My Transition to Natural Hair



"Going natural" is really about going back to your roots (heehee). In all seriousness, today a black girl's transition from chemically straightened to natural hair can be controversial, scary - and even political. My own journey has been interesting to say the least...

I'll start with my brief hair-story... Before and during adolescence, my hair reflected my state of mind. Like everyone, I was trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in - always perplexed that I was unable to do so. Around 11 years old when I was starting high school, my sister and I begged my mum if we could relax (straighten) our curly hair like all the popular girls, and reluctantly she let us. I still remember going through this strange, smelly, kinda burning chemical process, and for some reason feeling one step closer to "normal" when it was done. I would have endured whatever I needed to if I thought it would mean acceptance!

After high school (countless relaxers later), when that insecurity complex began to fade (thank God), I had a chance to consider for the first time what I really wanted to do with my hair, and how I wanted to present myself in general. My point of reference was no longer from the outside in, but from within - and I let how I felt dictate my style instead. It took a lot of experimenting, that's for sure!


My longest style
Slanted cut



Short all around and a slight tint of brown
My favourite long fringed bob (warning: high maintenance)



I had lots of fun trying out different styles, some of which I loved more than others - but I didn't regret a single one! Reactions were varied, but didn't matter so much to me. When I was getting the back shaved for my bob cut, I got the attention of the whole salon... great, right? Well, not if the main reaction was horror! Black women as a community fight for lengthy hair - the perception is the longer the better. I think my relaxed hair looked better in a trimmed style than long and shapeless. A fellow client at this particular hair salon had a different opinion and boldly stated that cutting her hair was like losing a limb! 

I came to a point where I felt like I had tried every haircut and style that would suit me, and hadn't found one I could settle into. Then it dawned on me that the one thing I hadn't considered was going natural. 

For those new to the concept, when a black girl has straightened hair, her natural afro hair is growing all the time, but it is referred to by a term that is often spoken of with considerable annoyance - "growth". This "growth" is solved by a revisit to the salon to coat the roots with relaxer so that it conforms with the rest of the straightened tresses. Then, she can indeed truly relax... at least until the "growth" appears again. 

Other than some unspoken "common knowledge" that it's just something that you don't intentionally do, I couldn't think of a reason not to go natural.
I had already taken a scissors to my hair several times, which was the most feared part. So I did it... and it turned out to be more controversial than any other makeover I had done. I realised that something is not quite right if the most dramatic thing I can do to my hair is leave it exactly how it comes out of my head.

Début of the Teeny Weeny Afro



Here are some of the most absurd questions I've been asked:



"Why did you cut your hair? What happened?

(expecting a story involving some horrific perming accident where I had no choice but to shave it bald)

"Have you just been through a break up or something?"

(because hair is shaved when in mourning)

"Are you against men now?"
(assumption being, natural hair is inherently unattractive)


Yeah, all false. One day, going natural by choice will be as unquestioned as any other change in hairstyle. Personally, I've fully embraced it and I'm quite enjoying relearning a whole new dimension of myself. It's a completely different hair care routine, and I was shocked how little I knew about that part of me that God had lovingly created. Here are some factoids that came as a surprise to me:


1. "You've seen one afro, you've seen them all" - FALSE

I knew that natural hair textures differ between skin tones and ethnicities, but what I found out was that textures can even vary on a single scalp! Mine has slightly looser curls at the back centre near the nape of my neck, and it grows a bit thicker on top than on the sides.



From tiny curls...
...to waves - and everything in between!

 

2. How low can you go - shrinkage power

I have met a few natural-haired girlfriends since my transition, and it seems that I'm on the extreme end when it comes to my hair's ability to hide its length. My strands curl as small as 2mm in diameter, and that makes them extremely compact, causing the resting style to look much shorter than its extended length. Fun fact: my hair hides 15cm of length in a 1cm afro!

More than meets the eye...




3. New Hair, New Lingo

 
Big Chop = When a black girl cuts off all her chemically processed hair, leaving the "growth" behind. This marks the start of the natural transition.

