Can we talk about Black women and the natural hair transitioning movement for a minute?
Ya’ll already know that I have obviously come across an article or piece of commentary on the subject that has me irritated at the moment; otherwise, why else would I be writing? ;)
But before I get into the root (no pun intended) of this irritation, I want to share my natural hair story with you.
I was natural for 10 years. From the moment I shaved my head hours before entering into the year 2001, I’ve rocked everything from the low boy-cut to afro-puffs to two strand twists to locks and all the way back down to boy cuts and back to locks again.
Although it required a lot of maintenance, I loved my natural hair; primarily for its versatility. It was cool having people ask me, “Who did your hair?” “Oh, you did it yourself?” “How did you do it like that?” (My foreign friends) “Can you do MY hair like that?”
I didn’t even mind the: “Can I touch it?” and “Oh, it’s really soft!” I know that irks most women with natural hair but for seven of the 10 years that I was natural, I lived in Doha, where a lot of people had never even seen hair like mine. So, the requests for petting didn’t really bother me much.
What WAS a bother, though, was maintaining my hair in its natural state. I attribute it to the water and weather conditions in the Middle East coupled with the fact that I didn’t have access to a) the products I needed to keep it properly conditioned and moisturized in those conditions and b) a natural hair specialist to assist in this maintenance.
The first three years of my being natural, my hair was much healthier. I was in the States, breathing cleaner air, maintaining a healthier diet, using proper products. I loved when my hair grew long enough to twist because my twists looked more like tiny ringlets. Here are some photos of my hair just a few weeks before moving overseas.
(By the way, this is my friend Alton who I haven’t seen or spoken to since 2004…if anyone knows him, knows how to contact him, let him know Kristen has been trying to find him!)
Back then, my hair was softer; more manageable and I was both in the best environment and had access to the right products to keep it up.
But once I moved to Doha, it was a whole new ballgame. I knew there was something different in the water once my hair began to lock. After about two years of twisting my hair, I’d become convinced that my hair was incapable of locking. I would leave it twisted for weeks only to wash it and pick it straight out.
Wasn’t any easy picking in Doha, though. My hair texture changed completely within the first year of living there and so began the hate portion of the love-hate relationship I developed for my natural hair.
Those who showered me with compliments had no idea what I had to go through to get my hair into that style. There was a fair share of blood, sweat, and TEARS, real tears, picking and twisting and patting and braiding that coarse crown of mine into shape. However, the end result was always well worth it, even if it did only last a couple of days.
But in spite of the blood, sweat and tears, I had a lot more love than hate for my natural hair. I loved it because was unique. One of a kind. Made me stand out in the crowd. And I had a lot of fun with it. It’s been a ton of different styles and damn near every color of the rainbow.
Just as my hair was embraced overseas, it was also, understandably, misunderstood. Again, most of the people I encountered had never even seen hair like mine. I remember one time before a fashion show, myself and the other models went to the salon to get our hair and make-up done. You should have seen the look on those Lebanese hair stylists faces as they watched me take my hair out of the cornrows they were in.
Each of them were kind of looking at each other like, “What the hell is she doing and what the hell are we supposed to do with what she is doing and which one of us is going to do it?“
It wasn’t until I’d finished taking out all of my braids and picking my hair out did their eyes light up, and what was confusion turned into a mixture of fascination and relief. It was at that moment one of the male stylists came over to me, sprayed a bit of glitter sheen on to my fro, and walked away all pleased with himself as if he did something.
Needless to say, though, my hair was the highlight of the show that night.
There were a few other occasions where there were looks of confusion but most of my stares were of curiosity. And this is what I think I enjoyed about my hair the most…the fact that there were few if not ZERO other women walking around Doha with hair like mine; so it was like one of my signifying features.
And again, it’s been in every style. It’s been locked:
It’s been puffed:
It’s been braided:
(And clearly from these photos, I’ve been drunk.)
It’s been colored:
It’s been coiled:
It’s even been straightened:
Which brings me to where I am now. The photo above was taken in June 2010. It wasn’t the first time that I’d straightened my hair (I’d used a hot comb on it back in 2005; that turned out to be a horrific hair damaging experience; more on that later) but it was the first time that I began considering going back straight permanently.
