Is using a relaxer right for me? The question never crossed my mind until midway through my freshman year of college. Until then, I had been relaxing my hair every 3- 4 months, and when a relaxer was not applied, I would go for a wash-set and blow dry. That was the norm to me, and I believed that if my hair wasn’t falling out in clumps and remained the same length overall between appointments, everything should be fine right? Wrong!
I remember the day when I got my first relaxer like it was yesterday. I was 13 years old. The hot comb at the time wasn’t doing much for my thick grade of hair which persistently wore my poor grandmother out every two weeks. After the decision was made, I got my relaxer at a local Dominican hair salon in Dorchester, MA. Since the results of my hair were pretty, straight and flowing, the appearance distracted me from investigating the consequences of the harsh techniques and products used by the woman styling my hair. A popular request from most patrons of all hair textures is the infamous “Dominican Blowout.” It’s where the wash-set, blow dry technique is used to achieve especially straight hair, but the technique had begun to wear on me and because of that, there was no hesitation in switching to a relaxer. Initially, my hair took to the relaxer nicely but after the first two years I began to notice my hair becoming extremely tangled and knotted every time the stylist would wash it shortly after the relaxer was applied. Even worse, I began to notice clumps of my hair coming out while it was being washed and even during the week following getting my hair done.
At that point I was faced with a difficult dilemma, I could no longer in good conscious keep relaxing my hair. Leaving my salon of four years and dismissing the usage of relaxers was a hard decision so I procrastinated. It was all I knew, so it wasn't until a good friend of mine who was moved by the natural hair movement educated and encouraged me to grow out my relaxer and work with my natural hair that I decided to take a leap of faith, unsure but willing to try. The beginning stages made me question if I made the right choice. I was afraid, nervous and reluctant. After all I was haunted by the memories of my thick poofy hair, and was told even by my own family members that my hair was “too much” to handle, so why go through all that trouble again? But after speaking with my close friend and researching the chemical contents within relaxer products I realized that being hesitant was not an option.
For those of you considering the tough decision (because it is tough) of growing your natural crown, you must know that the first year and a half takes a while to adjust to, so prepare yourself. Not only is it an experience to adjust to your hair type and learn how to maneuver around the coily-ness and intricacies of your hair texture (which is a job in itself), but there is also the new adjustment of finding your self confidence beyond your hair type. I never had the chance to experience the “Big Chop” but my friend did, saying that the moment the mirror reflected her close cut she cried. She wasn't used to the “lack” of hair on her head. As woman, society and tradition have lead us to believe that the longer the hair, the more feminine and attractive you are. My friend would encourage herself when it became especially hard, with the simple reminder that - “Hair grows, therefore your hair will grow back” and she was absolutely right! The “ Big Chop” will give you a new and different look at first, but it will grow, and more importantly, it will grow in the way it was intended to!
“No matter what your hair looks like once it’s wet, it’s about embracing it and loving yourself for you and all that entails.” -Keshia Knight Pulliam
Since I didn’t go the “Big Chop” route, the hardest thing for me was adjusting to the thickness and shrinkage of my hair while I allowed the relaxed hair to grow out in what is often called “transitioning”. During my transition phase, I missed the length and the flow from my hair, but I learned to accept the appearance of my hair. When you become a naturalista, the first year and a half you learn what your hair likes and dislikes, along with styles that are or not suitable for your hair type. I learned during this time my hair is more manageable when it is in some sort of up-do, twist or bun. It's all a learning curve. My final words on expectations during the first year and a half of transitioning would be: patience. Understand that you will have days when styling your hair does not come out exactly the way you envisioned it. I will not lie, I have had some strong urges to scream or cut it all off, but I didn't cave. You just have to be patient with your hair.
“The first time I cut all my hair off was when I was 19. I just got fed up going to the salon every week. I’d had enough! On a whim, it was off. It’s low-maintenance.” – Lupita Nyong’o
Many women choose to “go natural” for many reasons. My reason (as mentioned above) for going natural was noticing the negative effects that a relaxer was causing for my specific grade of hair. For other women, the choice of going natural may not be the way in which relaxers are affecting their hair at all, but perhaps they no longer want to spend money and/or time at a hair salon. Others may choose to go down this road as a means of simplicity. With a close cut or short afro, the thought of simply waking up to do a “wash -and-go” might be easier to maintain and less stressful- especially if you already have a busy life to maintain. Some women are open to change, willing to take a risk with the appearance of their hair where going natural and getting that close cut fulfills that itch for “something new”. Either way, there are many reasons the shift from processed to natural takes place.
And there are many Black woman who are not interested in joining the movement of rocking natural hair. A significant amount of Black woman still have their reservations for going natural, which is more than fine! A recent interview done by Ebony Magazine with a young woman, who had thick relaxed hair, asked if she ever felt pressured to move to the natural movement and if she had ever encountered an individual with negative input on her relaxed hair. Her response was,“Yes,” but she also shared it doesn’t bother her one bit. "My beauty regimen is very personal, based on my own individuality, how I desire to look, and what fits my lifestyle. If not treated well, natural hair, just like relaxed hair, can become very dry and brittle. I love versatility!”
One of the more common responses that I get from Black woman (similar to the previous comment from a family member of mine) who still have processed hair is that the natural look is not appropriate for their work setting. “ Shoot, I need to go to the hair dresser and straighten this here hair! Can’t afford to look like this in the morning for work”. Their reasoning for this belief is that the “different” look may be intimidating to their work peers who are not familiar with or do not respect the look. This reasoning is duly noted, and I can understand these concerns when considering the impact it may have on their careers. That being said, there are many options to maintain healthy hair without using harsh chemical and heat products to achieve that straightened look. Some options are organic hair care products and less strenuous processes of straightening hair like low-temp blow outs, steam curls, and perm rods (no perm applied just plastic rollers). If you prefer relaxers, there are some brands that contain chemicals that are less harsh on our hair. For instance, there are some relaxers consisting of essential oils like olive oil that also contain fewer fragrances.
If in reading this blog you are on the fence about your decision and are willing to give natural hair a try, you have options. Many natural hair salons safely provide natural hair styles that range in maintenance and upkeep like flat twists, braids, dreadlocks, etc. Along with these styling options, these salons provide quality hair care products. In the greater Boston area, I know of at least five natural hair salons, one of them being our very own Simply Erinn’s Unisex Salon where we host Community Conversations: Sister to Sister.
If you have made the decision to transition to natural hair, Napturally curly offers great resources. The link is a 10 step guide for woman considering the transitioning stage and provides care tips like the importance of: a good trim, breaks from using intense heat to straighten and the need for moisture.
This past March marked three years since I started my natural journey, and I can honestly say without reluctance that I do not miss the “Creamy Crack” (aka relaxer) at all! Though at times my thick, tight curly hair bugs me, I wouldn’t have my hair dealt with any other way. No matter what path you choose, relaxed or natural, the takeaway from all of this is that there are a lot of resources available to allow you to make an informed decision, one way or the other. In part 2 of The Series of Black Hair Care, answers to the following types of questions will be discussed: Do you know the ingredients of the products used on your hair? What questions should we ask our hair stylist to insure that our hair is receiving the proper care for growth? Are there home remedies and natural ways to create our own conditioners and treatments?
Irby, Lisa. "The 10 Step Natural Hair Transitioning Guide." How to Long Term Transition From Relaxed to Natural Hair. Napturally Curly, 2015. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.
Adeola. "30 Quotes About Black Women’s Natural Hair." Coils and Glory. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 Aug. 2016.