TWA = Teeny Weeny Afro

Fairy Knots = knots that form along individual strands - cutting them off is a regular part of afro maintenance

Bantu Knots = A hairstyle achieved by parting and twisting the hair into several coil shapes



4. Beyond the 'Fro...

I've had to do a lot of natural hair research, usually from the least corporate sources since the weave and relaxer industry is currently far more lucrative. My main sources are blogs by other natural "sistahs" who did their "big chop" long before me. There's a surprising variety of hairstyle options! My only limitation is finding someone skilled enough to do them. Here are some of my favourites:




I love how black women have so many options for our hair, natural or permed, curly or straight, short, long, extensions, braids, cornrows... The main lesson I learnt was that the hairstyle I switch to doesn't matter as much as my reasons for doing it. I just ask myself two questions:

"Am I doing it for me?"

and 

"Is it good for my well being?"

Right now I can answer yes. Off I go, armed with my Afro comb, Sofn'free shampoo, and hair moisturiser!

 
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Have you gone natural or are you considering it? I'd love to hear about your experiences! 


Any questions or comments? Bring them on.


If you liked this post, check out my previous: Ordinary Miracles 

Or jump forward to my next hair related posts: Natural Hair Update and The Products Behind the Styles

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I write Afrocentric fantasy fiction! See my short story Montague's Last, an alternative history about a Chewa slave in an 18th Century French dungeon who uses his last breath to create an invention that will change the world...


Comments

  1. Hello there,

    thank you for the post. Going into high school I relaxed my hair, but it was mainly because my high school only allow 2 hairstyles, either very short (shorter than your teeny weeny afro), or have it relaxed. I ompted for the latter, thought I'd get it out of the way. I'd never been a huge fan of relaxed hair. When I got to university I cut it all. Everyone, especially my mother was pissed, thinking that I've wasted a good set of hair. But it was my choice, my way.
    I began growing an afro, turns out my hair is really wavy, and that just opened up different hairstyles, i even was able to use a hair straightener successfully. I got to a point where I wanted dreadlocks. Because my hair was not the preferred texture, I had to grow it for another 2 years to get it to a length that could 'lock' the dreads. It took them another year to lock, after beginning the dreading process.

    I am happy with my 'hair', because I learnt not to be too attached, so that I am able to try anything, reinvent myself, without ever damaging it or my scalp in the process. And I don't see why it should be referred to as natural, its just hair in the first place

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi!

    Thanks for sharing your story Rirhandzu, and proving that hair texture do indeed vary! It's great that you have tried so many things with it, I can't wait to get experimenting. Good on you for doing what you wanted despite the pressure.

    You have a point about the term we've developed "natural hair". Things have been switched around, where in this generation relaxed hair is more common than "hair". So we always need to use definitions that describe the specific type of hair because there are so many styles, from weaves to braids and beyond. The vocabulary will continue to change as trends change. From what I've seen, there are quite a number of women who are opting to go back to their natural hair. On the other hand, there are also mothers who are relaxing their daughter's hair at earlier and earlier ages. Who knows what will be in fashion 10 years from now...

    I'm curious, do you find challenges in the work place? Many women are reluctant to go natural because of perceptions in the professional world

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Ekari,

    It's Heather Katsonga here. Welcome to natural hair! I have been natural for 18 months and I write about it at nenonatural.com. I have 3 blogs that can lead you to the world of naturals all over the world; getting tips from many sources really helps:

    http://www.nenonatural.com/3/post/2012/11/natural-hair-bloggers-in-the-motherland-africa.html
    http://www.nenonatural.com/3/post/2012/11/most-popular-natural-hair-bloggers-in-the-usa.html
    http://www.nenonatural.com/3/post/2012/11/uk-natural-hair-blogs-a-comprehensive-list.html

    In fact, I found out about your blog from one of the above!!

    Love
    H x

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh hi Heather!

    No WAY! You have to tell me exactly where you found out about my blog! It's so interesting to learn about who's supporting and reading my blog. I'm too chuffed!

    Thanks for your support of course, I don't personally know anyone else more dedicated to natural hair care... keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hehehhe, I follow pretty much every natural hair blooger I can find via my facebook page. My facebook fam page has close to 5,000 (family) members right now and growing by the day. One of the African bloggers posted a link to your blog and I saw it in my newsfeed (I think it was Soul Hair). It's like family up on the fam page, get involved:
    http://www.facebook.com/LongHealthyHair

    ReplyDelete
  6. Your best entry yet. Just encouraged me to keep going on my natural hair journey. Its been two and half years and am loving it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Excellent! Keep it up Mrs Z, don't forget that you're not alone

    :-)

    ReplyDelete

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