In the spring of 2006, I cut off all of my hair.
It wasn’t as hard a decision as I thought it’d be. I had been clinging to the idea that my hair could only be beautiful when straightened with burning, putrid chemical relaxers, my damaged hair getting shorter and thinner as the years of mistreatment wore on. I sat there in the hair salon and, staring at my reflection as my hairdresser cut off the last vestiges I had of my malformed ideas of beauty, felt as though baggage was being lifted from my psyche.
I realized that I was completely beautiful with the riot of tiny curls I was born with, and that I never needed to straighten my hair to fit someone else’s ideas of “beauty” or “professionalism.”
That, unfortunately, was the easiest part.
My hair was dry, knotted and unmanageable for years, to the point that I’d often wake up every morning and dread trying to style it. I spent as much time as possible keeping my hair in braided extensions just to avoid having to deal with it, and I can’t lie: there were numerous times where I considered just getting my hair straightened just to not have to struggle. It was a crushing feeling of betrayal to think so little of the natural hair that I’d taken so long to learn to love in the first place.
A huge part of the problem was that a complete lack of information on how to care for my hair. Going natural in 2006 was a lot different than going natural would be now. The internet presence of natural haircare knowledge was much smaller then, and many of the go-to blogs and personalities we see today hadn’t been established yet. Making our hair work for us, often with no guidance other than our own trial and error, was a painful frustrating experience, leaving many of us wondering if the transition was even worth it.
Looking back on the things I figured out, there are five things in particular that I wish I’d known from the very beginning. Be you a tried and true natural for years or someone fresh from their Big Chop, it’s good to keep the following things in mind.
There is no one right way to do natural hair.
There’s a wealth of knowledge online on how to care for natural, afrotextured hair now, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Many women who finally found a regimen that works for them will cling to it as though it’s the one true way to have healthy, growing hair, and I can’t blame them. After months or years of wrestling with what’s growing out of your head, it makes sense to want to steer people away from the things that didn’t work for you and toward the things that did.
The problem with this mindset is that every head is different. Your scalp is like your own unique fingerprint, with your curl type, curl pattern and skin dryness being unique to you.
The methods of someone with very similar hair and skin dryness to yours may not work for you, and that’s perfectly OK! Approach going natural by noticing what does and doesn’t work with your specific head of hair. If conventional wisdom leaves your hair unhealthy and your strands breaking off, kick it to the curb.
There are more hairstyles than the Afro or locks.
This seems really obvious now, but it was substantially less so back in early 2000s. While public figures like Shingai Shoniwa of The Noisettes and, later, Janelle Monae were around, their bold hairstyles seemed inaccessible to many with shorter natural hair, and the style I see most often with new naturals is a teeny weenie Afro, or TWA, like mine above.
I’ve personally found that my hair was much happier and easier to deal with when I wasn’t picking it out into an afro every day, especially when I’d put it into a cute protective style that I could leave up for a few days. Finding a style that works for your hair length is a lot easier now, so get creative!
You are not a failure if your hair grows slowly.
A lot of new naturals pin their goals on length retention, with the hopes of being able to pull off the aforementioned celebrity's hairstyles, but get discouraged when it takes more time than they expected. Just as each of our heads will react differently to different hair care methods, each of our heads will grow hair at a different rate.
This is dependent on so many things--diet and manipulation of your hair being two huge contributing factors --so don’t feel bad if your hair isn’t touching your bra strap after a year. These things take time!
Products aren’t magic.
There are a lot of products that will promise results, many of which are extremely inflated. Pinning your hopes for faster-growing, more manageable hair on any one product is a surefire way to run through money trying to find the “perfect one” that will solve all of your problems.
Healthy hair is a joint effort with your lifestyle and your styling, the specific products you use taking a somewhat distant third. Look past the promises on the labels and, again, find what works for you!
Overall: just do you.
What do you want to gain from going natural? Is it longer hair? More manageable hair, perhaps? Would you like to be able to “wash and go” every morning, and not have to worry about styling?
Honestly consider what it is you, personally, would like to get out of your natural experience, and tailor your styling to that. There’s no need to stress yourself out trying to retain length, for instance, if you like the simplicity and ease of styling shorter hair. Instead of following the goals of others, find your own hair niche and comfortably nestle into it.
Are there any things you wish someone had told you when you first went natural?