How I Embraced My Natural Afro-Textured Hair

by July 23, 2015
filed under Style
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Photo by Karolina Turek

‘You have ‘good hair!’ This is something I’ve been told all throughout my life. For the most part, I didn’t believe it.

I was born in Nigeria, Africa but grew up in Canada. As a child my mom would comb out my natural textured hair and put it in little braided pigtails. As I grew older, it became longer, thicker and extremely time-consuming. Hair sessions became more unbearable for the both of us, so my mom decided to use a chemical relaxer to straighten it. This process is often the norm to manage afro (African)-textured hair. The idea is that it takes frizzy, thick curls and chemically alters the hair strands to become straight and less dense – making it more manageable. In terms of aesthetics, there’s a lot of stigma and years of history that go behind this beauty norm that women of colour have been forced to embrace. But that’s not the story I’m here to tell. I’m going to tell you about my journey towards embracing and caring for my natural hair.

I’ve gotten conflicting messages about my hair from day 1. On one hand, black women would remark in amazement at the thickness and length of my hair – and on the other, salon stylists would complain, sometimes with looks of disdain, about how thick it was and how it made it inconvenient and tedious to style.

So I had ‘good hair,’ but I didn’t know what that meant. To me, hair was simply something that had to be styled – a necessary evil. It came to mean long hours of pain, pulling and pinching to have a suitable braided hairdo. There was no option other than putting it in braids month after month. There were a few windows of respite during which a creamy yet burning chemical relaxer would be applied in order to keep my hair manageable, and during this time I got to see my actual hair – but it would still need to be straightened with heat to maintain a slick neat look. The alternative was ‘poofy’ hair, which just wouldn’t do. I felt like an anomaly – while others searched high and low and spent fortunes on the longest, straightest weaves they could find, I looked with disdain at the thin, limp strands on my head. Yet these were praised – I had achieved the bone straight, manageable hair that they seemed to crave!

I soon began to look for something different. I wanted hair that I could look at and declare good. I began to tell my mom that I wanted ‘crinkly’ hair, but we both didn’t really know what that meant. So, I continued with my routine of braids and relaxers.

Two summers ago, a family friend stayed with us for part of the summer. She had natural hair which had remained for most of her life, and through her I was introduced to ‘braid outs’ and ‘twist outs’ which gave the ‘crinkly’ (curly) look I had been asking about for years! From then on it was a whirlwind of reading articles and watching YouTube videos so that I could teach myself how to apply the same look. I had finally heard the good news of natural hair and discovered there was a whole world and community of people that I had never known existed.

I have learned so much since those days and would like to impart some of this knowledge on you. Here are some tips if you’re considering going natural:

It’s Not As Much Work As You Think
I won’t sugar coat it – taking care of naturally curly or coily hair will mean having to put in some effort. But it’s not as much work as you think. Chances are, if you have afro-textured hair, you already have to give attention to your locks even if it’s relaxed or styled straight. Taking care of natural hair just means you need to be more consistent and mindful, but it’s not as time consuming as most would think.

You Can Start Today
Going natural doesn’t mean you need to shave your hair bald and start again! A lot of naturals do prefer to do this, but it’s not the only way. The idea of doing a ‘big chop’ as it’s called really scared me. I had long hair all my life and knew I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror if I cut it off. So I did what’s called a ‘transition.’ Transitioning is when you allow your chemically straightened or heat damaged hair to grow out. It’s a slow process and requires patience, but it’s a good way to ease into natural textured hair while retaining your hair length.

It’s been almost two years later and I’m so happy with my decision. My hair is already back to its length before my last relaxer, and it’s also thick, healthy and curly. Since then I’ve learned how to care for it and enjoy the versatility. I encourage all my curly haired friends who are seeking a change to do the same. Embracing your natural hair is a learning process, but no matter what you’ve been told about your hair, remember that you have good hair and you can rock it!

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