“Beauty is not something to be dressed up. The Gods have done that. So keep it simple and let it shine all on its own.” -Eartha Kitt
My hair is an expression of my soul. Elegant, funky, soft-spoken, spontaneous. It should be as versatile and unique as I am. It is also a direct link to my mood and my self-image. If my hair is radiant and healthy, I am in a good mood and everything seems to be going right. If my hair is thin and lame, I don’t feel attractive or good about myself.
For seven years I permed my hair. I did not hate my natural curls, I just felt it would be easier to handle if it was straight. As I progressed through middle school and high school, my hair went from thick and luscious to limp and stiff. I did not live in a “diverse” community, so I could only get a professional touch up done when my family and I went out of town. Twice it had to be cut short due to over-processed issues. Inevitably, my hair was usually in a bun or up in a clip. It looked neat, but never exactly what I wanted. I had contemplated going natural during my junior and senior year of high school, but usually put it off. It just did not seem realistic.
During my first year in college I was blessed to meet a hair goddess. My permed hair had never looked so long, so thick, so beautiful. It grew from above my shoulders to beyond my shoulders in one year! Her salon was so beautiful and calm…and so close to campus. It was always a treat to get my hair and eyebrows done there. Of course, my thoughts of going natural went out the window.
During my second year of college, I transferred to a different university in the north (my first college was in the south). It was very difficult to replace my hair goddess. After being ripped-off several times with unsatisfactory results, I resorted to braids. In March of 2010 I took the braids out and had a touch up done. After returning to school from spring break, I began doing research on going natural. There are so many blogs and resources online! In May of 2010 I decided to start my natural journey. My mother had a lot of books about transitioning, caring for natural hair, etc. (she is an avid reader) and I absorbed all of them. I started my own Hair calendar to track my progress and began collecting images of hair styles with braids, cornrows, twists, afros….such beauty. March 2010 was my last perm. I am currently still transitioning with braids and have yet to do the big chop. My hair has been growing quite well and I think I will be ready to cut off my permed ends this spring (2011). This has been a very exciting journey. Of course, technically, it has barely begun. For I still need to discover, experiment, and master the different ways to care for my hair, style my hair, and love MY hair.
Chapter Two – The Big Chop
Two weeks before spring break, it was finally time to take out my last individual-braid-style. It took me about a week to unravel everything…doing about three or four rows every night. Took me about an hour to wash it…I forgot how thick and abundant my hair was. Looking at my hair in the mirror, I could not help but jump for joy. One year of patience, anxiety, doubt, and support seemed to finally bring results.
On Wednesday, March 16, 2011, I went to Zayd’s Naturally Natural Hair Studio. (which I must dedicate a post to because they are fabulous) Sitting on a light orange couch surrounded by snapshots of natural styles ranging from dread locks, cornrows, twists, and afro, it finally sunk in that I was about to do the big chop. Anthony Hamilton was singing in the background, one sista was getting her locks colored, another sista was getting her fro trimmed and shaped. The studio was spacious with a calm and creative atmosphere. There were large sketch portraits of women with afros and dreadlocks. The walls were painted light brown with details of bamboo and vines – a relaxing, earthy feeling.
The owner/stylist – Shawna Farooq-Judson – approached me and asked me if I was ready. Excited and nervous, I said “yes.” She washed and conditioned my hair quickly, then patted it dry with a towel. Then she sat me in the salon chair and started rummaging in a drawer. Then she took out…the scissors. In the mirror I could see my curls resembling a big sponge and my permed ends limping like worms. As my excitement overcame my nerves, she finished cutting and announced “your natural.” I was beaming from ear to ear. To add some natural pizzaz to my new afro, the braid stylist – Wendy Mthembu – created a cornrow design on the right side of my head. We did five cornrows – three zig-zag and two straight. My big chop episode was completed. It was a very calm and happy experience.
Investing so much time and effort for a future result that is somewhat unknown, one feels victorious when you like what you see at the other end. In the midst of my self-evolution, this accomplishment is one of the biggest feats I have ever undertaken…which opens the door for even greater things to come.
