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.