Tiny disclaimer: Everyone has natural hair if you have not chemically altered the texture of your hair but for the purpose of this article, I’m focusing on being part of the Natural Hair Movement which was created mainly for Black people but includes other POC because we have been historically (and currently) discriminated against due to our natural hair textures and forced to assimilate to a more Eurocentric beauty standard.
Legend has it, I was born with so much hair that the doctors had to cut it in order to see my face. I was born back in 1995 to two loving Black parents. When I was growing up little girls still wore puffs, beads, and barrettes but it was the 90s so a lot of us also wore braids. Some of the braided styles used our own hair and some used synthetic extensions but the styles were still child-friendly.
When I was around 6 or 7 my mom found out she had leukemia and she became very ill and was hospitalized. During her hospital stay, my dad had to do my hair and let’s just say things didn’t go so well. He was trying his best, but every morning we’d have to wake up early to press (thermally straighten with a pressing comb, very similar to flat ironing) my hair in order to get it into the styles that he was used to seeing. After a few months both him and I were tired of him accidentally burning me and yanking my hair out. So, after talking it over with my mom and cousin, he decided it was time to relax (chemically straighten) my hair to make things easier on all of us.
Because I was so young when all of this happened and we didn’t take a lot of photos back then, I started to forget what my natural hair texture looked like. And as time went on, I never thought too hard about the whole thing either, but that’s a discussion for a different post. By the time I was in middle school relaxing my hair was normal and it was a normal process for all the Black girls and parents around me. In fact, it was very rare to see someone with free-flowing natural hair. I was used to seeing people with dreads/dreadlocks/locs and even older people with the “scholarly” short, grey/salt and pepper ‘Fro but I didn’t see many people with Natural hair the way I see them today.
From the time my hair was relaxed, all the way up to high school, I didn’t have any major problems with my hair. It was thick (for relaxed hair) and it was a decent length. The only thing that upset me was that it wouldn’t grow past my shoulders. I was the girl who always had her hair braided; that’s probably why I never experienced any real hair problems with relaxing my hair. But while my hair was braided, my hair would grow about 2 inches but I would never retain that length when we relaxed my hair again.
Fast forward a bit; the year is 2013 and I just graduated from high school. During that summer, my parents and I were getting me ready to move onto campus and everything was going fantastic until my mom asked me what I’m was going to do with my hair. What she really meant by that was, “Who is going to relax your hair?” I had never relaxed my own hair; my mom usually did it and on a rare occasion my Aunt Nykyta would pay for me to spend the day at a beauty salon she favored. Something as simple as styling my hair sent us into a tiny panic although it seemed minor, it really wasn’t. It was more than a beauty/cosmetic problem, it was a cultural problem. We were already aware that Webster Groves was a really White county (I ended up finding out it was close to 98% White during a school project) and we knew there would be no shops, stores, or salons that catered to Black beauty needs and it would probably be hard to find a Black student I trusted enough to relax my hair. In retrospect, I now know that wouldn’t have worked either because during my freshman year I had classes in which I was the only person of color in the room. Let that sink in a bit.
So I spent my summer before college trying to figure out a way to solve my problem. I ended up joining Tumblr that summer as well and I can honestly say it changed my life. When I got on there, I kept seeing beautiful Black women with really long hair. Some of it was straight and some of it was puffy Afros. At first, I thought they were wigs until I started clicking on the tags and following links. That’s how I discovered the Natural Hair Movement. I was intrigued by it and I’ll be honest with myself and you all, I really wanted to know more about it because I kept seeing all of these Black women with beautiful, healthy, LONG hair. I discovered Curly Nikki and then I took my search to Youtube and that’s what solidified it for me. I knew I was going to go Natural. That was it. I was done. My radical college change had already started. It wasn’t a radical body change, religious awakening or debunking, or personality swap. For me, the biggest change I underwent was my hair and that did influence my overall personality, but that is a discussion for a different post.
