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The Definitive Guide to Natural Hair, 2017

Bold claims, I know.

But you can either watch me fail and have us both chalk it up to a learning experience, or watch me succeed in glorious triumph.

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Natural hair is “in”.

It’s “in” like the song Fiesta and bell-foot pants in the year 2000.

Like the song Fiesta, natural hair is a cultural phenomenon existing within a particular sociopolitical context, that can be observed through a historical lens.

Mm, mm, mmm.

And – like bell foot pants – natural hair is a fashion item.

But like all fashion items, it can be done wrong … and it can be done right.

Since shaving off all my hair in 2013, I’ve made a ton of mistakes with my natural hair.

And I realized something very important.

None of us knows what the heck we’re doing.

Seriously, I don’t know many (any????) women who have always had natural hair.

(I know, they exist. I’m just saying, I don’t know them personally. If you’re one such unicorn, please comment below.)

Most of us have gone between relaxers and our natural hair, cutting and chopping and basically figuring stuff out as we go along.

It may seem like natural hair care is now firmly mainstream because of Naptural85, but – to add some perspective – 10 years ago Naptural85 did not exist, and YouTube as we know it was still in its infancy.

Whitney's hair is still bae though
Whitney’s hair is still bae though. Also, Whitney, I know I used your image without permission but we still cool right

But natural hair care is NOT mainstream, and we’re living in the equally exciting and frustrating time of figuring this whole thing out.

During this in-between period you’ll probably watch more Youtube tutorials than is advisable for maintaining one’s mental stability, shed literal tears over hairstyles that did NOT turn out as advertised, and get completely tired of it all and do something ‘crazy’ to your hair that you’ll eventually end up regretting.

Since I’ve checked off boxes 1, 2 and 3 (shaved sides Danielle???? Seriously?! What the hell were you thinking?) I’m going to go ahead and proclaim myself a ‘natural hair expert’ and give out some free advice.

Here are my top 3 tips for naturalistas, no matter where in your hair journey you happen to be right now.

Tip 1: Stop thinking your hair is difficult.

Seriously, if there’s one thing I could go back and say to myself as a little girl, it would be this.

Natural hair is not inherently difficult, or tedious, or stressful. And caring for our hair isn’t some gargantuan task requiring herculean efforts.

BAd-HAir-Day-Detangling-natural-hair
Nope. Nopenopenopenope

What’s difficult is caring for your hair without the proper knowledge (which, I’ll admit, most of us don’t have). What’s difficult is all the hoops we jump through to try and get our hair to look more like the accepted norm of beauty (more on this later).

I understand that for many women, the thought of dealing with their natural hair is enough to leave them curled up under the bed, shaking in fright. And that’s because for many of us, the absolute worst time to be a little black girl was when you were going to get your hair combed.

I understand that even the natural hair tutorials on Youtube aren’t that encouraging either, because so many hair gurus seem to use a truckload of products and seem to take a ridiculous amount of time and effort.

But, although it might pose a challenge, like everything does when it’s new, think of the opportunities we’ve also been given.

Do you realize that we are writing history right now?

We get to live in a time where we finally have the time, freedom and resources to figure out what to do with our postcolonial hair. And we can share that knowledge and information freely with those who don’t. Think about all the little girls who will never have to dread having her hair combed, because we are worrying about it now.

And most importantly, realize that taking care of natural hair isn’t inherently difficult. If it is, it’s just because we have not been given the right tools to accomplish it.

Tip 2: Work with your hair, not against it.

Our hair is curly.

I know, I know, grand revelation. But I’m pointing it out again because we spend so much time and effort blow-drying and flat-ironing and stretching our hair … just so we can prove that our hair really is something it was never meant to be in the first place: long.

In the Jamaican language, when someone has hair of admirable length, it’s referred to as “tall hair”.

When I was younger and a complete language snob (as opposed to now, when I’m just a language snob) I used to think that people who used this language feature were ridiculous and uneducated.

But now, I see the wisdom in this choice of words.

Our hair doesn’t grow long, it grows tall.

Let’s take a moment of silence and mourning for the fact that our hair will never flow like a beauty queens’ and fall quirkily out of place like that girl in the Bruno Mars video who is beautiful Just The Way She Is.

And I really mean it.

Mourn.

