A long time ago I made a promise to myself. I promised myself that I wouldn’t be able to look back and find that all my favorite photos of me were ones in which I had straight hair. After scrolling through my camera roll and all my albums on Facebook, I became overwhelmed with how little curls I saw. I realized that all these photos of all my special memories all portrayed an image that was not who I felt connected with anymore. I looked at the girl with my face and my body and yet different hair and I realized the hair made all the difference.
I got my first hair straightener in sixth grade, and let’s just say, that was a huge mistake. From that moment on, I would straighten my hair for the first day of school, for every concert and recital, for every party or social gathering, for every interview or event in which I was to be acknowledged, every school dance, heck, I straightened it even when there was no reason at all. For example, when I traveled to Camobodia last summer where it was over a hundred degrees and the humidity was thicker than my thighs, I straightened my hair. Why would I do that, you ask. Because I was attached and reliant. It became a part of my everyday routine. And by straighten, let me clarify- I don’t mean I would straighten it Sunday, put it in a protective style and then just brush it every day until it was time to wash it. Oh no, I would straighten it Sunday, touch it up with the straightener Monday, touch it up again Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday and so on. And not to mention before I used my flat iron, I would blowdry it straight first. I basically had heat on my hair every single day. Regardless of what heat protectant I sprayed on my hair, nothing could save this sinking ship. It’s safe to say that I had texture problem. And the split ends….and the stiffness… I can’t even think about it without chills through my spine.
And then of course, I landed myself a boyfriend in high school. That meant I wanted to look pretty all the time. For the photos, to meet his parents, for all the dates…
The amount of excuses I made to straighten my hair was unbelievable. It got better however in college. It was probably the first time in my life I had a bunch of black friends, which is funny to think about considering I go to a predominately white college in the middle of nowhere. I saw black girls in all sorts of hairstyles with all sorts of hair types. It was also the first time my boyfriend and I had to do long distance. College was an awakening time for me. It was the first time I truly realized that I didn’t need to impress anybody, and I didn’t need to care or hold on to all these stupid notions that I had my whole life. People go to class in sweats, no makeup, the same shirt they’ve worn three days already this week, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like high school where the same group of people are together every day in the same compact building, gossiping, paying attention to who did what and who is dating who or friends with who. College was freeing. As I got older, I stopped trying as much to dress up even when I went out because I had boyfriend and had no one to impress (not to say I didn’t look cute, cause you bet I did). I’d go to class without makeup on constantly and sometimes I’d skip the shower and shave. And I’m not saying this to call myself brave because I know that is not a symbol of bravery. But I felt bold. I felt more authentic. I felt more carefree. Like I was living for myself. And then it hit me, if I can free myself from makeup and shaving, why am I still straightening my hair so much? Who am I doing this for? It’s not like my boyfriend cares. If anything, he likes me way better with curls. In fact, just about everyone did.
I saw all the black girls with braids and curls and puffs who looked hot as hell, and also comfortable. So I tried it. I tried to just leave my hair curly. Annnnd I lasted one month. One. Month. And it wasn’t because I was feeling societal pressure or pressure from my peers. It was because I was so accustomed to having straight hair, that I didn’t know how to be without it. I got bored. I got bored of my curls. And not because they are boring, but because I had no idea what to do with them. To me, my hair was short. It was shoulder length, but it had layers and when it curled it just got shorter and wider and I didn’t know how to give it length or style. So I just wore my hair in a bun or a high clip every day. And I hated that. I’m a stylish person I like to think but sometimes, your outfit just looks better with your hair down or in particular styles. But I could do those styles, so I gave up. From then on, I would straighten my hair once every month or two just so I could get used to having my curls more but still spoil myself. I convinced myself that it’s okay if I want to straighten my hair every now and then. And that’s when I knew I had to make a change. I decide to challenge myself to one year with no heat.
Fast forward to this year, and I am officially on month three of my natural hair journey. And I know what you’re probably thinking, month three is hardly anything. BUT, three months in a row is probably the longest my hair has been consecutively natural since probably sixth grade, plus it’s one-fourth of the way there and so I think I deserve to celebrate. I had to give my straightener to my boyfriend to hide from me to make this journey possible (out of sight, out of mind, right?). I’ve already learned a lot but still have plenty more to go. I am trying to make it to one year before I do a length check with my straightener.
Updates on my natural hair journey:
-I can’t tell if my hair is getting much longer, but it is definitely getting thicker. I have very thin 3c/3b hair which has always been made even thinner by straightening, but I can feel myself looping my hair-tie less times around my buns and ponytails.
–My edges are growing like crazy. Ever since I started exploring curly styles, I’ve been a big fan of baby hair. I like to style it and leave it down. I use Shea Moisture’s Strengthen & Grow Edge Control and I find that literally every week my baby hairs get longer and longer and I’m constantly cutting them.
-Through trial and error I’ve learned that I need to shampoo at least twice a week. Because I have fine hair and it’s quite thin, the product buildup is real. I do wash n’ go’s most days with conditioner sometimes followed by a hair mask, and after I rinse and hop out of the shower I like to use Miss Jessie’s Multi-Cultural Curls followed by coconut oil. That’s already four products mentioned just in a day (I only mask about twice a week), and sometimes as I mentioned I have to apply to edge control. For thin, fine hair, that means I’m susceptible to buildup and flakes and no one likes that. I know shampooing often isn’t for everyone, but once you find the right products that work for you, you’ll learn how to adapt and how your scalp reacts.
-Another thing I’ve learned is the importance of rocking second day hair. You know those days where you have nothing going on or those college days where you just don’t feel like showering? Yeah, well that’s not always a bad thing. I like to give my hair a break every now and then. A few times a week I like to just wake up and put my hair in a bun. No conditioner, no styling lotion. Sometimes I’ll reapply coconut oil or spray hair milk or water, but no thick or creamy products. Or, even if you need to shower, just rinse your hair and put nothing on it and put no products in it afterward besides coconut oil. Give your hair a well deserved vacation. This helps again with buildup for both your scalp and ends.
–Protective styling matters. I sleep with a silk pillowcase (although I’m probably going back to satin soon) and put my hair up in a high ponytail, or “pineapple” to be correct. It’s better to use a scrunchy or something loose. This protects my ends and keeps the moisture in my hair.
-The products you use matter. Don’t just think that any product that sounds good is good. Although I love most products by Shea Moisture, much of it is too thick for my hair and weighs it down. Not all styling products will work on the same type of hair. And if you plan on washing or co-washing your hair often, you better be doing it with a sulfate free shampoo and conditioner. Do your research because the ingredients in your products matter.
Although a natural hair journey can be tedious, frustrating, and honestly somewhat costly (I never knew how much I’d be spending on products until this), it is so worth it. And honestly, I have fun with it. I love finding new styles. Until I watched videos and read articles and paid more attention to how beautiful black girls were in general, I never event though to put my hair in pom-poms or try bantu knot-outs and twist-outs (both of which I am waiting to master). There is so much you can do with curls. They are so beautiful and if you don’t care of them now, one day you could lose your curl pattern forever. That’s what scared me into this natural hair journey. Even though I never let my curls free, I wasn’t ready to lose them either. And it’s not like I will never straighten my hair again, but I want to earn it. I want to push myself and challenge myself and my willpower. And that alone is worth buying conditioner every other paycheck.