The last time I actually saw my natural hair, I was eleven. Eleven! As soon as I hit middle school, my hair went into braids, and then after that for nearly two decades I had the same hairstylist, glory, who had my hair so damn straight, I might as well have been a doll. Girls were constantly trying to jam their fingers into my shoulder length hair looking for weave tracks, but surprise, that shit was real, thank you very much! Then one day, a day that will forever live in infamy, I heard some of the most traumatic words a girl can hear from her life long stylist, "I'm moving." There was this moment of silence and then I cried. Not just like a tear or two, I'm talking ugly cried right there in the chair. This woman had seen me through proms, three graduations, my first real job, and all the moments in between and now she was up and leaving. Not only that, she was taking the amazing family discount I had because 2 of my aunts also went to her, out of the state and a million miles away. To put this trauma into perspective, I went to this woman every week for nearly 20 years, and hadn't really done my own hair in any of that time, and now, there was no one.
I freaked out. I tried calling all my permed girlfriends, but their stylists were too expensive or too far away, or just terrible human beings. I tried hillariously at this point to transition my hair on my own, which left me holding fistfulls of my own hair. After about 3 months, my hair was both stringy and thick and falling out completely in the back due to a texture difference. So I adopted this bun thing just covering the entire base of my hair with a large headband, and then letting the straight bits curl over in 'a bun.' It was an absolute mess, and so was I and my complete lack of knowledge about my own hair, so right before my brother's wedding, I chopped all of my sad and tired and broken hair off leaving me with about 2 inches of hair in a TWA (teeny weeny afro).
So let us begin with some real talk...
1. LET THE WAR BEGIN
As soon as you make the big chop as it's called, people, and by people, I mean fellow naturals and permed heads, will come all out of the woodwork to try to tell you how it is. Some people will begin to view you like you're some type of militant for going back to Africa and a natural hair crusader, and some will view you as having ruined your entire life by a)cutting off your long hair and b)not continuing to perm. They will fight with you, argue with you, say some nasty things, some will most definitely support you...but at the end of the day, please remember that what you have on your head is just hair. It doesn't define you. No one wins a nobel peace prize because they have straight hair or natural hair. This list isn't mean to shame anyone who chooses to wear a perm, but to share what its like to have been there, done that, and gone to the natural side, but neither side is better than the other. Your personal happiness with who you are and what you look like trumps whatever you're rocking on your head.
2. YOU MAY HATE YOUR NATURAL HAIR
Yeah, I said it, you may HATE your natural hair. Change is a difficult process. You think after 20 years of seeing myself look exactly one way, chopping it all off, also something I had never done in 20 years, I was cool with all of it?!? Did you not read my backstory? I cried in the hairstylist chair for goodness sakes! Pssh. I hated my hair. I have a five head, not a forehead, and short hair has never been a good look for me and with that tiny afro I couldn't 'do' much with, it was hard. I debated for 6 months almost every week if I was just going to go back to the perm and even now, some two years later, I still have moments where I question it. That is okay. There is a lot of psychological who am I, what's what, and who's who that we have to deal with as African Americans related to our hair, but its important to realize that its your hair. If you hate it either permed or natural, you are allowed to do whatever the hell you want with your locks. If you go back to permed, you're not a failure. If you stick with it, well, that's cool too.
3. KNOW YOUR HAIR TYPE
There are all types of articles on black hair types which indicate the level of curl or kink each person has in their type of hair. Some people hate a typing system, but th reason I personally say, know your type is because it will save you from some dellusional expectations of what your hair can and will do for you. I have 4c hair. I see these Pinterest photos of these girls with these bouncy locks for days that just spring out of the shower and their hair natural curls in a defined way. My hair won't do that and its importnat to note that that's okay in the same way some people will never be up and down skinny or have a curvy body. We are our genetics and you have to learn to work with whatcha momma gave you. Focus on articles, and videos, and pinterest photos that will inspire you to keep going and to love you rather than trying to spend forever trying to obtain something you never will.
4. TRICK YOURSELF INTO TRANSITION
You don't just have to chop all your hair off and wait for it to grow to whatever length you want. You can buy either typical straight hair wigs, or the newer kinky style wigs and weaves that allow you to see what your hair can look like in the future. We are lucky enough now that wig manufactures are realizing there is a true market for kinky hair so they are selling clip ins, twist styles, big fros, that don't look like that cheap Halloween 60s wig of years past, but that really look, well, natural. The above picture is a wig worn by youtuber, and its namesake, Gabriel.
