A friend recently asked me for hair tips and advice. See, she’s transitioning. From relaxed hair to natural hair. I get these requests often and while I’m glad that yet another Black woman is embracing her God-given natural curls, coils, kinks, and naps, these questions give me pause because invariably the person comes back with “I thought natural hair was supposed to be easy” or “I used that product and my hair did not look like yours”. They make me feel like I’m purposefully trying to sabotage them in their journey which I’m not.
My whole family is natural now. Yes! I know my mother is natural only until she grows it to a desired length to relax it again and that one of my sisters will not give up the weaves. But right now, no-one is purchasing and applying caustic relaxers to their hair every couple months for the purpose of achieving straight hair. That’s great! However, I know they did not go natural because of me but rather because Black women wearing their hair naturally in the United States has reached a critical mass.
I was the typical natural-headed African girl with plaits and braids who looked forward to special occasions like birthdays to get my hair straightened with a hot comb ie. a flaming rod of torture. The scent of burning hair and the occasional singed scalp or tip of the ear was just par for the cause. That and trying not to sweat or prolonging the time to hair-wash day so that the hair did not revert back to its kinks. Then at the age of 14 I got my hair relaxed as a rite of passage. We were coming to America.
My mother would apply the relaxer to my hair every few months to make sure that new growth of hair was also straightened into submission. The chemical smelled horrible. You had to wear gloves to apply it and wash it out. If you left it on the hair too long it could cause chemical burns to the scalp. After washing it out of the hair, we would then proceed to place the hair onto rollers and then sit under an extremely hot dryer. It was all just unnecessary torture. I learnt during that time that Black women tended to take a break from relaxing their hair when they were pregnant. That certainly told me something.
I stopped relaxing my hair about five years later when I was in college. This was in the late 1990s when very few Black women wore their hair naturally. It was such a rarity that my family, friends, and I wondered if my application to medical school would be jeopardized by my wearing my hair naturally. It was going to be tough as it was already to qualify academically, why make it harder by not looking the part ie. with straight professional hair? This dilemma was repeated when I started clinical rotations in the third year of medical school. Would I be making it more difficult for myself to get good grades by insisting on wearing my hair naturally?
But I remained true to myself and here I am on the other side as a full-fledged physician wearing my hair naturally. Of course these days, I have so much more company such that I’m not a complete oddity. I do get compliments on my hair but I refuse to acknowledge them or other women who wear their hair natural as special. This is not special. This is not brave. This is not being a trailblazer. This is normal. I can’t wait for the day that applying relaxer to the hair or using a hot-comb or wearing extensions or weaves is as odd or maybe avant garde as colouring the hair neon green or the day that submitting the scalps of children to caustic relaxers and hot combs would be regarded as abuse.
That said let’s get back to the “I thought natural hair was supposed to be easy/easier” comment. I would like to challenge anyone who questions a natural hair routine to tell me what their routine is to cleaning themselves. I bet most would not tell me that they turn on the tap, hop into the shower for a few minutes, hop out, and get dressed. Certainly not most women. We all have processes that include the temperature of the water, whether we shave or not, the order in which we bathe, whether we use loofahs, sponges, towels or what not, what products we use including but not limited to face wash, body wash, lotion, deodorant, perfume, etcetera. To someone who crawled out from under a rock, all of this would seem rather complex, right? Same goes with my natural hair routine. It’s going to sound complex but it isn’t because it’s as routine to me as taking a shower.
So here goes. These days, I’m not out there trying products because it’s not really about the product but about how you use it and how you treat your hair. I wear twists for the most part. So why don’t you loc your hair? I like to be able to take down the twists and wear a twist-out or an afro or an afro-puff. I go to the gym often and sweat it out each time. Thus I wash my hair often…but not daily. Goodness no, not daily!