I Am Not My Hair Pt. 1: My Decision to Go Natural

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There are a lot of things I’m still working to change about my lifestyle to make it greener. That should’ve been pretty clear from my confessions post. Up until January ’09, one of those things was my hair. Ever since third grade, I had been using chemical relaxers to straighten my hair. It was just what the women in my family did, so it was what I did too. Over the years, I had seen women with beautiful natural hair, but I never thought it would work for me. I thought I’d never be able to manage it or learn how to style it. And beyond that, I wrapped my perception of my own beauty around my chemically straightened hair. I never felt more beautiful than the day I got a fresh relaxer and my hair was laying down straight, smooth and shiny. And weeks later when some new growth started to come in, I’d feel less beautiful and start pulling my hair back in a ponytail. That was the way it had been for as long as I can remember.

But as I moved further and further toward a greener lifestyle, I started feeling guilty about what I was doing to my hair. I knew my bi-monthly relaxer wasn’t good for me or the environment when I washed it down the drain. But it was all I had ever known, so I continued to do it for months, even through the guilt. Finally, I decided that I just wasn’t going to relax my hair any more. Period.

For those women who have never had relaxed hair, understand that this was a huge decision for me. I was about to change the way I perceived myself and my beauty. My 4-year-old daughter has a thick mane of long, natural hair, and I often struggle with managing it. So how in the heck was I going to manage my own? I am, however, glad that I’d made this decision for the benefit of my health and the Earth and for no other reasons. My husband, who is a Rasta and has dreads, had been telling me to make the natural leap for years, but I wanted the decision to be my own. Now, it finally is.

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The first photo shows my hair a few weeks ago, 7 months into my transition (ie. 7 months after my last relaxer). It was taken by the lovely Sheena of Mommy Daddy Blog while we were in Chicago for BlogHer. The photo above was taken by my husband a few weeks before that. Some women opt to cut off their relaxed ends at the beginning, but I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of having such a short cut. Instead, I have chosen to grow out the relaxer and cut off my ends gradually, an inch or two at a time.

Ever since I started really caring about my hair and taking good care of it, which I wasn’t doing when I was relaxing, it is much healthier, even with two completely different textures to work with (kinky natural hair for about 4 inches from the roots and straighter relaxed hair at the ends). Thanks in part to natural hair divas (and bloggers ) like Curly Nikki and videos from women like MahoganyCurls, I have learned to embrace my natural texture and I’m actually looking forward to my big chop, when I finally cut off the last of my relaxed ends.

I’ll share my hair journey throughout this process, and I hope to get great feedback and comments about what others are doing.

For those of you who are interested, here’s my current hair regimen:

I’d love to hear from other women of color who are living with their natural hair texture, or who are transitioning like I am. In fact, I want to hear from any woman who has a mass of curls for hair. What is your hair regimen? What products do you use? Why did you decide to go au naturale? Get the conversation started in the comments below!

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14 responses
  • Spirit August 4, 2009, 7:34 am

    This is great Jennae! My sister just cut off her dreads after 10 years and I can’t wait to show her your beautiful, natural look and tips as inspiration!

    Reply
  • Lynn August 4, 2009, 2:55 pm

    First of all, congratulations! While I am not an African American, I spent all of my teenage years trying to get my curly, frizzy, thick, unmanageable hair, to reach the standards of the day which was sleek, long and straight. I ironed. I slept on orange juice cans (including on our honeymoon in Acapulco–wrong choice of a place with hair like mine). I grew up in NY and would travel to Harlem, where I was the only white face sitting in the line against one wall waiting to walk across the room and have my hair “straightened” as we called it in those days. It was straight all right, but lasted only a few weeks and in the meantime, there was no way I could get a comb or brush through it when it was wet.

    It wasn’t until middle age that I finally learned to live with my curly locks. Then I discovered the flattening iron and now use that. And it’s not because I prefer straight to curly. It’s just much easier. I wash my hair once a week, flatten it and that’s it for the week. If I want to wear it curly, I have to wash every morning or I’ve got part curls, part flat and part just sticking up like i slept with my finger in the light socket!

    But an even bigger decision for me was to allow my hair to go white instead of dyeing it. As bad as the relaxer may be for the Earth, hair dye is no better (and probably worse because I’m quite sure there is a lot more of it). I’m very happy with the way things are, but I have to tell you, it’s unbelievable how differently I’m treated now. From one day to the next, people treated me differently. It’s startling and fascinating how fears and prejudices are played out in the way we acknowledge (or not) and treat each other.

    I’m guessing that you may encounter some of the same thing, but who knows. People are always telling me how pretty they think my hair is, and yet, I have not been able to avoid the stigma of “old” since I let it go white.
    .-= Lynn´s last blog ..LA Talk Radio, Answers 4 the Family extras =-.