Even though my blog and opinions promote and praise natural hair, I do not look down on women who choose to continue to relax their hair or wear various kinds of extensions. (Believe it or not, but the permed image above was all of my hair – no weave/wig) I do believe natural hair is a healthier lifestyle and would encourage anyone who is open to this choice to pursue it. However, I feel that beauty is what we define for ourselves. Regardless if you express yourself through bold locks, bright waves, loud spikes, or little buns, you are beautiful. If you feel confident and radiant inside and out and don’t need anyone else’s approval….then work it girl!!
For those of you who are still contemplating whether or not to cut your hair and rock your “natural,” send me a message or comment here. Let’s have a conversation. I’m not a licensed expert, but with all the research I have done and with my experience, I might be able to help or encourage you. A knowledgable decision makes life a little easier.
Now that phase 1 is complete, I move on to the next level. Phase 2: product experiments; self-braiding practice; cornrow design showcase.
Chapter Three – Maintenance
It has been about two and a half months since the last chapter. Wearing an afro most of the time and decorating or styling it in different ways, I am enjoying every moment of it. My hair seems to wake up as a different character every morning. I have self-categorized it as 4a, since I have coils – not curls. However, I have not experienced any difficulty with growing it or excessive dryness. On the contrary – compared to other “4 heads” who complain about its thickness or incapability to style it – my hair always has a certain bounce to it, with a soft thickness. It actually seems more cooperative than when it was straight. My hair has also acquired a fan club, but that is for another chapter. I am still thinking of a name to give my texture because “4a” just doesn’t seem to give it justice…I will keep you posted on my progress.
I have experimented with a few products and regimens. I am pretty satisfied with what I have created thus far. I still want to try those recipes one can make in the kitchen, but that is for a later date. For now, I use a mixture of Wen and Carol’s Daughter to wash my hair. I wash it about every two weeks. I divide my hair into four big braids. Initially, I would wash it with Wen, then wash it with Carol’s Daughter Tui shampoo, then condition it with Carol’s Daughter Tui Smoothie. I found that the Tui shampoo left my hair feeling dry, so I switched to just using Wen and Tui Smoothie. I also use a comb with the conditioner. To dry it, I unravel one section, apply Carol’s Daughter Healthy Hair Butter, blow dry it on low with two strokes, and re-braid that section. I do that to each section then let the rest air dry. This worked when I was in Washington, DC, but now that I am back in Texas I had to change some of my routine. Due to the heat, I now use Organic Root Stimulator Shea Butter Lotion to dry it. Every night I use the Shea Butter Lotion and a wide tooth comb to braid my hair. Depending on how big or fluffy I want my hair the next day, I either do four braids or twelve braids. In the mornings, I unravel the braids, spray it with Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Sheen, and use my afro-pick to comb it out. Caring for natural hair takes a lot more effort and time than any other texture, in my opinion. I find it quite fascinating because the extra time seems to reinforce a certain bond. It is as if my hair and I get further acquainted with every wash, style, care, and touch. I have grown to really love my texture.
Something I have been looking for but yet to find is a real afro pick. I wanted to mark this moment by purchasing a wooden afro pick with an engraved handle. I am shocked at how difficult it is to find this. Any hair supplies store I have been to, regardless of the color of the owner or the location, only have plastic picks and a few with the fist as the handle. So if any of you know where I could find an elegant or afrocentric pick, please let me know.
During the spring semester I played with a lot of flowers, bows, and combs. Bobby pins are a must for any sort of up-do. It was nice to go through each morning without having to hide my ends or puffy roots. Instead, I would get a personal boost from how beautiful it looked. However, one thing to realize about an afro – it becomes a magnet on windy days. So many times my friends had to help me with leaves, twigs, and flowers that had taken root in my “bush.” For the summer I have started a Scarf-Art affair, which has been a lot of fun. I’m also practicing cornrows, but they have yet to reach the stage where I could wear them outside of the house. My style has evolved again during this time and I believe it has been influenced by my hair. Retro and bold jewelry has taken over my jewelry box. My general accessories are now defined as funky sophistication. In regards to my eating habits, they have not changed. I am still trying to make exercise a habit, but I have yet to accomplish that. Overall, I still feel good about my decision.
