If I’d heard the phrase “big chop” two months ago, I would probably think it was some kind of kitchen appliance. But, in recent weeks, I’ve become acquainted with all sorts of natural hair jargon and acronyms, and now fantasize about things like reaching “APL” in 2011.
Indeed, I’m new to the natural hair community, but I’m definitely not new to natural hair. I’ve been “natural” my whole life, though I’ve never defined myself as such. When people ask me about it, my usual reply is, “This is just my hair.” It seems to nip asinine conversations on black hair in the bud.
Perming my hair was just something my mother never wanted for me. I always took letting my hair be for granted, growing up; and, despite occasional teasing from girls at school (I recall being taunted with the “Just for Me” relaxer jingle, in the hallways), it is only as an adult that I’ve started to realize how avant garde my mom was. It seems a little theatrical to consider my mom brave for refusing to perm my hair, but in some ways, she really was– especially when I consider how she had to put up with my crying and nonsense to put fresh cornrows in my hair (“protective styling,” although we didn’t know of such a term), month after tenderheaded month.
My mom did my hair for me into my teens. She’d wash my hair in the sink with baby shampoo, condition, deep condition under her heating cap from the 70s, braid it and then put beads or cowrie shells in, to make it look cute– until I started to worry about not lookng cool around age 12, and she agreed to stop with such adornments. My mom took care of me, and she took care of my hair. In those days, we didn’t know about avoiding mineral oils, or that petrolatum was hair evil. Despite using grease, sulfates, ‘cones and all the rest, my mother’s “growing hands” coaxed my hair all the way down to around my bra strap– erm, “BSL,” that is. Mom still has some old Polaroid photos of me at about 14, with my hair blow dried. I suppose we were doing a length check, though we wouldn’t have known that term, either. She holds on to these photos of my hair like they’re evidence.
In a way, the photos are evidence, because my hair did become a bit of a crime scene in later years. It is nowhere near the length in those photos, today. When I left home in New York for college in California in 2000, I was officially on my own, and not just in terms of my hair care. Youthful rebellion led to things like bleaching and dying my hair with little or no regard to how to keep it somewhat healthy while doing these things. Frankly, I would have to say that for the decade that my hair has been my own responsibility, what I’ve done to it hasn’t been hair care, as much as it’s been hair don’t care. While I stopped dying it years ago, things like moisturizing and conditioning only happened sparsely and sporadically, for years. Miraculously, I’ve managed to maintain my hair at about shoulder length all this time, but it wasn’t until an epiphany a couple months ago that I realized that my hair has more or less stayed the same length for 10 years, despite the fact I’ve never had an actual “haircut” in my life. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Shouldn’t my hair be a lot longer?”
In short, no. I began to look into ways to help my hair to grow online, and fell down the rabbit hole immediately. I realized that I had been treating my hair horribly, and it is truly a wonder that it’s not even shorter. I had no idea there was such a wealth of information through hair blogs like Curly Nikki, YouTube and books on black hair care. I’ve spent the past two months reading and learning about this hair of mine. I’ve had this hair my whole life, but only now am I beginning to understand it and what it needs. I’m loving learning about black hair care, and whenever I start to feel discouraged, I remind myself to be patient, and feel grateful that my mom still has her “evidence” of what is possible, to keep me focused.
Product Junkie-ism is pervasive, and has been tough to avoid. Perhaps there should be an anonymous support group.
“Hello. My name is Nefertiti, and I’m a product junkie.”
But, I remind myself that we were using all sorts of “horrible” hair products my entire childhood, yet my hair was still able to thrive. Hair care is not about any miracle product, it’s about faith and caring for your hair with consistency and diligence. As I work through the problems I’m trying to solve at this, the beginning of my road back to healthy hair (dryness! thin edges!), I remain hopeful and keep belief alive that maybe– just maybe– I, too, have had growing hands all along, and didn’t even know it. The days of my crimes against my hair are over. Every day is a gift and an opportunity. And, while I do look forward to reaching lengths I’ve never achieved before with my hair in the coming years, I don’t go about thinking that I can’t wait for tomorrow. Rather, I can’t wait for today.