I had no idea what my natural hair looked like until I was 29.
All my life, I’ve had straight, pretty, long hair. As a kid, my mom relaxed my hair once, to make it more manageable. After that one time, she never did it again. Instead, she opted for pressing my hair, or having my grandma do it on weekends while visiting. My earliest memories of doing my hair involve holding my ears down and wincing when the hot comb got too close to my scalp. My hair was pretty, though, and everyone liked it.
So did I.
This trend of straightening continued throughout middle and high school. Instead of doing it herself, my mom would ship me and my sister off to a beauty shop once or twice a month on a Saturday, where we’d spend 5 or 6 hours getting cellophanes, fresh presses and trims. When I went off to college, there was no such thing as taking an entire day to spend at the shop. My roomies and I shared hot tools and products and whipped our hair into shape for class, clubbing and other occasions.
Colors, cuts and a general lack of care for my hair landed me in the lap of desperation in 2011. My hair was breaking off faster than it could grow, and I was losing alarming gobs of hair in the shower with every wash. My hair was long-ish, but thin – the thinnest it had ever been.
In fear, I turned to Google in search of remedies for thinning hair, and tried them all. Some, like henna, worked wonders to improve the condition of my hair. Others, like oat flour (yes, I mixed Bob’s Red Mill into my conditioner) were a total disaster. But beyond products, one thing remained:
I had to let go of the heat.
I learned from a number of natural and curly hair resources that my hair was indeed heat damaged, and that my cuticles were weak and melted. So I swore off heat for 3 months, and was floored at the results. I extended that another 3 months, and another. Each time, my hair was thicker, retained more length and was scores healthier. After about 9 months of my “no heat challenge”, I realized what I was doing was indeed transitioning to natural hair. The majority of my hair was still heat damaged, but I could see curls peeking through.
I allowed my natural texture to gradually grow in and in December of 2013, after 21 months of transitioning, I got my hair chopped into a curly cut.
For the first time in my life, on December 5th, 2013, I saw my true texture for what it was.
It was emotional. It was exciting. If nothing else, I finally knew that this was me — this was my hair – unadulterated.
My entire life’s haircare routine consisted of pressing combs, flat irons, and chasing after a sleek, straight aesthetic that truly didn’t belong to me.
Eight months post-chop, I can truly say that my journey to natural hair has been a complete blessing. There is something so freeing about not having the old flat iron ball-and-chain. I don’t fear the rain. I don’t stay away from swimming pools. I work out with reckless abandon. My natural hair has freed me to enjoy life – to celebrate my own inner and outer beauty, on my terms.
My journey to natural hair was the catalyst for major changes in my life. I stopped wearing makeup completely (save for a little mascara on the weekends or a special occasion), I’m way more active, and my eating habits have greatly improved. My skin has a healthy, natural glow because the things I do to take care of my hair also take care of my body. Talk about a win-win situation!
I’m happy. I’m balanced.
But don’t be mistaken – the road to accepting my natural hair was no walk in the park. There were days when I was frustrated, times when I wanted to give up. Times when I wished for someone else’s hair! But once I took these 5 key points to heart, I was able to navigate the tricky terrain of transitioning to natural hair:
The Keys to Accepting Your Hair
1. Live in the now.
Many people give up on the journey to embracing their natural hair because they’re too busy focusing on their hair crush, or too preoccupied with what limitations their hair has. One of the keys that helped me have such a successful long-term transition to natural hair was being very aware of where my hair was at all times. Although I wished for the days where I could rock a carefree wash and go without heat damage, or pined after the hair of vlogger Hey Fran Hey, I never let that stop me from appreciating my own hair exactly the way it was at every step along the way. Aesthetically, my hair wasn’t what I wanted it to be. But it was healthy! It was thicker. It had stopped shedding and breaking so much. All of those positives kept me going, and helped me appreciate the amazing (albeit slow) transformation my hair was undergoing. The average head of curly hair grows half an inch per month. You may as well start loving and appreciating it as-is, because it will take YEARS for you to reach your ideal head of hair. I’m still working on it myself!
2. Don’t be afraid to experiment (with products).
The natural and curly haircare market has come A LONG way in recent years. Where there used to be little to no options in-store or online, major retail chains like ULTA, Target, Sally Beauty Supply and a plethora of online retailers and salons have seriously stepped up their game to meet the needs of textured hair. I’m a product junkie with a pretty legit stash, and proud of it. I love the “product chase” and discovering new ways to use the products I purchase. I love the versatility and diversity of results I am able to achieve with my hair based upon which products I choose. You don’t have to go to PJ extremes like I do (hunting down sales, hoarding products), but there is nothing wrong with stepping outside of your product comfort zone. If a product catches your eye, go for it. Even if your hair hates it, at least you tried it!
3. Have a signature style, and work it!
As a transitioner, it was the satin strip braidout. Now that I have completely natural hair, it’s the wash and go. Although I may be a two-trick pony (okay, 3 on a good day when I rock a bun), I do so with good reason. I know that I can always pull off these two styles, no matter what. Admit it – you know you have a great day and your confidence is through the ROOF when you’re having a fab hair day. So why not have more of them? Although natural and curly hair is incredibly versatile, there is no mandate that you have to change your style day-to-day, or week-to-week. So go ahead — have a good hair day, every day. And watch your confidence in your curls soar!
4. Stop obsessing over length.
Naturals and curly girls alike go crazy over length for one major reason — shrinkage. When many of us used to rock straight relaxed or flat ironed hair, our true length was apparent. But because coils, kinks, and curls have a tendency to draw up and out, we dedicate an exorbitant amount of time to protective styling, flipping our heads upside down, crazy vitamin regimens and sometimes damaging methods of stretching our hair — all in the name of gaining and showing some length. Stop the madness! Somehow, curly culture has mixed up the messaging and begun to place value on hair length over hair health. What good is bra-strap length hair if over a third of it is damaged, splitting, dry and desperately in need of a trim? A sure-fire recipe for hating your hair is lamenting over what you believe is a lack of growth. Turn the tide – instead of obsessing over length, focus on health. A healthy scalp grows healthy hair, and hair that is healthy through positive care and practices retains length. It’s really that simple.
5. Deep condition regularly, because it’s awesome.
In a world where everything changes in 140 characters or less, very few things are certain. But of one thing I am sure – deep conditioning regularly can help solve ALL of your problems. Dry hair? Brittle, weak and breaking hair? Rough feeling hair? Dull hair? Overprocessed hair? Deep conditioning regularly can mend it all. As an integral component of any healthy hair regimen, deep conditioning intensely hydrates, nourishes, strengthens, replenishes, smoothes, improves elasticity, softens, protects from environmental damage and enhances shine in all hair types. During the course of the week, the environment (pollution, sun, temperature, wind, etc.) and styling practices can take a toll on our hair. Replenishing lost water, ceramides, amino acids, vitamins and more is vital to the health of our hair. So if you’re feeling a little disgruntled with your hair, shampoo it (Ouidad Superfruit Renewal™ Clarifying Cream Shampoo is perfect for this), then deep condition. And from that point on, make an effort to deep condition your hair once a week. Your hair will thank you by looking and feeling better than it ever has before!
Christina Patrice is a Los Angeles-based transitioning and natural hair blogger with a passion for all things hair. When she’s not knee-deep in product junkie-ing for the sake of her own blog ManeObjective.com, she writes for Black Girl with Long Hair and NaturallyCurly.com. Keep up with her on Instagram @maneobjective!