One thing I can definitely commend are youtube tutorials. From styling my hair to how to tie a bow-tie, that resource is unlimited. I am not a big follower of those journal videos that tell the story of how they cut their hair or how its growing or what they are using because a lot of them tend to be redundant. On the other hand, I can easily spot a fellow fashionista and enjoy gaining inspiration within the realm of fabulosity. So, phase 2 is still in session.
Chapter Four – Experiment Series
Summer 2011 – Scarf Art
What you will need:
- stiff rectangular scarf
- afro pick or comb
1. Moisturize, detangle, and comb your hair as if you are planning to wear your hair out
2. Hold your scarf from the ends and place middle at the back of your head; make sure all of your hair falls above the scarf
3. Pull ends of scarf to the front of your head and loop one under the other, as if you are about to tie your shoe; make sure all of your hair falls above the scarf
4. The two ends should fall long in front of your face
5. Take the two ends and twist them together until the entire end seems like one strand; as you twist, it will start to curl up
6. Start curling the twisted end around the initial loop on your forehead; continue to curl it like the shape of a snail’s shell.
7. Once you get to the end of the scarf, tuck it in securely into the back of the circle you have created.
8. Take afro pick or comb and comb your hair into the shape you desire.
9. Voila! You can create the circle to the side or in the middle. Scarves with some sort of design at the ends help make this design “pop.”
The ends of my afro were becoming brittle, regardless of how much conditioner or protective styles I used. I figured I needed to add some other oil or moisturizer. After googling a few ideas and chatting with a few fellow naturals, I decided to try coconut oil. This was my first time using a product from a grocery store on my hair, so I was a little nervous.
I also googled how to use coconut oil for hair. The tutorial I found instructed to oil your hair and scalp and leave it in for a certain amount of time. So, the first time I tried this, I washed my hair with my other products, then oiled my scalp and hair with coconut oil and left it in for about 30 minutes. As I rinsed it out, my hair felt very thick and soft. I dried it and braided it as I usually did. The next day, my hair was about two shades blacker than normal. My coils were very defined and soft. The only downside was the greasy feeling. My hair felt heavy.
I was determined to master this oil because I still had a very full jar of it and I had no intention to cook with it. The next month, I oiled my scalp with the coconut oil and left it in for an hour. Then I rinsed it out and washed my hair as usual. The next day it was thick and bouncy again. Bravo! So I now do a deep-coconut-condition once a month. Since I have not done anything else differently, I must credit my fast hair growth to the coconut oil. I had put in individual braids at the beginning of the winter season expecting them to last three to four months as they normally do. This time they only lasted two months, growing faster than anticipated.
I am very happy with my discovery and compatibility with coconut oil. Regardless of your texture, I think coconut oil will bring some sort of benefit. The main thing to remember – less is more than enough.
Hair Progress Check #1
My hair anniversary is March 16th. It marks the last time I had a perm and the day I did the Big Chop. I have decided to take the advice of my fellow naturalists and not obsess over the rate of growth my hair experiences. It was definitely something I worried about shortly after I cut it. However, I continued to enjoy my new style and concentrate on mastering it. I am very happy to see that something that I am doing is actually working.
Now that my hair is a bit longer, maintaining the shape of my afro has become a little difficult. I now must do a lot of patting to keep the ball-effect. I also noticed that I my ends seem transparent…if that makes sense. I concluded that I was in need of a trim. I spent about two to three weeks in continuous up-dos looking for a place to get a professional trim. Sadly, I did not come across anyone whom I felt I could trust with my hair. Granted I have yet to sit in a salon chair since my Big Chop, which probably is the cause of my hesitancy. As I was searching the internet, I came across a tutorial on how to trim your own hair. I bookmarked it and went back to my salon searching.
After this unsuccessful search, I returned to the tutorial. Today, 13/April/2012, I washed my hair, took out the scissors, and trimmed my afro. It was not as scary as I thought it would be. I admit that I was proud of myself. I have taken another step closer to mastering my hair.