My journey, my motivation
from Going Natural; How to fall in Love with Nappy Hair
Like so many nappy-haired girls, I started to relax my hair when I was 14. At that age, looking mature was very important. Since I had been wearing an afro from age eight, a change of style was extra welcome. Needless to say, I loved my new look and enjoyed my grown-up straight hair. The joy did not last for long. Dancing to only one song at a very anticipated teenage party would make my carefully styled hair collapse. The humidity and sweat made me look like a drowned cat. Because participation in different kinds of sports was also part of my teenage life, my hair was difficult to keep in place and my straightened tresses became a constant source of concern. Since I didn’t know what else to do with my hair, I just tried to learn to live with it. Sometimes my hair was a real mess, but most of the time I managed. The chemical treatment was something I felt reluctant to each and every time and I certainly did not like the high maintenance, but I resigned myself to the whole process and I coped.
After college, my hair really became more than a constant source of concern; it became a burden. Maybe it was the change of environment, from a tropical one to one with four seasons, but suddenly I had to deal with severe breakage. My hair was also thin, lifeless and dry. Out of desperation, I started to wear braids with extensions. It was uncomfortable in the beginning. I had to get used to the fake, long braids but felt that it would be temporary anyway. I only needed to grow my hair back so I could relax it again and take much better care of it. I was sure that that would solve all the problems. Needless to say, this didn’t work. I went from one expensive professional hairdresser to the next, from a three month to an eight week touchup-period, from a regular lye to a mild, no-lye relaxer and vice versa, but nothing could stop my hair from breaking once it was chemically processed. I was caught in a vicious cycle of braiding my hair, growing lovely healthy naps, then relaxing again only to have my kinks break down to my scalp again.
One day while this nearly bald spot was sadly gazing at me in the mirror, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” Why do I keep straightening my hair so compulsively? It is no fun having your scalp burned every couple of weeks, the maintenance is certainly not easy nor cheap and on top of that, my healthy naps were clearly deteriorating after flourishing while wearing braids. It was at that point that I decided, “No more.” I had no clue what I would or could do with my nappy hair but my mind was made up, no more straightening.
The positive aspect about the vicious cycle was that I had become an expert in caring for extensions and taking them out. So, although I couldn’t even make a decent braid, I didn’t have any “hair-aches” for a year. My natural naps were flourishing and I wasn’t really concerned about the next step of learning how to style my natural hair until I had to. After taking out my extensions, washing my hair, combing it and making my usual funny looking braids, I routinely put on my hat and went on my way to the steady braider I had known now for more than one year. This was on a Sunday and I must have rung her bell a dozen times because I just couldn’t believe that she wasn’t there. I was stunned and freaked out! The next day would be a working day and I had no clue what to do with my full head of healthy naps. One thing was sure; as funny as those braids were to me, wearing them to work didn’t seem amusing at all, and showing up with a hat at the job was no option either. Dependent as I was on the mercy of the home braiders, I called every number from possible braiders but no luck. Of course there were plenty of Black hair salons around that loved to take kinks out with a perm. Since I couldn’t style my naps and I was out of braiders, I had little choice and ended up in a salon chair for a relaxer. With a mixed feeling of rage, sadness and despair, I felt the relaxer burning my scalp taking out the kinks of my poor healthy naps once again. My nearly bald spot was gone and I knew it would be back not long after the treatment. But who was to blame? The braider who stood me up, the hairdresser who simply did her job or the relaxer itself that was too harsh for my hair? Sure, I could blame everything and everyone but wasn’t it my choice to sit there because I couldn’t style my own naps?
Ultimately, this desperate act turned into a moment of truth. Blaming the rest of the world and feeling sorry for my naps was not going to improve my hair’s health. Besides that, it troubled me that I couldn’t take care of my own hair just because it was natural. This was when I realized that I needed to learn at least the basics about styling natural Afrikan hair. It couldn’t be that difficult and there had to be more acceptable hairstyles other than an afro or extension braids. In my eagerness to learn, I started to search for literature to help me solve the kinky mysteries. Since there were no local books about the subject, I ordered every book available via the Internet and collected the few Black hair magazines the stores offered. Unconsciously this is where my natural journey really started and it has been a wonderful experience ever since.
This time, I was consciously going natural and started with easy styles like tucked in braids. A braider would still do my hair initially, but every few weeks, I would redo the style myself. Inspired by the magazines, I tried Twists and Bantus. Before I knew it, I had the hang of basic natural hair care. This was unbelievable because I considered myself left-handed before. My hair grew like weeds and nothing could beat the feeling of touching my lively, healthy, flourishing naps. Not even people who didn’t like my nappy hair could take away this sensation. My naps made me feel like Samson – invincible. I realized the power of hair and since then I developed a special kind of love for my natural naps.
It is this feeling that I would like to share with every woman of color who ever had trouble caring for her natural hair. I only hope this book passes on a little of my affection for nappy hair because our naps have been undervalued far too much for far too long.