Okay, okay–so this isn’t the most exciting or dynamic blog post to come back into the flow. It is, however, extremely relevant for me right now. During this time when staying at home is helpful to both myself and to everyone else, I’ve have a lot of time to reflect on the way I’m living. My friends and family are all going through their own levels of life changes, whether it be with job situations or just the realization that they are better made for a more extraverted lifestyle. For myself–and living by myself–it has been an opportunity to look…
Remember when I said that I was done trying to grow my hair to epically long proportions?
Well…I’m still doing that.
HOWEVER…a few days ago, I came across a vlogger that I used to watch religiously circa 2010-2013. Her name is Whitney, but she goes by the user name Naptural85. Basically, for those who don’t know her, she did what was initially deemed near impossible, especially for an African American woman.
She grew non-chemically altered (aka natural) curly/coily hair from a few inches to all the way down her back.
With over 1 million subscribers on YouTube and appearances on multiple high-level media circuits, she is not someone to simply shake your hair at.
African American (and curly/tightly coiled hair in general) hair has several variables that count against its ability to keep and maintain length, strength, and moisture:
- Its hair structure (as explained in this Helix Magazine blog post and shown in this adorable little gif).
- The amount of sebum/natural oil coverage it gains, from root to tip (imagine natural scalp oils easily sliding down straight hair vs. navigating the curly hair pattern. Yeeeaahhh…).
- Its tendency to curl around and through itself (aka knot) and break at each fragile bend.
I could go on and on about the history of growing tightly coiled hair and the struggles that African American women have worked through the decades to conform their hair to societal norms of beauty and acceptance…
Buuuuut, I will save that rant for another post. 😇
Naptural85: Type 4a Hair Guru
As I was saying before–a few days ago, I chanced upon one of Naptural85’s latest hair posts. I’d stopped watching her videos regularly years ago; however, since this post was so recent (posted in August), I was curious to see what she had to say about the latest 2019 hair-growing practices that she was sticking to and what continued to give her the best results as far as healthy, enviable hair growth.
Let’s take a listen below, shall we?
Video Tips Summary…
- Clarify your hair and scalp regularly (mainly, your scalp) to keep your follicles open and healthy.
- Keep your hair moisturized from roots to curly ends. Drink enough water, and spritz and seal your hair to keep moisture locked within each strand.
- Trim your hair on a regular basis. If it’s knotting a lot, it’s definitely time for a trim.
- Style gently, style lovingly. Don’t go tight!
- Use protective styles.
- Recognize the power (and pain points) of your shrinkage. Stretch to avoid breakage.
- Choose healthy hair products–no matter where you go.
- More water, less sugar.
- Get that blood pumpin’! Exercise, massage–the works!
Got it? Spiffy.
One thing that I will say about Naptural85’s hair videos is that, while she has tested the occasional trend and gimmick just to see if the hype is real, her actual focus on growing her hair and keeping it healthy has never been hokie. She has never been afraid to pioneer her own methods, especially when the wave of natural hair-styling wagons originally rode through in the mid- to late 2000s.
Not only that, but she’s consistently posted her progress from her TWA (teeny weeny or tiny widdle afro) to what it is now. She is literally walking proof that a black woman with short 4a hair can, with patience, dedication, and determination, grow long, healthy hair.
Back to Reality
However, I have to be honest with myself. Her hair length was actually very close to mine when I big-chopped in 2009/2010ish. I was, perhaps, a few months behind her. I watched her videos, kept my hair clean, bought shea butter to seal, the works.
Her growth took off. Mine did not–at least, not to that extent.
Was part of the equation something else? Genetics, perhaps? Nutrition? Environment? Stress levels?
Abso-freakin-lutely. The list of impactful variables knows no ends!
But that is one reason why I “gave up” on a near-fanatical desire for long hair. I had to stop comparing my length with someone else’s. I also had to stop equating hair length to personal quality and beauty.
For example, my older sister’s hair is the 3b/3c hair type. Since her big chop to remove the chemical relaxer from her straight hair about four or five years ago, she can now simply put leave-in conditioner on her hair, then Eco Style gel, then let it air dry–and that’s it.
Her hair will behave from that single wash for up to three weeks. Not only that, but when stretched, it is well down her back.
