I stopped relaxing my hair in the spring of 2009, and finally did a full big chop to an inch and a half of hair in right before the New Year. I had cut my hair before, but never any shorter than chin length, and certainly never to wear my natural hair texture. Relaxers were a consistent thing for me since age 5, and I had never dealt with my natural hair. While I was happy to be experiencing my natural texture and dabbling in product junkieism, I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind: “What if it never grows back?”
You often see black women touting that we can grow long hair, but not without extra special care and treating your hair like “a cashmere sweater.” And so, that’s what I did. Trims can hinder your hair growth (trimming off the hair you just grew, as hair usually only grows 1/2 an inch a month), so my goal was to trim my hair as little as possible, and that meant keeping it in tip-top condition. The first year I was fully natural, I rarely used any heat on my hair and the only dye I used was henna. I also frequently did ayurvedic treatments, extended deep conditioning, wet my hair daily, and did frequent length and health checks. I even had a length check shirt! And when my hair grew out, guess what happened? One of my friends confessed to me, “Honestly, I didn’t think your hair could grow and that’s why you wore it short.”
Honestly, it got to be exhausting and I wasn’t enjoying my hair. I still felt boxed in somewhat, same as when I had a relaxer. I spent nearly all of my free time researching hair health or doing things to my hair that were supposed to promote hair retention. I looked at other women experimenting with their hair and to be honest, I was a little jealous. I found myself using responses like, “Oh I can’t do that to my hair,” when someone would ask me something about color or straightening. I wouldn’t dare put bleach on my hair because I thought it would instantly dissolve. I wouldn’t even try styles on my hair because I didn’t want to deal with the tension or mechanical stress, checking my ends as I watched TV and using a tape measure to monitor my growth.
As my hair grew longer, I started to incorporate a little heat and color, but the obsession was still there. My hair goal was bra strap length curly. I began to feel like my mentality about my hair wasn’t much different from my relaxed state, and that was disheartening.
I first started branching out with my hair because I figured that I wanted to enjoy my hair, and if I messed it up, I could always cut it and let it grow back. Once my hair was “long,” I stopped caring about length checks and avoiding trimming. Maybe it was because I proved that I could grow my hair back to myself. The first time I used bleach was when I got purple highlights at the salon. To be honest, I felt like you could barely see them in my thick head of hair and I paid WAY too much for them, so it only made me want to bleach my hair more.
In 2016, I vowed that I was going to enjoy my hair rather than let my fears dictate what I was going to do it. I bleached it and dyed it teal and purple. Nothing bad happened and the only thing I changed in my regimen was being more cognizant of protein use (my hair is low porosity naturally so I previously avoided protein treatments for the most part). This year, I bleached my hair again to get a light rose gold color, and am loving the freedom I have to do what I want to my hair and without examining it every five minutes. I’m even thinking about cutting it, although I’m not sure I want to give up the convenience of buns. But at the same time, my hair weighs a lot so it was much more bouncy when it was shorter. As for the color, I’ve dyed it twice in the past two years with lifting dye, and I probably won’t do it again. Triple processing really isn’t my thing but I also don’t want to go back to boring brown hair.
At the end of the day, I just want to love and enjoy my hair. I don’t want to feel restricted or like I have to follow a certain regimen to be a “good natural.” After all, if something happens, it can grow back!
Have your thoughts about your hair changed throughout your natural journey?