Going Natural in the New YearNiaOnline's editor-in-chief shares how she made the switch from relaxed to natural; plus, expert tips for making your own transition.
December 1999 saw the close of the old millennium, the end of the 20th century, and the end of 27 straight years of relaxed hair for me.
I was the Fabulaxer Queen, with long, straight, swinging tresses, thanks to the Hair Styling by Joseph salon in New York City. I hadn't seen more than a glimpse of my natural roots since the spring of 1973, when I walked into my third-grade class at Juanita Elementary School in Oxnard, California, and my classmates exclaimed that my smooth, old-fashioned pageboy made me look just like the teacher, Mrs. Sims.
Thereafter, my hair took to relaxing very well, and grew long easily. I got lots of compliments on my "good" hair from the less savvy. Whenever the nappy "kitchen" in the back of my neck did peek through, I felt embarrassed and insecure.
December of 1999 saw the close of a relationship I had with a human rights activist--a true Black prince. He was a brave man who focused his efforts on saving Africans in need and combating racism, but nonetheless prized his girlfriend's long, European-style hair. However, I had fallen out of love with my swinging locks, and actually felt weighed down by them. I observed the growing bald patches from decades of continuous chemical abuse, suffered from a dried-out and itchy scalp, and noticed that the "kitchen" was reasserting itself with a vengeance.
Whenever I had suggested to my Black prince that I was ready for a change and wanted to cut out the perm, he would say, "Naw, don't do that! Your hair is beautiful. People will treat you differently if you go natural. Some in the business world will reject you."
Still, I fantasized about what was going on underneath the relaxer. I didn't even remember what my natural curl pattern looked like. I began to feel as if the relaxer were hiding the real me and that any compliments I got on my beauty were based on a pretense. I wondered if the world would accept my natural beauty. Finally free of my Black prince's objections, I decided to find out.
I entered the new millennium with my head shorn and natural. I was shocked by what I saw, and then pleasantly surprised. Thus began a love affair with my hair. I couldn't stop running my fingers through my kinky mane. (In fact, as I write this, I am absentmindedly twirling one of my twisted locks around my left index finger, something I rarely felt compelled to do with straightened hair.)
To my delight, I could now go for a run in the park without fear of "sweating out my do." I walked in the rain with confidence, knowing that my hair could not "revert" back any further. In fact, I walked everywhere with more confidence, knowing that if I did receive any appreciative glances, they were for the real me.
I can't say I always look as "polished" or smooth as I did during the Fabulaxer days, but I can say that the transition hasn't hurt me one iota--in the workplace or in my social life. Having worked in many different environments--from small, Black-owned firms to Fortune 500 companies, and even a defense contractor--I'm pretty sure I'm a good judge of how my appearance can affect me.
What about you: As we begin a new year, have you contemplated a change in your hairstyle? According to a study by Pantene Relaxed & Natural, two-thirds of African-American women have chemically relaxed hair, and 28 percent of "relaxed" women plan to go natural within the next year. The top reasons we wear our hair natural, according to the study, are that we think the style is healthier (72 percent), it's less expensive to maintain (61 percent), and we are in love with our natural hair texture (40 percent).
Making the transition from relaxed to natural can be a traumatic process, and I have watched more than one friend fret over how much new growth to allow before cutting out the perm altogether. The in-between stage can be awkward, and not everyone is willing to cut her hair length down to an inch, as I did.
"The easiest way to make a transition is to cut all of the relaxed hair out," advises Tippi Shorter, a hairstylist and member of Pantene's Relaxed & Natural Academy of Science & Style. "If you're like me and not ready for such a drastic change, you can go into braids or a weave . . . preferably a curly one because it will help you become acclimated to your new desired texture." (Don't get too attached to the weave. You're going natural, remember?)
If you aren't ready to cut and aren't into extensions, you can wear curly styles such as a spiral or straw set while your perm grows out, says Shorter. "If your natural texture is more wave than curl, then I recommend roller or rod sets," she adds. Whatever you do, make sure you keep your hair moisturized. For more advice about making the transition, take a look at the previous NiaOnline articles "Be a Natural-Hair Woman" and "Natural Hair Goes to Work" (just in case you are worried about how your coworkers will react to the new look).
Haute and Happiness!