I told my mom and dad what I wanted to do and they were sort of on board. Remember, this was 2013, and although the Natural Hair Movement started gaining steam in 2009 a) I was in the Midwest and b) it hadn’t hit its saturation point yet so at the time we still had people who were very unaware of it. There were no commercials with Black families rocking Natural hair, there weren’t as many Natural hair products available as there is now, and there were no discussions on who was part of the movement and who was being excluded. This was 2013, there were things available to us, but we were all still fumbling around.
I went to college rocking some very large and heavy box braids with the intent to grow my hair out and cut the relaxed ends, little by little, over the course of a year. During the first seven months of school, I struggled to maintain both textures of my hair. I wore my hair in semi-curly styles using Flexi rods and braid outs. My hair looked a hot mess but at least I was happy. My mom faked the happiness but my dad flat out told me the truth but at the time I couldn’t see the truth because of the way he’d stated it. During my trips back home, I had to flat iron my hair straight in order to avoid conversations I didn’t want to have, and even straightening my hair looked bad because my roots would puff up so quickly and I wasn’t used to styling my own hair. But at least it was growing, that’s all that mattered to me.
Eventually, though, my mom grew fed-up with it and decided to “help” me out. She offered to trim my ends to even it out because I’d started experiencing split ends due to the constant flat-ironing and the two textures. Instead of just trimming my ends or evening out my hair, my mom gave me a big chop. She cut off my relaxed ends and left me with about 4 inches of Afro-textured hair so it looked like it was about 2 inches of hair. I cried like a baby. But this was a teachable moment because since she cut my hair back in 2014, no one else has cut my hair. I learned how to cut my own hair because of that incident. But anyway, back to the story. After she cut it she braided my hair up into a bun with some braiding hair and the next weekend, I used my paycheck to get my hair professionally braided. I was natural.
After about two and a half months, I took my braids down and my hair had grown out a bit. I started styling it but found that I had a different hair texture than what I thought I did. At first, I was disappointed but within a month or two, I was fine, and a few months later, I loved my hair. For my dad’s funeral, I straightened my hair but halfway through the process, I stopped because something didn’t feel right. I washed my hair and thought everything was fine. I even styled it in a curly style and thought it looked fine. But as my hair started to grow more, I realized I had heat damage right around my right temple. It wasn’t extreme but it was noticeable when my hair was down so I started styling my hair in more pinned up styles.
During these months, I also discovered that I’m protein sensitive. That means I can’t use products that are high in protein because it makes my hair dry like straw and my hair starts to break off. Discovering this made me simplify my hair routine. Instead of using products that said things like “made with olive oil” or “made with shea butter” I just started using the actual thing that enticed me to buy it in the first place. For example, I now use olive oil in my hair care routine. It caused me to stop buying so many products and it made the whole process cheaper. In fact, on a standard wash day, I now only use about 4 hair products. 5 if you count water as a product.
Over the course of my sophomore year, I was slowly cutting my hair to cut out the damaged parts. During the winter is when I stopped cutting and my hair finally started to visibly grow. In some of my photos it almost looks like I’m a chia pet because the growth seemed so sudden but in reality, I just stopped cutting my hair. This is really when my healthy hair journey started and I started to see growth, both in myself and in my hair. Over the years, I’ve done blowouts to show progress and I’ve learned how to style my hair a lot of different ways but I haven’t tried straightening it since the heat damage incident. And I haven’t tried to dye it either, out of fear of damaging it. I’m hoping that 2018 will be the year that I become fearless.
My Natural Hair Timeline
- I transitioned from August 2013–March 2014
- Big chopped March 2014
- Heat damage by June of 2014
- My second transition starts June 2014–January 2015
- Healthy Hair January 2015–Now
- I’ve been Natural for 3 years and 9 months and I’m about 4 inches away from meeting my goal of waist-length hair.
What is your Natural hair story?