HAIR: 5 Tips for New (or Frustrated!) Naturals

I have been natural for almost five years.  In January of 2010 I decided to stop relaxing my hair. The last time I’d seen my natural hair was when I was 12. A full 19 years had passed since my hair had been allowed to just be. I had never considered that I could wear my hair natural.  I always thought it would be too kinky, dry, unruly, unprofessional to wear in public, and never thought I’d be able to swing it at work.  But in 2009, when I relocated to New York, I made two close friends and they both had natural hair that they completely ROCKED! Going natural was a HUGE decision for me. I was one of those women who had a standing appointment with my hairstylist for a relaxer touch-up every six weeks – without fail. But one day, inspired by my natural friends and the other fly naturals I’d encountered in NYC, at my standing appointment, I made the decision to just get a deep conditioning treatment in place of my relaxer.  My stylist was stunned, but she did what I asked.  Seven months later, after struggling with two textures for too long, I went in to the salon for a deep conditioner and chopped my hair off instead.  I’ve been natural ever since.  Looking back on it, I only have one regret: that I didn’t do it sooner.  I LOVE my kinks, curls, and coils (I have about a million textures going on in my hair)!

The natural hair thing is definitely a “journey” and I’ve learned so much along the way.  I have gone from a TWA (teeny-weeny afro) to a huge head of fluffy hair, and people often ask me how I did it.  I have so much to say about this aspect of my life that I could, literally, write a book about it, but – to start – here are a few tips aspiring naturals (or frustrated naturals) might find helpful:

1.    Develop a regimen that works for YOU.

A hair “regimen” is your own personal hair care procedure. The bad news is: when your hair is natural, it requires quite a bit of attention and care.  The good news is: simple is always better than complicated.  When I first went natural, I watched about 200 YouTube videos – tutorials, product reviews, regimen recaps, etc.  I’ll admit that the tutorials were helpful, but in the end, those vids turned me into a product junky.  If I could get back all the money I’ve spent on hair products over the years, I would be a rich woman.  Maybe there are some people who’ve got the discretionary income to drop a couple bills per month on hair products, but I don’t.  And if I’d been paid for all the time I’ve spent on my hair care, I could retire about 30 years early.  There could be some folks who have nothing better to do than sit around and play in their hair, but I do.  So, after A LOT of trial and error, I found a regimen that works for me.  It’s quick, and the products are simple and – best of all – cheap!  You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on your hair for it to look good. Following someone else’s regimen won’t necessarily solve your problems. You’ve just got to figure out your priorities, budget, and hair type and work around it until you find the thing that works for you.

2.    Be gentle.

On the natural hair journey, it’s important to be gentle to both your HAIR and YOURSELF.  If you want healthy hair, you should treat your hair as carefully as you’d treat your favorite silk blouse or most expensive cashmere sweater. Hair is a delicate fiber. If you don’t care for it properly, hair is prone to break, snag, etc., and you’ll have to be extremely careful with it if you want a healthy full head of hair. My advice is to be gentle with it.  Never brush or comb your hair when it’s completely dry. Cover it with something silky or satiny when you sleep.  Protect it when it’s cold outside. These are just a few things to consider when it comes to being gentle with your hair.  If you simply keep your hair protected, you’d be stunned at how much length you will retain and how quickly it will grow.  But the most important thing to remember on this journey is to be gentle with YOURSELF.  Patience is indeed, a virtue.  Your hair WILL grow, but don’t compare your growth to others.  Don’t get frustrated with yourself or your hair.  Your hair is an extension of yourself.  Embrace your hair and, in turn, embrace who YOU are.

3.    Remember that curls don’t come in a jar or bottle.

Once I finally nailed the regimen that works for me, I was stunned by the attention my hair got.  A day didn’t pass without me receiving a compliment from someone about my hair.  When my hair was relaxed and freshly done, I often received compliments on it.  It was so thick, people thought it was a wig!  But those compliments did not compare to what I heard from people about my natural hair.  Once, a woman on the subway turns to me  “I want my hair to look just like THAT,” she says while pointing at my wash and go.  “What did you do to get your hair that way?” she asked me.  I started to explain and she says, “Wait!” and pulls out a notebook.  She wrote down every word I said.  She wanted to know products and techniques.  I started off with this disclaimer: “I will tell you what I did, but I can’t promise your hair will look like this if you do it.”  My wash and go is mostly the result of my natural curls.  The products I use only enhance the curls and coils that I already have.  If you don’t have the same curls and coils, the products I used on my hair will not help you to get them. It took me awhile to understand this, but curls and coils don’t come in a bottle or a jar.  I mentioned before that I watched a TON of YouTube videos when I first went natural.  The reason I became a product junky is because every time I saw a video that made me envious of someone else’s hair texture, I went out and bought those products hoping my hair would turn out similarly.  But it didn’t.  My hair can only do what it was made to do and no potion in a bottle is going to change that.  The sooner you learn your hair’s texture and learn to love it instead of fighting against it, you’ll become a lot less frustrated with your natural hair.

4.    Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!

The key to healthy and beautiful natural hair is moisture.  When my hair was relaxed, I was terrified of water because I didn’t want my hair to revert.  What I’ve discovered since going natural is that my hair absolutely LOVES water.  I mean, it gets happy when the first drop hits it. So what do I do?  I use water-based products every day.  I also mist my hair everyday with a water/coconut oil spritz that I make myself.  My hair soaks it up!  Maybe your hair doesn’t need or want water everyday, but I would strongly suggest at least applying a water-based product to your hair at least a few times per week to quench those thirsty curls.  The more moisturized your hair is, the less likely it is to tangle and break, resulting in optimal length retention.  Moisture also makes your hair look healthier and feel healthier.  Bottom line, dry natural hair is simply no bueno.

