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.
I can relate to not taken care of my hair as I should.i have been natural for over a yr.but I feel that Im just learning to maintain a routine and treat my hair with care.i too deal with being a product junkie but im learning to stick with a few.i can say that being natural can be a challenge but im loving it n learning daily
If you are not a writer you need to be! As others mentioned, you have a way with words.
And by the way, my name is Sharron, and I am a product junkie! 😉
Thank you Nefertiti for such a candid article!
I thought back on my hair as a child, and how it never made it past 'chin length', with bangs that stopped at my eyes. My Mom, bless her, did not have growing hands, since she wore wigs as long as I could remember.
1. We washed with whatever was available, Ivory soap, Prell Concentrate (in the tube), Flex Balsam, and pray tell, what was a conditioner?
2. Press N curls with stovetop heated pressing combs and curlers, family joking, "what y'all burning in there", or "fried, dyed, and laid to the side". Mom used Dixie Peach and Queen Bergamot. Brgamot oil is a sensitizer, no wonder we had breakouts (bumps).
3. Wearing plaits and cornrows for weeks (protective styling?) at a time was probably the only thing that kept us from becoming completely bald.
4. Getting a Jheri curl after a few weeks of transition and being surprised that it didn't take.
Honey, I'm just shaking my head now! Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about!
@First Anonymous: This post made me call my momma and ask how she used to style my hair!
My mom and I were just talking about Dax grease this weekend, lol! I loved this post. As someone mentioned – we naturals do over-analyze stuff at times, but it makes for finding out so much great information. At the end of the day, what works for one person may not work for the next and this is a great reminder of that!
Wonderful post! And Hi I am curlybean and a product junkie. 🙂 Also, a total lightbulb moment about the "horrible" products. Simple is better!
Hey Nefertiti. I beleive we attended High School together. And I remember your hair then. Well, now fast forward 10 years and I too have learned to appreciate my natural hair. I learned to love the good and bad days, the kinks and the curls and of course my running list of products to be had when I'm done with the last of my conditioner.
Excellent post! Makes me proud to embrace my new natural journey… with care of course. =o)
Loved this article for so many reasons, namely its truths, vulnerability, and humor. Thanks for bringing it all back!
OMG, This totally sounds like my hair story! I have been natural 7 years but only recently found curlynikki.com. It saved my hair's health! I'm so thankful for the online community! I hope it spreads into everyday conversations rapidly!
I don't comment often but your story was wonderful. As JustTrena said, you have a way with words. You put a lot of things in perspective for me as far as how our mothers cared for our hair w/o all this knowledge we have now. I didn't get a relaxer until I was 12, and my hair was thick and all the way down my back thanks to common sense and Pro Line Yellow Hair Food. lol
Yay Nefertiti! I went to college with you! I wish you had let me in on the natural thing…it took me 6 years after 'SC to get here!
I really enjoyed reading this post. Beautifully written! I think about how the products we used when I was a child and my hair was longer and healthier are on my "bad" list now. But with all the time and research I've put in, I just cant go back to my grandmom's Blue Magic!
Extremely well written. Man-O-Man… To have the hair of my childhood. I am really encouaged by your words, that said Looking Forward to TODAY. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Wow! You have a wonderful way with words and I really enjoyed reading your post!!
Love your post. I too want to get back to the big hair of my childhood and what I like to call my Rudy Huxtable stage. It is really nice to know that there are other people, besides myself, who have been natural for a majority of their life and truly didn't understand the needs of their hair until adulthood. Please note that I am also a product junkie, but I am trying to get smarter with my purchases and I don't buy as many products as I figure out what truly works for my hair (It can get very expensive if you are not careful and I have learned to become resourceful.). If you have time, I encourage you to make or find shealoe (shea and aloe) butter (It has changed my life, the look and feel of my hair, and provides my hair with a healthy starting point for the remainder of my hair care journey.). Find an awesome deep conditioner that your hair loves (I sleep in my overnight if I have time or dryer). Personally, I think the shealoe butter, co-washing / running water (water-filter) through my hair in the middle of the week, and deep conditioning once a week has greatly improved the health of my hair. I am also considering adding Cassia Obovata (neutral henna) to my routine and purchasing a huetiful steamer (adds 5x more moisture to your hair when doing conditioning treatments). Try to keep it simple, find bargains, and assist the product junkie within to become a healthy hair guru. It is not easy, but it can be done. Live, Love, Peace. ~Sweetsop
Wonderful essay. I remember my days of having my hair corn-rowed. Remember the basket! OMG!
i agree @anon 4:32
i think naturals tend to over do it with the rules. while some help, what works for one head may not work for another. i know someone with gorgeous curls and they wash their hair with bar soap. i'm talking Lever 2000. also, our parents didn't know anything about no-poo, CG methods. when they braided our heads with mineral oil and blue magic, it was done so after a good shampooing with (gasp!) sulfates! and our hair grew down our backs.
Well-written! Reading about the simpler times, e.g. grease, cornrows w/beads, etc, created a nice *sigh* moment for me. Makes you wonder if perhaps a lot of the stuff we discuss as naturals is a bit over-analyzed, over-discussed, over-the-top.