Because all our lives, that was the standard of hair that we saw as beautiful. And – even for women who have gone natural – the standard of hair that is somewhat long and flowing is still the one considered beautiful.

But I’ve come to accept that my hair in its natural, healthy state will never look like the accepted norm of beautiful hair.

It is curly, and when my hair is moisturized and healthy, it will curl up, not fall down like straight hair. It is coily, so my hair strands scatter light as opposed to reflecting them like straighter strands do. No matter how much product it’s laced with, my hair won’t look glossy and shiny.

Us natural hair divas have a term for our hair in it’s natural state. No, we don’t call it “hair”. We call it “shrinkage”.

Shrinkage: exhibit A
Shrinkage: exhibit A

But what we call ‘shrinkage’ is actually your hair just being your hair. It’s not shrinking!

Accepting – and I mean really accepting – my hair for the way it is, made such a difference on my natural hair journey.

Trust me: sooooo many of the things we do to get our hair to “look longer” are the very things preventing its growth! Braid extensions, blowouts – these things are in actuality drying and damaging to our curly strands.

When you start to work with your hair, you stop resenting it for ‘looking short and curly’. You learn how to use “protective styling” as more than a way to get your hair to look long. (Y’all know what I’m talkin’ bout). You come to realize all the cool things your hair can do and stop worrying about the things that it can’t.

Tip 3: Take your time

All great things take time.

I know you already know this, so I’m going to repeat it so, this time, it can actually have an impact: all great things take time!

Like my self, my hair is a work in progress.

And I have to remind myself of that every time I get annoyed or impatient or whenever that lingering resentment rears its ugly head.

It takes some time to figure out a regimen that works for your hair. Sure, Youtube helps, but there are so many different curl types, and levels of income, and lifestyles, that what another person swears by could be terrible for you.

But once you do, it all becomes so much easier.

It does.

I promise you that it does.

And on that note, I’ll leave you to lay your edges.

***

Are you a seasoned natural hair guru? Or one of those unicorns I mentioned above? Do you have any tips for us slightly less-seasoned ladies?

Is this a whole new world for you? Please leave a comment below letting me know your thoughts.

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6 comments

  1. Meeeeee!(and my mom)
    😃 I had to scroll all the way down here to comment and I haven’t read further than you statement about not knowing any ‘life long’ natural sisters, yeah, impatient me. I (we) have never had chemical or heat treatment done to our hair (mom said she tired to blow dry once). Congratulations! You now know us 😃 (what’s our prize? ) 😀

    1. hahahaha omgeeeeeeeee!! Big up yuhself!!!!! I figured there were some I knew as well, but just not off the top of my head 🙂 Where did I say there was a prize?? 😀 *runs away*

  2. So I have done everything that could possibly be done to my hair. Braid, Jerry curl, relax, press, steam, fried, go natural, you name it. Somehow I just cannot get my hair to the healthy look and feel that I want. I don’t even care about length, it’s about the dryness and “dirty color” look that it has regardless of how much water I drink or how many recommended products I use. This is something I have struggled with from childhood. Being teased to the point of tears from prep school through to college. I’ve spent a lot of money going to get deep conditioning and treatments and just having professionals taking care of my hair. Nothing works. Minimal growth. Minimal I say. 5 inches, that takes 5 years to grow…yes 5…and then it starts dying. at my age I know it’s a hopeless case so I’ve just decided to keep it low, Do whatever I want with it, color if I feel like it, and keep it moving. No offense to all the natural sisters out there but if I should come back in another life, and have a choice where hair is concerned, I would stay as far as possible from my own. I absolutely dislike it. Mostly because of the challenges of finding a style with that length, color and texture. That rolled up “taco meat” at the back of my neck and my edges is not cute. However I would still choose to be kinky curly.
    My conclusion is that hair types are like grass. Some are tall, some are short, some are in the middle. I might have gotten that Bermuda grass type. Lol 😂.

    1. Awwww girl sorry you had such a bad experience with your hair 🙁
      It took some time but I’m finally loving mine 🙂

  3. I’ve gone through relaxing then natural, then back to relaxing (covers face)…but I’m back to natural now and absolutely loving it. It’s been over 2 years and I haven’t applied any heat to it so far; but I use crotchet braids from time to time as my protective style especially during the winter season.

    1. Yes!!! Enjoy it!

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