On Natural Afro Hair
Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Haa. Natural afro hair. What a topic. I think all of my friends and relatives have heard me talk about my hair at least a hundred times. My partner has probably become an expert on natural afro hair at this point. Truth is, it was the first decision I took that inspired me to understand more who I am, and for this my hair will always be a very important part of myself.
But how did it all started? Well, it started while completing my masters. That year, I discovered a book that moved me more than many books I had read - Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I won’t go too much into details over the book, because it will be discussed in a blog post later on, but a part of the novel focuses on natural afro hair. It was eye-opening to me, and shortly afterwards, I decided that I, too, would grow my natural hair.
What is natural afro or afro-textured hair? I think a little bit of explanation is in order for those that do not understand what that means. Natural afro hair can take various forms and textures, and there’s more and more research into how to take care of all these different types of hair. Generally though, afro-textured hair is kinky, denser and slower to grow than caucasian hair. In addition, it is prone to shrinkage, which makes the hair looks much shorter than what it actually is. All those characteristics makes the hair fragile, AND it struggles to retain water. As such, afro-textured hair breaks easily, and is quite difficult to take care of, including growing it to a decent length.
I know some may ask: “But what about Beyonce’s hair? What about all these black women we see on tv and in the streets? They have long hair! They have straight hair!” Well yes, they even have blond hair but that doesn’t mean that it’s common for someone of African-descent to have blond hair. Come on! That’s called hair extensions, wigs and loads of other methods such as relaxing hair. That’s not natural, in the sense that is not how the hair originally is, and it takes a freaking long time to do - oh, and it costs a fortune. I had grown so used to relax my hair that I could do it myself, but going to a hairdresser can easily cost you a few hundred bucks.
So there I was. Relaxed hair, not much money to put into products or protective hairstyles, and a desire to grow my natural hair. Why didn’t you just go to the hairdresser and ask them to fix it, you ask me. Well, because that was not possible. At that point, I had had my hair relaxed for years. No hairdresser, shampoo or miracle product could have changed that. Let me explain why.
Relaxing hair is a gruesome process. You basically put a highly chemical and erosive product on your hair, leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes and then rinse it off. The product does something to your hair and basically straighten it - forever. According to Wikipedia, the active agent in the product is usually alkali, a basic, ionic salt of an alkali metal or alkaline earth metal chemical element. I don’t really know what that means, apart from the fact that it’s nasty - and it can burn too. How many times have I heard women complain that the product had burned their hair or even their scalp because they left the product on too long. For the curious ones, just google burns from relaxers. Nasty business. In addition, there’s no going back from relaxed hair. Once you’ve done it, your hair is straight. Period. If you want to go back to your natural hair, you have one option: grow your hair back, and cut everything else. Yes, that’s right. You have to say goodbye to all your hair. The relaxed hair is ruined, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
So, once I had decided it was time for me to stop using all those products and discover what my natural hair actually looked like, I had to decide how I was going to go about it. I did a bit of research and discovered there’s two common options for women that want to wear their natural hair. You can decide to go through the “big chop” route or the “transitioning” route. The big chop requires you to cut all relaxed hair. In my case, it would have meant shaving my head and waiting for the new hair to grow. I admire those that decide to go through that route and that proudly wear their shaved head. I couldn’t do it. I found the idea of growing my natural hair frightening enough, but thinking of going about my day with a shaved head was down right the scariest thing I had ever imagined. I thus decided to slowly transition into it. It basically involves stopping to use all erosive products and trim your hair bit by bit. While your relaxed hair will never go back to their original state, you can maintain your length until you’re comfortable enough to cut the relaxed ends.
My transition from relaxed to natural kinky hair wasn’t too hard for me, but it isn’t an easy process either. After a few months without relaxing my roots, the contrast between my kinky hair and the straight ends became apparent. I had to start braiding it everyday to hide the difference in texture. For a full year, all my friends and family saw was me with my hair pulled back. All I saw for a year was me with my hair pulled back. It really gets repetitive and boring, I can tell you that, but I knew there was no fast way out, so I patiently waited for my hair to grow.
When I finally cut my straight ends after a year and a half of transitioning, I can tell you it was a shock. I wasn’t sure I liked it at first because it was so different from what I was used to. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “Is this me?”. It was. It was how I was always supposed to look like, but I had never seen that girl before. I had been relaxing my hair since I was six or seven years old. All I had ever known was me with extensions, braids or straight but damaged hair.
I have had issues with my hair since then. It isn’t easy to learn how to take care of natural hair. I go through a regular conditioner bottle in less than two weeks (Belgium, why do you make shampoo and conditioner bottles so damn small? Can’t you make bigger bottles?!). I apply coconut oil every morning, despite the fact that by the end of the day my hair is already dry. My hair is so tangled all the goddamn time too. It makes me pull on it. I can’t help it despite the fact that I know it’s a very bad habit. But the same way people bite their nails, I’ve started trying to detangle strands of hair non-stop. As a result, my ends break and are uneven. I haven’t found a way to stop yet, but I’m hopeful. If I managed to stop sucking my thumb as a kid, I can definitely stop pulling on my hair.
All in all though, I couldn’t be happier to have my natural hair. It feels right, you know? I’m not saying that every woman with afro-textured hair should do the same. I believe everyone is entitled to do whatever the heck they want. But it feels right for myself. I feel like it affirms my own identity as a mixed child. My skin might not be as white or as dark that other members of my family, but I have my hair. More importantly, I can finally have long hair. Relaxers damage your hair to a point that the ends break constantly. I could never grow my hair long because of it. Now I can. I mean, I need to stop pulling on it. But my hair has never been this long. You might not see it because of the shrinkage, but it’s something. It might take me ten years, but I’ve always wanted to have long hair. Let’s see in another two years.