Let me go back real quick, though, as I feel I need to put into perspective the events that lead to me considering such. As I said earlier, my hair locked within the first year of living in Doha. Soon after, however, these locks began to break off. I’m talking chunks at the end of the lock just snapping right on off. So in 2006, I went back to square one, chopped it all off and began the process again. Low cut…baby fro…adult fro…afro puffs…twists…and eventually locks again.
(This photo was taken in 2009, the last time my hair was locked.)
But theeeeeeeeeeen..once again…these locks began to break off as well. This is when I began losing my patience with my hair, and with no one there to care for it properly (as I clearly didn’t know what the hell I was doing), I gave up on locking it altogether and chopped it off one more time.
I didn’t have to cut it all off this go round. There was enough unlocked hair for me to cut it and still have it long enough to corn-row and two-strand twist it.
And this was cool for a while, but again my patience with my hair was running low. I just wanted it to grow and just be already so I wouldn’t have to block out 5 hours of my days just to style it. I was happy when it got long enough for me to corn-row it again and for like a year, the braided pony puff became my signature style.
Simple, not as time consuming, flattering, professional, cute.
Still, about now, we are in 2010 and at this point, my hair had been through hell and back in its natural state for about 9 years. The water damage, the lack of proper moisturizers, the heat and dusty desert air, the cutting and growing and re-cutting and growing. Not only did it all become exhausting but the Gemini in me was starting to grow bored with the entire process.
I was tired of taking two hours to braid it into a puff. I wanted to just be able to take two minutes to brush it into a ponytail. This is what prompted me to try my hand at blow-outs.
Now as I mentioned above, the photo taken in 2010 was not my first time straightening my hair; it was just the first time I’d used a blow dryer and flat-iron to do so. Back when I hot-combed it, I didn’t like the fact that when I would wash it again, it didn’t all return to its natural kinky state; there were strings of hair that appeared to be confused as to what condition they wanted to be in. Plus, I didn’t like the smell or feel of hot-combed greasy ass hair. So this go-round, I followed the online advice of using a blow-dryer instead.
And I loved it. I loved the feel of it, I loved the ease of it. I could get up, brush/curl and go! I also appreciated the fact that when I washed it, there were no longer those confused strings of hair hanging from my afro-puff.
I continued with blow-outs for about 9 months…and pretty soon, I became exhausted with that too. It was a two to three hour process just like my braids and twists. Not only that but the heat required for me to achieve a straight look coupled with the hell-tastic temperature outside didn’t make this the most healthiest choice for my hair.
Still, I was digging the straight look and had already had my eyes on some really funky cuts and styles I wanted to try out with my hair in a permanently straightened state. So during the course of that 9 months, I found myself leaning more towards transitioning BACK.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make and I gave myself a while to think about it. Did I really want to revert back to the creamy crack after I’d been such an advocate for natural hair all these years?
Now mind you, I was never one of those natural sisters who thought that everyone else relaxing their hair was a victim of self-hate. It is this idea that has me writing today (alas, the point of this post!) as this seems to be the mindset of transitioning/transitioned women these days.
They seem to feel as if they are a part of some elite club that has them branded as those who love and accept themselves more than those who use chemicals and other treatments to alter their look. I mean, we are not talking about breast augmentation or rhinoplasty here. It’s hair, bitches. Hair.
However, I was an advocate in such that I supported other women who chose to go the natural route. And I did so because I knew of how fun the whole process could be. Nerve-wrecking at times, but overall, exciting, experimental, fun.
But after 10 years of it, though, I personally had become all afro-puffed and kinky twisted and braided and blowed-out…out! I even went through a wig phase for a little while.
Just to try something different. Which is exactly why I went natural in the first place. There was no desire to get in touch with my true self, etc. etc. I was just curious to see what my hair was like, fresh out the scalp, untouched; and wanted to learn what new looks I could create in that state.
I never felt “more Black” or more of myself as a result of this decision. Because I am still Kristen whether my hair is relaxed or natural. Because it’s just hair. I have a lazy eye that I refuse to get Lasik to repair because this is a part of who I am and if there IS to be any repair done on it, I’m waiting on God to do His work. My being “cock-eyed” is what is natural to me.
I still have the same size boobs I’ve had since I was 12 years old and dammit, I am okay with that, too. Should I pop out a lil’ one and finally develop an adult woman’s chest so be it, if not cool. My being flat-chested is what is natural to me.
