For some of us, sticking to the goals we set for ourselves is as easy as waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night – we’re just wired that way. For the rest of us, it’s a challenge, plain and simple. It’s not that we don’t intend to see our goals through. We do. But stuff gets in the way. Stuff like other people’s opinions, or having to spend time learning new ways to do things, or simply embracing the unknown – and for those of us with thick, textured hair, the Great Kinky Unknown can be a scary thing. All kind of stuff crops up along the journey from chemically-processed hair to natural hair (i.e., hair whose disulfide bonds have not been broken to permanently alter natural texture).
I remember my first attempt at transitioning as if it were yesterday. I can’t remember what the motivating factor was – which made failure a guarantee out of the gate – but I remember that I made the decision in May. May. In humid Maryland. Which made no sense given that my plan was to simply stop getting relaxers but otherwise to continue to wear my hair in my typical Dominican blow-out. Humidity and blow-outs on natural hair are sworn enemies, but I didn’t know any better. Predictably, after the third month of new growth, I happily threw in the towel, got a relaxer, and enjoyed the rest of my straight-haired summer.
But then something happened that caused me to rethink my approach. My daughter, then six, started to complain about her naturally curly hair and ask to wear her hair “like the other girls at school.” The other girls at school were mostly White with mostly straight hair. I did what all conscious mothers do: I immediately pointed out to my daughter that her hair was beautiful and that her texture was something she would grow to appreciate over time. I tried to convince her of her blessings. And she stared at me blankly and asked, “Then why do you wear your hair straight all the time?”
I talked to her about history, perception, my ignorance about natural hair and the fact that I’d been living with relaxers for as far back as I could remember – but none of it changed the way she looked at me, with eyes still searching for a legitimate explanation, and none of it changed the hypocrisy I felt. That year, in 2010, I started to think seriously about what a natural hair transition would look like.
In early 2011, I made the commitment to transition. The difference this time was that my motivating factors were crystal clear – I needed to embody the self-love I was preaching to my daughter and I genuinely wanted to embrace my hair in its authentic state. The other difference was that I had begun to educate myself on how to care for my hair during the transition. I had found the natural hair sisterhood on YouTube and was armed with infinite knowledge and inspiration. Six months of new growth later, I was tired of perm rod sets and other camouflaged styles that blended my two textures – all I could think about was what it would finally feel like to run my fingers through my natural hair. The “Big Chop” testimonials from women like Nikkimae2003 and NaturalJourney were so empowering and uplifting that I found myself locked in my bathroom on a rainy Saturday night that August with nothing but my music, my scissors, and my prayers for a good outcome. (If it went way left, I was prepared to call in sick at work the following Monday and go find someone to weave my hair in the interim.) Curl Theorists, I big-chopped my hair in the bathroom that night and I have not looked back since. The only question I’ve ever asked myself is what took me so long in the first place.
Our transition stories may be different, and we may find ourselves adapting our goals along the way, but there are some common threads that bind us and some pearls of wisdom I hope you will appreciate as you embark on your journey:
- Be clear on why you are choosing to transition. Any reason is a good reason if it resonates with you and motivates you to stay on the path.
- Set a realistic goal – and allow yourself the flexibility to change it as you move along the journey. You may discover that the process is easier than you think, and that you’d like to push your time frame out further to gain more length before cutting off your chemically processed ends. Or you may find the opposite is true. Either outcome is great if it feels good to your soul.
- Remember that what you see is NOT what you get when it comes to the natural hair transition. The hair that grows from your roots immediately following a chemical relaxer is sometimes referred to as “scab” hair, which is hair that has suffered the after-effects of the chemical process. It is often coarser, dryer and less textured than your true virgin hair, and it may take a full two or three months for the true virgin hair to emerge. Remember too that your curl pattern may change as it grows: the weight of a longer hair strand alone can cause the pattern to stretch more than it did when it was shorter and had less weight. Isn’t it amazing to know that your hair will evolve over time?
- When – not if, but when – you find yourself struggling to manage the two textures and wondering whether the effort is really worth it, remember your reasons for transitioning in the first place. They were good reasons that resonated with you at the outset. Also, introduce variety. If you’re using roller sets as a primary style, try a different roller size or type. If you’re using braids, try a roller set for a change. Challenge yourself with new styles.
- If you fall off the wagon, just get back on, girl. Forgive yourself and keep it moving. Revisit your reasons for transitioning (again!) and make sure they’re solid and meaningful. Recommit and find a way to hold yourself accountable. More than anything, remember the reward you’ll obtain at the end of the journey. It’s a reward you cannot obtain if you quit.
Transitioning is a journey. It necessarily involves challenges. There are no short-cuts (other than, literally, a short haircut). There will be valleys and there will be peaks. Along the way, though, we learn more about our hair than we ever could have learned otherwise, and we find joy in each new inch of virgin hair that emerges from our roots. More than anything, we grow in patience and we cross the finish line with the ultimate prize: a head full of gorgeous, unadulterated natural hair.