My scalp is a sensitive mess and demands washing/clarifying twice a week. My curl pattern is so 4a, it’s astounding. My hair and/or scalp loathes nearly every popular natural ingredient out there:
- Shea butter
- Cocoa butter
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil/milk
- Aloe vera
Seriously. I could not be kidding less about this list. If I use products with any of these ingredients, it has to be low on the list of ingredients or mixed with a heck of a lot of other stuff.
Am I complaining?
Actually…not so much anymore.
Instead of turning haircare into a chore, I turned it into an adventure–which is what most African American women have done. It’s also why you’ll often read about a black woman’s natural hair “journey.” If we want our hair to look good, we’ll never not be able to think about it.
What Prompted My Re-Growth Revival
I’ve been going through some various levels of…”events” over the last year. Things were changing at a speed and a debilitating level that I did not expect. I felt like I’d lost control over a lot of elements. My health, my life–and many relationships.
I needed to know I could control something. I needed to know I could change something, make something different so that, as the world around me warped, I wasn’t remaining static.
Due to time and energy and wellness (or rather, lack thereof), I grew lax on my hair care. Then, I became bored.
Then, I got everything else with it, to the point that I just didn’t want to–and couldn’t–deal with it.
This is circa April of this year, before the first cut:
And this is after it:
And yes…I did say “first cut.”
Now, don’t get wrong–I adored this cut. Like, a lot. I’d needed some kind of change at the time and really wanted to look in the mirror to see a different side of myself.
That…and it was a hot spring. I wanted the hair off my neck.
However, when I sent the above pic to my family–you know, for the fun shock value of it all–the response I got was lack-luster.
- What’s the change?
- I don’t see anything different.
- It’s not really that dramatic, is it?
And…of course…we all know what happens when we (i.e. I) get egged on (or, in my case, ineffective responses from our families).
BACK into the bathroom I went–along with the grumblings:
“Oh, nothing’s changed, huh? I’ll show them. I’ll show them all!”
…I might have gone a smidgen extreme.
I’ve adored having my hair short again. Wash day is faster, styling is more convenient, and it’s kinda fun to have strangers marveling over the fact that my natural curl pattern is literally the size of a pen spring.
But…I do miss the fun of having more hair.
It wasn’t easy to take care of, but…it was a fun hobby. And when I was putting all the necessary work into it–I saw my own level of results.
Once I’m able to return to regular life, I’ll add a few of my favorite DIY hair recipes that have remained tried and true for the last 10 years. Items like the good ol’ fashioned mud wash, the mango-cupuacu butter sealant, and my morning apple cider vinegar-cayenne pepper-MSM-raw honey drink.
And so, with a decade of knowledge behind me, a set of fairly well-proven tools and practices, and a refreshed Naptural85 video to “reinforce” that my techniques are/were on the right track 😛, it’s time to reembark on my Natural Hair Re-Growing Epic Journey….Extravaganza.
I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but for years, one of my greatest goals in life was to have long natural hair.
In October of 2010, I received my last relaxer ever. I remember that day, because it was also the day that my (perceived) love of my life married someone else. As a jilted ex-lover usually is, I was devastated, shattered. But I was mainly frustrated and exhausted at myself.
Sitting in the parking lot of the salon, waiting for my hairdresser to arrive, I looked back at all the time I had wasted believing myself to be not only a victim in some silly romantic drama, but also a contender. Surely, he loved me! Surely, it was just a matter of time before he would realize the truth–that I was the one for him and he should call off the wedding on my behalf!
I know. I know.
In that lot, I forced myself to come to terms with reality: I had allowed myself to be a pathetic toy, a fun distraction. I had disrespected myself into a silly delusion.
I hated that self. And I didn’t want to resemble that self anymore.
Over the months, I had been lingering more and more on whether I should go natural. That moment of resolve cinched that decision.
With my last relaxer would die the old B. With the new B would come confidence, self-respect, and super healthy, super long natural hair.
It took about six months to grow out my last relaxer, but by May of 2011, I was more than ready to slice it all away. I big-chopped while visiting my sister in Arizona and never once regretted it.
Fast Forward to June 2018
“I think I’m gonna cut my hair.”
I said this aloud as I walked with coworkers from our cafeteria back to the office.
One of my coworkers, a beautiful black woman with her own natural hair in ringlets to her back, turned to stare at me. “Where’d that come from?”
I thought about it. Though we had just passed some random person with a pixie cut, the decision seemed to come from a much deeper spot within my core. Unfortunately, it seemed too existential to explain in the middle of a corporate campus. “I don’t know,” I said instead, and veered the topic back to standard office gossip.
