If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably associate “natural hair” with a horror-film sequence of screaming, detangler spray, and combs that (almost) embody Satan’s wrath. You mother did her best to shape the formidable jungle on your head for school, church, or bedtime. No matter how her eardrums rattled, however, or your head ached, or curlicues of defeated hair clogged your shower drain, you both knew it was Just Until.
Just until the next appointment with the braider. Just until the next bottle of relaxer. Just until a weave you could afford. Just until another three hours with the flattening iron. Then it would be over, for a while. Perhaps between the “long-term” styles, it didn’t even seem like your real hair. That girl in the mirror, the one with the springy fro, or “mickey puffs,” or fluffy twists or cornrows- that wasn’t you. After all, you had hundreds of shiny braids (never mind how much you paid for the pricy extensions) or the sleek, straightened-as-humanly-possible locks (though you feared rainclouds like the Eye of Sauron).
It was when I first caught myself thinking this way that I began to feel nervous. Did I really wrap that much of my identity in extensions, hair that wasn’t even mine? Or in a bottle that promised to make my hair as smooth, straight, and un-Africa-like as possible? How was it that I could spend hours yelling about sexism and racism and rebellion against society’s standards for the female body…when I wasn’t even comfortable with the way my hair grew out of my head?
For a while I made excuses. I remembered the cringe-worthy reality show of “Jordan’s Childhood Hair Time,” when my mother and I both awaited the morning shower like District Twelve on Reaping Day. I told myself it was too hard, too time-consuming, perhaps not even healthy. But still, for some strange reason I was curious. So I put off my next braiding appointment. I browsed a few style articles online. I subscribed to a black hair channel on YouTube. Two years later I am still in natural hair, and can’t imagine going back. I’ve since attended college full-time, earned a Bachelor’s degree, and acquired a white-collar office job, none of the places or activities considered “safe” to have natural hair without being judged- or being late (from the battle to look “just right”). Yet here I am thriving, and I’m beginning to realize what kept me from making the leap so long: fear. Fear of disasters that never happened. Fear that people would think I looked weird. Fear of inconveniences that, in all honestly, did happen, and then stopped. Because here’s the thing: natural hair isn’t the big, bad beast we’ve been conditioned (pun intended) to think it is. Of course, your hair is your hair, and you should style it however it makes you happy. But before buying that next stack of braiding hair, or investing in another miracle straightener, here are some myth debunks that I wish I’d known years ago.
Myth 1: Natural Hair is Less Healthy Than Other Hairstyles (i.e. Your Hair Will Dry Up, Break Off, or Spontaneously Erupt in Flames and You Will Be Miserable Forever and Ever)
I won’t even talk about natural hair vs. relaxers/straightening products/heat styling, because even the biggest natural-phobes know chemicals and frequent heat wreaks havoc on your hair. A more compelling argument you’ll hear though, is that natural styles make it hard for your hair to grow. It’s true that if you leave your hair alone- in long-term fixes like braids, etc.- it will get longer. But natural hair can be the same way. Here’s the trick: keep it moisturized, never towel dry, and never use a comb. It sounds crazy, I know. But I have the pride of Nigeria on my head (the nappiest 4c hair you can imagine), and it’s still tangle-free and growing. That’s an epic journey for future posts, but for now, just know that strong conditioners and your hands are really all you need to detangle. One thing’s certain: if you don’t comb your hair, it doesn’t break off. Also, with the right products your curls will stay longer and more defined, unlike the frizz that can come with combing. Fact.
Myth 2: Natural Hair is Time-Consuming (i.e. I Take You, Bathroom Mirror, as My New Spouse Until Death Do Us Part) which goes hand-in-hand with Myth 3: You Don’t Have a Lot of Style Options with Natural Hair (i.e. Hats FOREVER!)
I think these were my biggest fears. I was busy woman when I went natural, a working, full time undergrad with late nights and morning classes. But I “made the leap” on Christmas break, posting pictures of my creations to Facebook for feedback (and shameless affirmation), remembering styles that were easy, quick, and most importantly cute. Within two weeks a routine surfaced, and by the time I went back to school I had it down. Below’s a small portion of what I came up with (I’ll be posting tutorials!). Each style is distinct; most of them took 10 minutes, and all of them under 20.
Here’s the key to keeping your style time efficient: don’t try to make your hair look like something it’s not. “Neat” for you looks different than it does for other people. The same goes for “Professional” and “Formal.” Don’t compare yourself even to other curly people- all our patterns are different, and yours is the way it’s meant to be.
Myth 4: You Have to Be “Good With Hair” to Manage Natural Hair (i.e. You Must be a Curl Whisperer) Nope. You just have to know your hair which, granted, takes a little time to do. Trial and error is your friend. Style wet and invest in some basic products, like conditioner, moisturizer, gel and headbands. This can be a fun process- find 2 or 3 quick styles you’re comfortable with everyday, then experiment with more complicated techniques. Even these will seem simple after a while.
Myth 5: You Have to Have a Strong “Ethnic” Identity to Pull Off Natural Hair (i.e. “So Is Your New Hair for Kwanzaa?”) You know what I’m talking about. Sure, kinky fros and bantu knots are fine for your friend/cousin/co-worker, who waxes eloquent on Maya Angelou, wears Kente cloth dresses, or has a “Mother Africa” bumper sticker on her car. But what if you’re slightly more…run-of-the-mill? Or just different? Take me, for example. Yes, my parents are Nigerians. But I was born in Southern California, raised on cornflakes and Jane Austen. I love opera and Masterpiece Theater. I can’t dougie to save a crippled puppy, and I speak like the child of a London ex-patriot and a Los Angeles valley girl. Well, first of all: Your ethnicity means whatever the heck you want it to mean. Anyone who tells you you’re not acting “black,” “white,” or fill-in-the-blank enough obviously doesn’t understand how diversity works. Also, they they should go soak their heads and mind their own business. You should also know that natural hair is extremely versatile. I have an endless supply of flower/jewel clips, ribbons, and even fascinators for as many moods as I have books. I like all styles from Nigerian majestic to Victorian prim. It doesn’t take long to find a style that makes you flutter inside, one that’s completely and irrevocably you.
So remember: More than anything, the leap to natural hair takes commitment. That doesn’t mean time or money. It does mean looking at yourself in the mirror every day and thinking “This is me. This is my hair. And it’s fine.” In fact, it’s beautiful. Will you have a bad hair day every so often? Yes. Literally everyone does, and no one will care as much as you think they will. Need help? Ask for it- from videos, articles, blogs (hint, hint) and of course your friends and relatives (grandmothers existed before straightening irons, and boy do they know their stuff). I’d suggest sticking to it for at least 6 months before giving yourself the option to quit. By then you’ll have established a routine and found products and styles you like- but more importantly you’ll have gotten used to yourself as you truly are, and found, I hope, that you’re drop-dead gorgeous. Here’s to many more years of kinky curly.