Even though my hair has always been natural, it has been a relatively short period of time since I finally began to care for my hair properly. Prior to that, my “hair care” practices would better be described as “hair don’t care” practices. Years of abusing blow dryers, coloring my hair and generally mistreating my hair led to a full decade where my hair didn’t appear to grow. When I left home for college, my education on caring for my afro-textured hair thus far had consisted of one simple equation: cornrows + grease = growth. But, I discovered that I quite liked the look of my hair in a shrunken and tangled afro, so that became my “signature” look. Best of all, it was easy.
If my hair looked too shrunken and flat in the morning, I’d simply grab my blow dryer, put it on HIGH and HOT, and yank the comb attachment through my mane violently, until it reached the desired shape.
Throughout my time in college, I also experimented with hair dye and bleach, on a regular basis. Because of my hair’s texture, I remember boasting that my hair was “invincible,” and that I could do anything to it without consequence.
Sadly, proper moisturizing and conditioning was never a part of the routine. Worse still, my braids were typically so tight that I’d get small bumps on my hairline. I figured pain and bumps were just part of the deal: You get braids, you get bumps. Somehow, my hair would still progress slightly, while in these protected-and-then-neglected styles; but, ultimately, my recidivism into the carefree lifestyle of blow drying and then ignoring my hair prevailed. When it had been years since I had seen my own hair color, I finally put away the dye box. But, I didn’t put away the heat, and toyed with pressing and flat ironing my hair a couple of times, a few years ago. The truth was, my hair’s length was still stagnant because it wasn’t getting the basic things it needed. If my hair was straight, though, I figured at least it looked longer.
In the summer of 2010 and for no particular reason, I finally got honest with myself, one day. I acknowledged that I had to be doing something—or many things—wrong, for my hair to be at such a standstill. My ends were always split. My hair was always felt dry and rough. Every time I tried to comb it out (which involved dripping wet—but otherwise naked—hair, a pick and nothing else), I would end up with a ball of broken hair and knots the size of a grapefruit, by the time I was done. And, it had been this way for a decade. I’m not ashamed to admit that, initially, my main goal was to grow my hair— finally, grow it for real, this time. So, I started simply.
I invested in a shampoo, conditioner and hair oil from a popular hair care line I had seen on TV that was geared toward natural hair. I learned about gentler ways to handle my hair. I found better ways to comb out, or “detangle,” my hair. I realized that braids and other styles shouldn’t cause any pain. I read hair blogs. I discovered the plethora of YouTube videos, with women in their bedrooms and bathrooms sharing their tips, knowledge and experiences. I became hair obsessed. But, more importantly, I became empowered. At last, I was armed with knowledge. It turned out that there was a lot more to growing my hair than the “cornrows + grease” formula. Figuring out how best to care for my hair remains an ongoing process to this day, and there are still personal goals I have yet to attain. But, the most important lesson yet has been realizing that all of this is possible. Indeed, when my hair failed to progress and grow any longer over a ten year period, I began to wonder if it never could.
But today, a mere year and a half after getting honest with myself about how I’d been mistreating and abusing my hair, it has flourished beyond my wildest dreams. And, for the record, I haven’t used a blow dryer in almost two years. My advice to anyone else who is struggling with getting to where she/he wants to be—hair-wise or otherwise—is to get honest. Assess why what you’re doing is not working, take action and let your failures become lessons. Both in hair and in life, the first step to reaching any goal is assuming that it is possible. [Photographer: G. Lewis Heslet]