Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Natural Hair Journey (so far)

As promised, here is the blog post about my natural hair journey. This may be a bit lengthy, but please bear with me.

I was "tenderheaded"
Like other black girls born in the late-80's, I had my natural hair when I was young (birth - age 6 or so). By the time I hit elementary school, my parents added two new siblings to the family (Andrea and Andrew), and my mom was tasked with hair care for my sister and I. Andrea and I didn't make it easy for her, either. (Haha!) I never liked getting my hair done. I was one of those "tenderheaded" children who cried every time I saw the comb or brush come out.
Me and my afro puffs, age 2

I used to have the cutest hairstyles as a kid...little Afro puffs, twists, braids with beads at the end, etc. But things changed in elementary school. That's when I got my first relaxer. My shiny, straight hair flowed down past my shoulders, and I couldn't have been happier. I finally had straight hair like my mom and my friends at school.
Early on, my hair really held up with the relaxers. I didn't have any split ends or heat damage, whatsoever. Most of the credit goes to my mom, though for taking care of my hair. Also, like many other girls my age, I spent a lot of time at the hair salons on the weekend getting my hair styled. Once I started caring for my own hair during high school (ie: washing, blow drying, styling), I started to experience breakage. I wore ponytails all the time and the elastic scrunchies tore my hair to pieces. The fact that I was on a competitive swim team during the summer and winter didn't help, either.

In my senior year of high school (2007), I decided that I was tired of my broken, damaged tresses, so I made an appointment with my hairdresser for my "Big Chop" (BC). I had more than 6 inches of my hair cut off. The results were amazing! I was so relieved to be rid of my relaxer that took so much effort to maintain. My hair was fully "natural" again. I was free! But I was wrong. Actually, that's when the problems began.

My Big Chop!

All done--voila!

After the big chop, I thought I could use the same hair products that I had previously used on my relaxed hair. I continued to use high heat when blow drying my hair and (since I could no longer do a ponytail), I styled with a flat iron. My hair was growing rapidly, but it was always dry and looked dull. When I got to college--only a year after my BC--I relaxed my hair again. I never took the time to learn how my hair behaved, how it grew, and what it needed. 
Relaxed hair, summer 2008.
Shortly after relaxing, I felt like such a failure. I had given up on being natural. It was too hard for me. To make matters worse, the straight styles of yore didn't look quite as good on me. I also cut myself some bangs, which didn't quite turn out as I intended. They were WAY too short! But, just like hair continued to grow. A few years later, it had grown back to shoulder length. Still, I couldn't seem to make it grow past my shoulders.

Frustrated with the lack of hair growth and constant hair breakage, I decided to embark on another natural hair journey in November of 2012, which was a year into my Master's program. This time, I cut it all off, down to about 1" of hair. This time, I was determined to go natural, and stay natural. I bought new hair care products, including deep conditioners, sulfate-free shampoos, and an Afro pick. I also did lots of research about caring for natural hair online, including websites like Curly Nikki and YouTube. There are so many more resources out there now than there were 5 years prior, when I first went natural.

I've been natural for 18 months now, and I feel great! Since my BC, I have learned how to style my hair several ways, including: two strand twists, flat twists and (my favorite) the Afro. In the first few months after my BC, my styling options were very limited. I mostly just wore my hair in a Teeny-Weeny-Afro (TWA). Around the 6-month mark, I got my hair professionally braided into extensions as a protective style. That lasted for a few months. More recently, I've been wearing twist-outs, which add lots of volume and show my hair's length. And, even though my hair may not be shoulder length, I know that it is much healthier and stronger than it was when I had relaxers. This journey has been tough so far, but very rewarding. I am so proud to be a member of the natural hair community and I look forward to the years ahead of happy, healthy hair growth.

Are you considering "going natural"? Or, if you're already natural, what has your journey been like so far?

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