5. PHONE A FRIEND
If you are as clueless as I was, call someone in the know, once again, with similar hair type to you. They can tell you how it really is and what you can do or lead you to whoever gets them on the right track. Often the frustration comes because we, more than most other races, are particularly ignorant about our natural hair. I'm telling you right now, I knew next to nothing about keeping it right and tight when it came to natural hair. Hit up the internet, youtube in particular for demonstrations you can watch and learn from and knowledge about products for your hair type. There are stylists who deal exclusively with natural hair and seeking out their help can be invaluable in keeping you motivated and knowledgeable so you know what to do when things go wrong.
6. ...AND THINGS WILL GO WRONG
When I first started I went straight to youtube which is an invaluable resource for natural hair. I dutifully watched out to twist, and braid, and high puff, but as with anything, its a learning process. Whenever you learn something, you are bound to have failures, but you can't get stuck in the fact that you aren't a golden shiny master at everything you do. Success in life comes from working hard and gaining knowledge necessary to achieving your goals, in this case "hair goals!" If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Keep in mind, the person making the video may have failed 10 times before they got it right, but of course they aren't going to show you all that...they are going to show you how they get it right. Keep that in mind.
7. TRUST ME, YOUR HAIR WILL GROW
I cannot tell you how many people have looked at me and said straight to my face, "well, you know 4c hair don't grow." All hair grows. Let me repeat that, all...hair...grows. Let me break it down for you. I have what is considered the thickest or kinkiest form of natural hair. It resembles something akin to a cotton ball/brillo pad in the amount of coil, kink, and tightness present. Now compare that with to someone with bone straight hair. When their hair grows out of the root, it travels out of the root shaft, and then straight down with no stops. When my hair comes out, it likes to take a windy roller coaster ride with many loops until it reaches the same exact point as my straight haired friends. Our hair is growing the same exact amount, but the length she phsycially sees, is one I have to take my hand and stretch out a lock of my hair to see. This is why if you were to blow out or straighten your hair, it would suddenly look oh so much longer, because it already was.
8. MO HAIR, MO PROBLEMS
I've dreamed of a big juicy Pam Grier Foxy Brown fro since I started transitioning, but I'll tell you another hard truth...more hair, equals more work, more time, more shampoo and conditioner. That's not putting our hair down, that's true of anybody who has longer hair. My fro fully fluffed out now deliciously brushes the roof of my car when I'm in the drivers seat and I love it, but as a TWA, I could wash and go tossing a few accessories about and I was done. My hair now is much too long for that and would tangle and knot horribly if I did what I used to do, so I must spend real time detangling, twisting, combing gently, and styling and moisturizing, moisturizing, mo mo moisturizing it.
9. WELL, WHAT THE HELL IS THE GOOD NEWS?
The first time it rained and I did not have an umbrella, rather than stand under an awning for 45 minutes waiting for rain to stop, or having to carry around a permanent umbrella, I just walked out to my car and didn't worry about my hair reverting, not to mention going to the gym and sweating out my perm, or worrying about having wasted a bunch of money on hair that a few drops of water managed to destory in minutes. You can do a lot with your natural hair other then wear a fro. There is a girl right now on youtube/pinterest that did 30 days straight of 4c hairstyles, each one different. You can swim, you can run, you can be active without always worrying...what about my hair, what about my hair!!! You save money not having to pay for weave and perms. You have less damage to your hair because you tend not to use heat, dangerous chemicals, or pulling at your edges and or scalp to obtain those type of styles. You don't have to worry about a wig falling off or not being pinned down or someone seeing your hair tracts or having a braid fall out. You are a natural girl who IS beautiful just the way she is.
10. BE AN ADVOCATE FOR YOUR HAIR
Like I said, I went through a hard period of hating myself and my new or old depending on how you look at it, natural hair. The struggle was real because I didn't know how to love myself like this. One day a guy was ringing me up at a check out counter, and he told me point blank how beautiful he thought my hair was. Another lady walking down the street said she liked my fro. This support even from perfect strangers, made a world of difference. Ladies, we need to support other naturals because often we do not see ourselves reflected enough in media/magazines/tv, or just walking down the street. For me personally, that was where a lot of self hatred came from towards my hair. No one was saying it was okay or it was beautiful. I had to discover that to know it. Make it part of your mission to praise the beauty of the naturals you come in contact with. Instead of natural hair being this rare thing that only "certain women" have, we need to just make it normal, like every other hairstyle, because it is. Also if you have young children, buy them sisters of style dolls which offer Barbies with natural textured hair, read them books with characters that look like them, seek out resources that teach them to love themselves at a young age and by seeing you love yourself, they will learn by seeing and doing as well.