully looked at my sister’s loose ringlets. “She got the good hair. You didn’t.”
Finally, when I was about 11 years old, my mother couldn’t take it anymore. She took me to her stylist, who proceeded to straighten my hair with harsh chemical relaxers that caused my scalp to blister. We did this every three months or so – me blinking back tears at the pain, but thrilled at my long, straight hair a few hours later. “Beauty hurts” was the lesson I learned.
I did this until I was 40 years old.
I don’t remember the exact reasons why I decide to go completely natural. Part of it was the thought of how many thousands of dollars I’d paid over the course of my life just for the sake of straight hair, with only a few short breaks here and there when I cut my hair off completely to a half-inch Afro. I was also a bit horrified that I’d consistently added chemicals to my hair for so long. I also realized that I hadn’t seen my hair’s natural texture in almost 30 years and had no idea what it looked like. It was time for a change.
And so I decided to grow my hair out, though I was nervous the entire time given the fact that, according to my mom, I didn’t have “good hair.” I was shocked to discover, however, that I actually loved my hair – the tiny coils were what I’d wished I’d had all along!
I’m 45 now, and I’ve never returned to the chemicals – although I have occasionally cut my hair into that half-inch Afro since I have a lot of hair, and Texas summers are hot! It also took a considerable amount of time to learn how to do my hair. I had to choose which products to use and which combs to try, and I learned that moisturizing was the key to curl definition. But now I can unequivocally say that I really enjoy my hair, kinky coils and all.
If you’re contemplating going completely natural yourself, here are four lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Find a Stylist Who Knows How to Style Natural Hair
The sad truth is that not every stylist knows how to cut and style natural hair. And since natural hair comes in all sorts of textures and curl patterns, finding a pro is invaluable not just for styles, but for hair product recommendations, too.
2. Use Products Formulated Especially for Natural Hair
The Pantene Gold Series is a complete collection of hair products made exclusively for African American hair. Because our hair is more susceptible to damage, make sure to wash it with Gold Series Moisture Boost Shampoo and Conditioner to hydrate rough cuticles and soften hair while gently cleansing it. Once you’re out of the shower, use Gold Series Hydrating Butter Crème to add moisture and shine. Just put a dime-sized amount of the crème in your palm and rub your hands together to emulsify, and then pull it through your curls.
3. The Fastest Way to Go Natural is to Do the Big Chop
That is, cut off all the permed or chemically treated hair to reveal the natural hair underneath. When I did my Big Chop, I went for the Teeny-Weeny Afro (the “TWA,” in natural hair terms), a style I’d worn in the past and honestly quite enjoy. I keep returning to this cut, especially in the summer.
Lopping your hair off can be a scary proposition, but I promise, the trick to wearing a tiny Afro is all about the attitude. Wear it like you know you look awesome, and trust me, you will. And always remember that it’s just hair. It will grow back.
4. Find Some Online Resources for Natural Hair
Going natural is a huge undertaking, and there’s so much to learn. Should you lock your hair? Braid it? How do you take care of your curls? Happily, there are tons of online resources that can help you determine what products or styles would work best for you. My suggestion? Sign up for MBIB to get regular tips tailored to natural hair and black beauty, delivered to your inbox.
When she isn’t sharing tips on StyleUnited on how to add more awesome to your life, you can find Karen on Chookooloonks.com. She’s on a mission to prove to you that your life is filled with different, unique moments of beauty, starting with her book, The Beauty of Different. Her work can be seen on Babble.com, TEDx Houston and USA Today.