    Reply
  • Carla | Green and Chic August 4, 2009, 5:41 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story! I stopped flat ironing my hair in 2002 (I never had a relaxer) and it was the most liberating experience for me. I mean, I can sweat whenever I want to (started working out daily), swim and just live without worrying about my hair getting in the way. I went natural mostly because it was a PITA to keep straightening it. I embraced my curls and never went back.

    My hair is 3C texture, part curls, part waves, and very thick in some areas. It gets very tangled if I’m not careful with it. I rinse daily especially on the days I work out and use a heavy conditioner. I sometimes use one by Alba, sometimes Aubrey Organics, sometimes Giovanni. I use a sulfate free shampoo about once a week. I do color my hair (blue/black single process). I style my hair using a variety of products depending on my hair’s mood and the weather. I mostly use coconut oil and sometimes shea butter if I want some hold. It was recently bra strap length, but I trimmed it a bit and I may cut it more.

    I have gotten some backlash when I encourage other black women to go natural. Basically I can get away with it because I have “good hair” or a “good grade of hair” and that’s all there is to it. I refuse to have that conversation with anyone unless asked. Its very disheartening that we still have issues with our hair texture.
    .-= Carla | Green and Chic´s last blog ..Giveaway: Win SIX Clean+Green Eco-Friendly Pet Cleaning Products =-.

    Reply
  • jennae August 4, 2009, 5:45 pm

    @Spirit That must’ve been a huge change for her! I can definitely relate to what she must be going through 🙂

    @Lynn It’s crazy that people would treat anyone differently because of something as overtly superficial as their hair texture or color, but unfortunately, I can relate. When I told people, even those I was closest to, that I had decided to go natural, I got reactions ranging from disbelief to condemnation. Only a handful were actually supportive, and most of those people were women who had made the choice to do the same. For me, a relaxer meant convenience and made my hair easier for me to manage. But it’s never too late to learn something new, right? Thanks for your support, and for the record, I think your white hair is beautiful! 🙂

    Reply
  • To Think Is To Create August 4, 2009, 6:03 pm

    I’m not a woman of color (as you know! *wink*) and my hair is not super curly, but I just wanted to say that I love this post. I had a heart to heart with Denene (My Brown Baby) about natural hair, and it was so enlightening that I UNDERSTAND completely what a big deal this is. I am proud of you Jennae! You are beautiful, and your hair looked fab at Blogher. Can’t wait to see more posts about this.

    xoxo
    Arianne
    .-= To Think Is To Create´s last blog ..New Design, New Me =-.

    Reply
  • Shawanda August 4, 2009, 6:28 pm

    Congratulations on embracing your natural hair. I’ve been natural for about three years now. This isn’t the first time. I’ve gone natural twice before. I won’t be turning back.

    I wore a baby ‘fro for a while. Then, I wore a twist out. It was really cute, but my hair is extremely nappy, and it would take hours just to comb it out and twist it every 2 or 3 weeks.

    I got my hair locked in December of last year. I’ll be glad when my locs are longer, because it doesn’t seem like I have a lot of versatility at the moment.

    It’s unfortunate when you’re in the minority just because you don’t chemically straighten your hair. Even as a child, I knew people who used terms like “good hair” and “bad hair” were idiots. As an adult, I have the freedom to separate myself from their ignorance.
    .-= Shawanda´s last blog ..The Last Luxury =-.

    Reply
  • jennae August 4, 2009, 6:30 pm

    @Carla Thank you for sharing your story! I’m still trying to figure out my hair type, but I think I’m somewhere between a 3c and a 4a. I’m going to try to stay away from coloring, which shouldn’t be hard since I’ve never done it 🙂 When I was growing up in the Virgin Islands, my hair had golden brown highlights, mostly because of the combination of chemical relaxers and constantly being in the sun. I’d love to have that color again, but I don’t want to go the route of dye or highlights.

    And I totally understand wanting to avoid the “good hair, bad hair” conversation. That’s why I jacked India.Arie’s song title for the headline of this series. Because this type of ridiculous stereotype comes from an outdated frame of reference that needs to go away. I’m just happy to know that there are other women out there, even those like you who have been natural for years, who still face some of the same issues.

    @Arianne Thank you SO much for your point of view. It can be hard to explain this to women who have never been through it, but it is really good for my self esteem to hear that you thought my hair was nice 🙂 And if I know Denene at all, she did a bang-up job of breaking down our hair issues for you!

    Reply
  • Denene@MyBrownBaby August 4, 2009, 8:08 pm

    I just have to say again how much I LOVE this new site—you better work, baby!

    I’m all natural (though you couldn’t tell that when you met me at BlogHer because I have a weave) and have been for going on eight years now. I decided to do so after my daughter chopped all her beautiful twists with scissors and then begged me to let her get blonde hair like one of her classmates. I really liked to died that day. Instead, though, I took that as a cue that I needed to do what I could to help my little girls understand that their natural, kinky, super curly hair is beautiful JUST THE WAY IT IS and that while it’s okay to admire other peoples’ hair, it’s important that they LOVE their own with abandon.