And my lazy eye and flat-chest are things that I feel should I alter, doing so will be a major disruption in God’s design. These are the characteristics about myself that keep me humble. Plus, to alter these characteristics would require my putting trust in physicians and surgeons, and ummmm, no I don’t trust those mofos.
When it comes to me hair? Naaa, I don’t think that deep. It’s really not that serious. And what I’ve realized is that whether my hair is natural or relaxed, it’s still being manipulated into a style that is of my liking. I didn’t just let my hair grow natural without adding some form of man-made product to make it more…ummm…pliable, and none of the other natural women in the world are going 100% either. Wait, where you going with that Carol’s Daughter, girl? Unh-unh. Keep it natural. Get you some juices and berries Zamunda style and keep the party going.
Tsk. More on that in a minute.
Back to my story…where did I leave off? Oh yea. I considered my position on support for natural hair for months before coming to the conclusion of “Fuck it.” What I support is people making the choices for themselves that make them happy. Who knows, had I never moved overseas, my natural hair experience probably would have been completely different. But seven years of damage had me missing healthy hair. I wanted healthy hair. I needed to return to healthy hair.
And if going back to relaxed hair for the simple fact that at least there were products there that I could use to support it, and it would add one less thing for me to stress over (as I was at a place in my personal life that was causing me to have anxiety attacks…I needed peace in at least one area of my life…at least one), then so be it.
So I did it again. I did the big chop. But this time, I had a relaxer kit on my side. And over the past two years I’ve gone from this:
…and as of yesterday, to this:
I have yet to regret my decision. Two weeks after I cut my hair, I moved back to the States, back to cleaner air, softer water, a healthier diet, a stress-free atmosphere. And my hair is the healthiest its been EVER.
And what irritates me and thus has this topic going as #6 on my list is this misguided idea that my decision to go back to relaxers is a result of my hating my natural hair. Yes, I mentioned a love-hate relationship but the truth is, I loved my natural hair. What I hated was the fact that I wasn’t in the right environment and lacked the proper resources to maintain it. However, the possibilities were endless when it came to what I could do with my hair and this is what I both found most rewarding about MY experience and what I love most about natural hair, period.
It’s beautiful. It’s versatile. It is a representation of the Black woman’s crown. So I get it. Although I didn’t feel an additional sense of righteousness with my natural hair, even prior to the stress that came along three years in, I can see how women who choose to go that route gain this overwhelming sense of self-assuredness (if that’s even a word.) Again, I get it.
What I will not stand for, however, are those questioning my sense of self as a result of my decision to relax my hair again. True, there are women who relax their hair because they “hate nappy hair”. I am actually quoting my Grandmother here. In fact, her exact words were, “I can’t staaaaaaaaand nappy hair.”
Keep in mind, this is the same Grandmother who convinced my mother to relax my hair for the first time when I was only two or three years old because she felt that I was too “light-skinned for nappy hair”; not considering that given that my Father’s side of the family possess the silky straight and curly, I probably derived my stronger roots from her sided of the family tree. Just saying.
So I do recognize the existence of those who refuse to embrace their natural hair because they don’t find it beautiful. I was never that person, though. My hair was the shit! But guess what, my hair is STILL the shit!
And I am not one of those who touch-up my hair at the first sign of bushy edges. I go four to six months in between relaxers to give my new growth a chance to grow and breathe and be exposed to some protein and deep conditioning treatments before altering it chemically.
So contrary to popular belief, yes, you CAN have healthy relaxed hair. And yes, you can be a strong self-loving Black woman while walking out of Dollar General with your ORS Relaxing Kit.
So natural sisters, get off your high horse, will you? Ya’ll ain’t no better than anyone else simply because you’ve done the same thing all women do on a daily basis, which is, make an individual choice how you want to style your hair. We don’t all have to agree. Hell, I am anti-hair weave but I am not going to knock other women who wear it and make assumptions about the way they perceive themselves simply because of my personal reasons for not going that route.
It’s a matter of personal choice and I am sick and tired of this natural hair debate as it is only giving women another reason to be divided among each other.
Not all of us think we “look better” with straight hair. Not all of us are bound up by mental chains concerning our hair. Not all of us “hate nappy hair.” Most if not all of us are showing love to what God blessed us with by making our own choices as to what the hell we want to do with it.
THAT is what’s natural.