23 November 2011

My Biography

Growing up, I had the "bad" hair in the family. My younger sister had long, thick jet black hair that grew easily down her back and seemed to do well with anything. My hair was lighter (though only slightly), tighter, shorter and didn't behave. My mom would cornrow, do "crazy plaits" (what we called two-strand twists), braids, straightening combs...none of them would work well. Many of my close friends at the time had what I considered to be "good" hair. One friend had had a relaxer since she was 2 years old, and I was jealous of how her straight hair always seemed to be better than mine.

After 10 years of yanking and pulling brushes, combs and blow dryers through my poor tresses, I cried that I wanted my hair to be straight like my friend's. So, off to my mother's trusted hairdresser. After that first relaxer application, I lovingly caressed my smooth, straight, shiny and *gasp* long hair! Touch-ups were every 4 weeks. But, at 10 years old, I didn't know how to properly care for chemically processed hair. I didn't wash my hair regularly; I yanked combs from roots to ends while the hair was wet. I didn't do any deep conditioners, use any oils or anything. My hair started to fall out. At 14, I was sick and tired of this. I went on a mission to grow my hair longer. I increased the time between touch-ups to 5 weeks, and I read different books, websites, and tried things on my own. I left concoctions of bananas, mayonnaise, and egg yolks in my hair, hoping that it would strengthen it. I dipped the ends of my ponytail in olive oil for an hour (and made a huge mess!). I tried greasing my scalp, braiding my hair at night - you name it, I did it. Then, I again lengthened the time between touch ups - 6 weeks now. I used a deep conditioner and lots of olive oil. My hair grew (about 4 inches past my shoulders, but no further), but it still bothered me. It was bone straight and thin after a touch up, but after I washed it the next week, it would dry wavy, and once it was combed, I looked like a dark-haired version of Simba.

Between touch ups, my hair would get puffier and puffier. It was a battle to style it without it being stiff. Still, since I was on a longer hair mission, I refused to heat-style it unless it was a special occasion. Not much can be done with relaxed hair when it's not heat styled, so I wore it in ponytails and buns all the time. My mom got so sick of seeing my like that, but I firmly told her that heat would damage my hair. She rolled her eyes and kept walking. One thing I did throughout this time was stick indefinitely to hair products marketed to black women (Optimum Care, Motions, Organic Root Stimulator, etc.). My other friends would use "white" hair products, while I snootily thought to myself, "White people hair stuff will mess up my hair [I had a terrible experience with a Suave shampoo at 9 years old, pre-relaxer]. My hair's better than theirs because I use products for black people." Well, after nearly 7 years of this, I'd had enough. My 2011 New Year's resolution was to grow my relaxer out. But I had no idea how to do it! Where would I look? Who could I turn to? I knew nothing and no one, so on 8 January 2011, I received another (what would be my last) relaxer.

However, during my six-week intermission, I had to start researching for a chemistry project that was due in April. I was exploring the effects of aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (a common active ingredient in antiperspirants), and one of the ingredients on a product's list had caught my attention. I don't remember what ingredient it was that I searched for, but when I typed it into the Bing searchbox and hit "Enter," I scrolled down the list of websites, and I came across one that included a description of the ingredient. "Great!" I thought, "this looks really informative." I clicked on the link, and I was taken to a plain-looking site. I read the quick description of the ingredient, rendered it useless for my purposes, and then said, "What website is this?" I went to the left side of the site where the links were located, and hit the "Welcome" link. Instantly, I saw "Welcome to the Tightly Curly Site." I began to read the welcome page, and as I slowly scrolled down the page, I was greeted with the sight of a woman who had long, resplendent curls spiraling down her back. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Could curly hair grow that long? No way! I pored over the site for hours, learning the secrets of this long-haired curly girl. I decided that day (25 January 2011) to follow the Tightly Curly method and grow my hair naturally from then on.  I excitedly told my mom and sister about this new method. My mom took one look at the picture of Teri LaFlesh (the website's creator) and said, "She's mixed, don't expect your hair to look like hers." My sister (who'd had a nasty run-in with a relaxer and now had hair shorter than mine) agreed to try it with me. We chose which products to use (I selected Garnier Smooth & Silky Fortifying Shampoo, Suave Ocean Breeze Conditioner, and Aussie Moist Conditioner), and saw that they were on sale at CVS. Our father took us two days later, and we eagerly purchased almost all of the products we needed. I printed out the Curly Primer, memorized the steps, and tried the Tightly Curly method the next day, along with my sister. Since we didn't have the Denman brush at that time, we simply used combs.

I didn't understand the difference between relaxed and natural hair either; I thought that with enough time, my straightened curls would simply revert back. When my hair dried in crispy waves later that day, I wanted to cry. Why didn't my hair look like Teri's? However, I faithfully braided it up at night, and in the morning, I went to Spanish class with some rockin' waves. My chemically straightened hair was finally silky, smooth and it had body. I soon read on Teri's website about the differences between relaxed and natural hair, and realized that I wouldn't get her results until I cut off all my previously straightened hair - something I wasn't yet ready to do. Yet, I continued her method. I finally saved up enough money to purchase the D3 Denman from Sally's Beauty Supply. I purchased Curly Like Me (Teri's book) on my birthday with a giftcard my friend gave me. I tried lots of different conditioners, and TRESemme became my mainstay. I tried cutting some of my hair; just picking random curls and snipping off the straight parts. I even did the back and front sections (which looked ridiculous, but I didn't care). Around the first week in September, after purchasing my bottle of TRESemme Anti-Breakage conditioner, I became dismayed after it took me 6 hours to comb through my hair. Would it be like this until I cut off my hair? I became very frustrated; I texted my friends that I was going to cut my straightened hair off in a couple of weeks. I asked my mom about it and she said it was fine. But I couldn't handle it. I couldn't face another week of transitioning to natural hair knowing that I'd spend another 6 hours combing my hair.

In the wee hours of 3 September 2011, I methodically went through my hair with a pair of scissors; chopping off every piece of straight hair that I found. When I finished, I could hardly believe I'd done it! I went to the bathroom mirror, gazed at myself, took a picture, and tried to go to sleep. I ran my fingers through my hair again and again, amazed at how soft and spongy and thick and real my hair felt. Later that morning, I went upstairs to eat breakfast, and everybody in my family had something to say...mostly negative. I explained to them that my hair wouldn't look as "wild" after washing it. Aside from the 20 minutes it took to wash my hair, it only took me 1.5 hours to comb and define my curls. A huge difference from the 6 hour ordeal the week before. Now, I'm a bit past my 2 month mark, and not only have my onyx coils grown substantially since then, but so many people have commented on my hair - even those once skeptical of my experiment. I am resolved to never put heat on my hair again - no flat irons, hooded dryers (unless used for a deep conditioning treatment), curling irons, or blow dryers again. It's not all been "rainbows and cotton candy," but it's been rewarding. I LOVE my hair now!

What's your hair story? If you're a newly natural, when did you start transitioning? When did you BC? What were people's reactions? If you're still transitioning, what finally clenched your decision to move towards natural hair? Any struggles? If you've been natural for a while, when's your "nappyversary"? How do you keep your hair routine from getting boring?

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