    I’ve worn my hair in textured afros and in braids for all these years (I wore braids with extensions while I grew out my relaxer), and occasionally, I’ll let someone run a hot comb through it so that I can get my ends clipped, or if I’m going somewhere where folks won’t necessarily understand my natural texture. Rather than explain, I just press it for a day or two and then go on back to my natural life when I’m back home.

    I’ve used a ton of different products, though I’ve had the most success with my own concoction of rosemary, glycerin, vitamin E, and coconut oil to moisterize my scalp, and shea butter to moisturize my hair. I use this in my daughters’ hair, too, and it works wonders to keep it shiny and healthy until our next washing. I usually use tea tree shampoo to help combat dry scalp, and wash once every week and a half or so.

    I am interested in exploring more natural products for both my hair and for my daughters; my older daughter has scalp issues that require medicine on their worst days, but I can’t help but to think that if I changed what I’m using in her hair, it would be that much more helpful. I can’t wait to try some of the products you recommended!

    As always, thanks for the insight and suggestions—I absolutely adore you and both of your sites!
    .-= Denene@MyBrownBaby´s last blog ..Ha’ Mercy: My 10-Year-Old’s Body Is Too Bootylicious For Kidswear =-.

    Reply
  • Denene@MyBrownBaby August 4, 2009, 8:14 pm

    Oh, and about my weave: I did it because my hair needed a REAL rest from all the combing and pulling and twisting and braiding I do every two to three days, and this was an easy, versatile way to do this. Plus, I just wanted to play without jacking up my own hair. For sure, I am not my hair. Don’t judge the weave. I think it’s cute, and that’s all that matters…
    .-= Denene@MyBrownBaby´s last blog ..Ha’ Mercy: My 10-Year-Old’s Body Is Too Bootylicious For Kidswear =-.

    Reply
  • mzahmad August 5, 2009, 7:41 am

    I have been mostly natural for most of my life. I would do an occasional texturizer to loosen up my curls but other than one year when I tried to get my hair straightened every week it’s big a variation of short and long afro styles.

    I tried the weave for a little over a year and my short afro grew into long shoulder length natural hair and although tempted I’ve not put in chemicals in it. I co wash, use lots of Carol’s Daughter and wear allot of pony tails but there is something nice knowing that this is my natural hair.

    I applaud you and hope that you soon enjoy the freedom of no chemicals at all.
    .-= mzahmad´s last blog ..Shoe Works =-.

    Reply
  • Elisa @ So Fresh + So Green August 5, 2009, 7:56 am

    Loooove this post! I did the big chop at 20, and never turned back, especially after I saw all the havoc the regular relaxers had wreaked on my hair. I had a teeny weeny fro for a couple of years, then had locks for about 10 years. I did another big chop right before I hit 30 (and had my first baby), and I must say I’m in love with my natural hair! It did take a while to figure out how to style it with the help of a stylist that specializes in natural hair. And…I am guilty of a highlight or two a couple of times a year, but try to use natural and/or organic products. Right now my faves are WildAid by David Babaii Shampoo and Conditioner, and jojoba oil and virgin coconut oil as a moisturizer.

    I’m loving the new site, by the way! 🙂
    .-= Elisa @ So Fresh + So Green´s last blog ..Did You Miss Me? =-.

    Reply
  • Mercedes August 5, 2009, 9:40 am

    I told you in Chicago and I will say it again. I think your hair looks beautiful curly. I also wear my hair curly and I don’t think I would have it any other way. You actually have given me reason to wear it shorter than I usually do.

    Mercedes
    .-= Mercedes´s last blog ..Yummy Coupon: $1 off Yoplait Delights =-.

    Reply
  • jennae August 5, 2009, 6:45 pm

    @Shawanda I have the same problem with my daughter’s hair getting tangled, and that was one of my biggest concerns when making my decision. I have to keep her hair braided or twisted to avoid knots, because it’s just too long for twist outs. Thanks for sharing your story!

    @Denene It’s so funny you should talk about what prompted you to go natural. Over the past week or so, my daughter has been insistent that she wants her hair straights, like the girls in High School Musical. And I’ve been doing everything I can to reinforce to her that her hair is beautiful just the way it is — the way God made it. I even explained that her hair was SO beautiful that Mommy is growing out her hair so it can look just like hers. She still insists she wants straight hair, but thankfully, she doesn’t have a say in it at 4 years old 🙂

    And trust me, no judgment about the weave. You are beautiful no matter what you do with your hair, which is the whole point, right?

    @Elisa I had never heard of WildAid by David Babaii, but I’ll have to look out for it. I also occasionally use coconut oil in my hair.

    @Mercedes Thank you so much! I love your beautiful curly hair too, and I know you’ll look great whether it’s short or long 🙂

    Reply

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