5.    Werk it… with confidence!

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, figuring out your natural hair takes a lot of trial and error.  You will try things and they won’t work.  You will try some other things and they’ll be a success.  I promise you will have some bad hair days along the way.  But be gentle with yourself when this happens.  The wonderful thing about natural hair is that it’s a lot easier to play off a bad hair day.  Many times the public will be totally in the dark about your hair “fails”.  Your hair might not turn out the way you pictured it, but nobody else knows that… so just go with it!  You can try wraps, hair jewels, hats, headbands, scarves, chandelier earrings, makeup, etc., and they can all add that extra flair to your hair.  But the most important accessory of all is confidence!  No matter what your hair looks like on any given day, remember you are beautiful… and you better WERK!

Why do we hate Black hair?

I read a post on Feministing.com today that made my blood boil.  The post, entitled “Hating black hair starts young, just ask Blue Ivy Carter”, gave voice to everything I’d been thinking about the people who’ve taken to the internet rah-rah’ing about a baby’s kinky, curly, fuzzy hair, taking shots at both the parents AND THE BABY.  Huh?!  So, enraged, I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page with the following commentary:

THIS. It infuriates me that people hate to see hair in its natural state — unstyled, unaltered. Black people especially hate to be reminded of how most of our hair REALLY looks, so we pull, prod and burn our own hair into submission and/or wear the hair of someone else. (Sounds kinda crazy when I put it that way, huh?) And I am so disgusted by people who think it’s okay to take shots at a BABY and/or her parents for not “doing” her hair. She’s a BABY, and this is what her hair looks like. It’s like y’all expected the child to be birthed out of Beyoncé with a full virgin Malaysian weave that matches her mama’s. Ridiculous. The politics of black hair. *smh*

Naturally, because I’m friends with a great group of opinionated black women both on Facebook and in real life, this post created quite a stir.  The back and forth comments evolved into a discussion about whether natural hair should be “kept”.  And what I had to say in response to that is that I don’t believe that hair — any kind of hair — needs to be “kept” anything but clean.  Had you asked me this years ago, before I went natural myself, I probably would’ve had a different opinion.  But, today, after fielding many off-the-wall, inappropriate, GTFOH comments about my hair, I truly stand behind my belief that hair is a personal choice and people should be able to wear their hair the way they want to wear it without being ridiculed for it.

But what really burns me up is that people act like Blue Ivy was going to miraculously be born with some silky straight hair flowing down her back like Beyonce.  Well, newsflash, folks… that ain’t Beyonce’s hair!  I mean, it’s hers in the sense that it’s in her possession AND she paid for it (and probably paid a pretty penny at that!), but it did not sprout from her head in that texture, in that particular shade of honey blonde, and did not grow from her scalp to that length.

This GIF accompanied the Feministing post:

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(Blue Ivy is so adorable that I don’t even notice her hair here.)

And, then, let’s look at another photo of Bey and BIC that I adore:

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So, while we sit here and debate the merits of keeping a child’s hair “done”, nobody is going to mention that mommy is wearing two pounds and twenty feet of someone else’s hair?  Why is that not an issue?  While folks are busy criticizing Bey for sending Blue out with her hair “undone”, why aren’t they also taking shots at Bey for her own hair shenanigans?  I’ll tell you why: because in our society “kept” hair means “tamed” hair.  But Black hair grows up and out, it’s wild and free, it’s difficulty to contain, and that’s deemed “messy” or “unpresentable”.

I have more questions.  Just who decides what “presentable”, “kept”, or “done” means anyway?  And what subliminal messages are we sending to ourselves and to our children when we say that the way that Black hair grows naturally out of Black heads is “unpresentable”?  I know PLENTY of white women who roll out of bed without putting comb or brush to hair, and they are considered to be not only “presentable”, but beautiful in their most natural and “undone” states (so beautiful, in fact, that “tousled curls” and “bed head” are actually desired “looks” in the white world of hairstyling).  Why can’t we be granted the same pass?  Why does unshaped, unstyled, unaltered, natural black hair evoke cries of “unkempt”, “unkept”, and “uncouth”?  It makes me so sad to see that we hate our hair in its natural state to the degree that we’re driven to think it’s acceptable and appropriate to talk trash about a innocent precious baby.  It makes me uncomfortable that we are so disgusted by our own God-given characteristics that we would vilify loving parents who choose to let their baby’s hair go free rather than conform to society’s standard of “tame” or “kept”.  It hurts me that all signs everywhere always point to the fact that who we are is not good enough to be accepted by the mainstream.

On a lighter note, the most hilarious insinuation is that Blue’s “undone” hair is a sign that Jay and Bey are in some way neglecting her.  Blue Ivy’s hair looks “that way” because that’s how they want it to look.  Don’t believe for one second that her look is an afterthought.   Believe me when I say that The Carters could hire someone to comb and moisturize each individual strand of hair on Blue’s head if that were a priority to them.  But clearly Blue’s fabulous ‘fro is not something that concerns them, and the way she looks when they take her out to meet the paps is presentable TO THEM, so it should concern us.  And, really, until Blue is old enough to voice her own opinions about how she looks, her parents’ opinions are the only ones that really matter.

Look, I’m thrilled that more black women are embracing their natural hair — that’s a beautiful thing to see.  But, what I’d love more than anything would be for us to get to a point where natural hair is not a “thing” to be discussed or embraced.  I eagerly await the day that “natural hair” — Black hair — will just be hair… because that is all it is.

Remove the kinks from your mind and not your hair.” – Marcus Garvey