September 28, 2015

Transitioning to Natural Hair Without a Big Chop


by Audrey Sivasothy of The Science of Black Hair

Going from relaxed to natural hair can be an exciting, liberating experience, and there are two basic ways to get there. The fastest, no nonsense way to go natural is by simply cutting off all the relaxed hair in one fell swoop, or big chopping. But big chopping can require a strength that not everyone is equipped with at the outset of a hair care journey. For some, deliberate transitioning complete with mini chops is a necessary part of the “back to natural” process. And, if we really look at it, everyone who makes the journey must transition. Whether you big chop on day one of your thought, or a year after the initial thought, transitioning always starts with the mind well before any actionable steps are taken. In some circles, however, transitioning— especially long term transitioning, is seen as a sign of weakness. I argue, quite the contrary!

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Those of us who’ve crossed that river will tell you that going natural is not just a physical exercise— it is a mental one as well. If the mental is not aligned with the physical, the physical will soon realign with the mental— and you’ll be back at square one. We must always remain sensitive to the process for new naturals, and respect that the time required for the transition will always vary from person to person. The transition may be 1 day or 100 days— and yes, there may even be a few relaxers applied in the process before the transition is completed and sticks. Yes, I said it! I transitioned to natural hair approximately 32,423,947 times in five years (okay, I’m exaggerating lol) only to throw in the towel each time before it finally stuck. Transitioning requires a mental alignment with the physical to hold, and I was only able to achieve this alignment by falling many, many times and getting back up again. (Donnie McClurkin would be proud, haha) “Weaning” may very well be the start of the transitioning process for some. It certainly was for me. All of these experiences were important to the process for me.

Transitioning gives the mind the necessary time to adapt and accept the coming changes. Think of transitioning like pregnancy. (Maybe this is not the best comparison— but work with me here!) The nine months of pregnancy give the mom-to-be a chance to get comfy with the idea of becoming a mother. The time gives mothers a chance to decide on names for the kid, how they’ll raise the child and how they’ll share their worldview with this new little person. The mom learns how to sacrifice some of her own comforts and some of her old ways of doing things for the benefit of another person. Some months are better than others, and she might have to field the occasional well-intentioned but “off” comment, but she learns about herself and her body. Just imagine if pregnancy were an overnight process and moms just woke up with a baby in their arms! Some would take right off and be just fine, others would certainly struggle with the new challenge. Transitioning can level the playing field between the two groups so that most do well.

Many times, the mind will hold the hair captive in the transition. But no matter what, it’s still important to give the mind the time it really needs to complete the process. When transitioners complain about tangles and breakage and all of the other things that tend to accompany transitioning, it’s easy for some well-seasoned naturalistas to tell them (often in love, but occasionally in disgust) to simply— “Just cut it off.” Now, this advice at face value is usually quite valid because just cutting it off will solve most of the physical problems with tangles and breakage from trying to reconcile two incompatible hair states. But this answer can be insensitive to the process that some new naturals need to experience to ensure that they are able to mentally stay the course. When new naturalistas chop before they are ready, the chances of them staying the course may be affected. So transitioning is more than just hanging on to hopeless hair. It’s more than just straddling the fence in a sea of indecisiveness and cowardice. It’s not a sign of weakness—for some inbetweeners, it’s a smart, strategic decision that will solidify their resolve going forward. For some, it’s an honest recognition that I’m still working on my alignment— or that I’m really not quite ready for a drastic change . . . yet. We must always remember to embrace one another and teach one another in love. No two paths are the same or more valid than the other, nor must they strive to be.

8 Weigh in!:

Caray said...

Transitioning is a physical and mental process, yes mentally I want to go natural but I physically dont want to look like a boy/man with short hair! So, I have chosen to transition, for how long who knows, I love big, full, thick hair and Im not willing to let that go just to achieve a hair style (natural).

I also hate when I read how a seasoned natural tell a transitioner to just "cut off their relaxex ends". You dont have to rock a TWA to go natural anymore those days are over. With all the advice, products and youtude videos ppl can transition for years!!

Anonymous said...

Many women have big chopped, but not me. My transition took almost 1 1/2 years because I do not cut (nor trim) my hair as biblically established. Not cutting big chopping or cutting is not a weakness to me and I've never seen it as such.
There are many black women in my Christian beliefs that we do not cut our hair, and so the big chop was not an option to me, nor was it an option that I would have considered any way.
((Please note that I'm not telling anyone to not cut their hair. I'm just saying what I have and haven't done.))
My transition took that long though, because the top of my hair is naturally almost as straight as a relaxer. Those strands are fine and I can straighten them completely just by twisting them. I used a lot of styles though, to hide the two different textures, such as straw sets, braids/extensions, rollers...there's a long list.
It worked for me and I'm happy.

Nylse said...

i like this...
but arent we always transitioning? transition doesnt only mean to cut but to change. the most dramatic transition may be when we remove the dead ends, but then hair grows and we transition again; we discover our curl pattern and we transition again; we're always transitioning and moving on to the next level - some do it immediately and some take their time - its all part of the process..
to Anonymous 1:31 pm I've never met a female nazarite before and would love to see your hair.

Anonymous said...

I transitioned with wigs for a year then had the bright idea to get my hair straightened so i could trim the relaxed ends. Well i ended up with a mini big chop and almost bawled. I still wear wigs, but its growing on me. I could never have BCd nor could i have transitioned "in public".

Anonymous said...

I look at transitioning like quitting smoking. For some, their best option is quitting cold turkey, others, a gradual weaning process. Experts do not say one process is better than the other. They advise that it is best to choose the best method that will lead to success. One month or five years, if the result is a natural hair with no regrets, that should be all that matters.

Anonymous said...

As stated, every person is different and has a different journey. It's sad to hear some "naturals" speak with such a haughty tone and look down on others who choose not to cut all their hair off. Personally, I think those ppl have deep seeded issues they try to suppress in the form of looking down on others. I've been transitioning to wear my hair in its natural state for over 5 years now. I did not do the "big chop" (gee, I hate that phrase). I trim every now and then. Most of my hair has grown out but I still have one section at the top that's being extra stubborn; the texture is changing slowly but that section grows like a weed. Do what works for you! Remember, no two ppl r the same so one person's journey will not be yours.

Anonymous said...

Thank you CN for this forum and for inviting others to share their voice and their perspective on recapturing a part of our identity. Last September (2011) I began a routine of stretching simply to get healthier hair. However, after viewing YouTube, getting the Science of Black Hair and other books, and finding this forum, I feel encouraged to continue to forgo stretching altogether and let my hair be as it wants to be. For me, transitioning, and journaling about this process, gives me the opportunity to record and be aware of just how deep this hair journey is for me; it helps me to embrace not only my texture, but transition old thought patterns that no longer serve me about my texture. It's spiritual for me; its embracing another layer of who I am, sans relaxer. So, I appreciate when sisters respect the way in which I approach my process...to transition at a pace and in such a way that feels right for me. I'm in it for the long haul; every bit of information, recommendations, styles and opinions help me to uncover what works for me.

Peace and Blessing to All

Anonymous said...

I really like what this blogger had to say. It is true, your mind does need time to transition.

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