I’d always told myself that, as I aged, I would probably resume managing my hair in an extremely short style. I just hadn’t realized that “age” had arrived so much sooner than I’d expected.
After my BC in 2011, I maintained my hair in a super short style for at least 3 years. In fact, the only reason I started stretching it out was because it started knotting on itself.
It’s been eight years since I started growing out my natural hair. Over the last 3 years, my hair has refused to grow past my bra strap. I’ve tried to be patient with it, avoiding direct heat and playing with temporary, veggie-based hair dyes to assuage my desires to creatively mutilate it. This last year has been especially painful, as I’ve attempted to be dutiful and find the right protective styles that would encourage the long natural hair that I aspired to:
- At least half an hour to prep it before wash.
- An hour and a half to wash and deep condition it.
- Upwards of two hours to style-set it.
- And then there’s daily maintenance of re-setting it every night before bed.
Long natural curly hair is not just a beauty step. It’s a beauty lifestyle.
Long Natural Hair = The Ultimate Female Beauty
I think everyone has suffered from a desire to reinvent themselves at least once. The popularity of fad diets, bold and impossible-in-nature hair colors, and fashion trends are a testimony to that. People want their outsides to reflect what they currently feel, or how they want to feel.
I’ve always had an idealized mental image of myself. As a child, it was as the lost Black Sailor Moon (well, Sailor Mars, actually. She had magic psychic abilities even when she wasn’t in costume). As an adolescent, it was a cross between USA’s La Femme Nikita, Barb Wire, and The Matrix (aka, a shiny black catsuit-wearing badass). As an adult, it was a bohemian renaissance woman with sexy face paint, wooden jewelry, harem pants, and an alluring nose piercing.
And do you know what they all had in common?
As I do when I wonder what the rest of the world is thinking (and are they still thinking what I assume they’re thinking), I performed a random Google search to see what is still deemed “beautiful.”
I clicked on two of the top articles. In the first article, it only took me a second to find the following statement:
The preference for smooth skin and long hair [my emphasis] comes down through the ages with adjectives such as alabaster, milky, and creamy being used when describing someone’s complexion.
(Yes, I could go on and on about the alabaster, milky skin, but let’s save that particular observation for another post, shall we? 🙄)
In the second article, the author covers what different cultures around the world consider beautiful. I’m going to assume she neglected to note what African cultures consider beautiful because, not only did she forget Africa is in the world, she is also severely limited in experience, research capability, and journalistic non-bias and wouldn’t know where to start with the multiple aspects that make African and African-descended women beautiful…but anyway…
One thing that I did notice before I read her article, were the pictures in her article. In every single pic, long, thick hair is highlighted. It’s blowing in the wind. It’s draped over the model’s shoulder. The woman is playing with it. Even if she didn’t say it outright (and yes, she does), it’s obvious what she deemed vital as a part of classic female beauty.
Finding that these results supported my original assumptions, I grew annoyed.
Then, I grew mad.
And, as it usually does when I feel like passively rebelling against the system, it temporarily made me want to re-chop off all my hair down to the very root.
“So I’m only beautiful if I’ve got long, luxurious locks, huh?” I snap, electric razor buzzing in my hand. “Well, then I bet you’ll love this!”
Of course, shaving my head won’t resolve anything. Somewhere along the journey into my 30s, my goal stopped being about conforming to European, American, Korean, African, male, ageist aspects of beauty. Instead, it has because more of…feeling like myself.
Below you is the puzzle of your life. There is a missing puzzle piece that represents how you identify yourself in this crazy world. You’ve held that puzzle piece in your hand for years. You know where it goes, but you’ve been working on how to make it fit just right.
You carve a little here, paint a little there. You turn it this way, that way. You’re getting close. Soon, it will fit.
I believe we should all go through life being comfortable in our selves. The only way we can get comfortable is to listen to what we really want. That may include getting a tattoo, or a piercing. It may include wearing corduroy dresses. Whatever it is, it should make you smile, feel proud to be yourself.
I always wanted long hair because I wanted to be seen as pretty, desirable. I thought it would make me the ultimate woman. I was willing to put in the time and the effort to gain those results.
But now, as I expand my passions and meet quality friends and colleagues, I’m realizing that the state of my hair will reflect the happiness I feel naturally. If I’m happy, my body will show it. Maybe not with excessive hair growth, but with thickness, vibrancy, and shine. And I’d certainly rather have short, shiny, healthy locks than thin, straggly, heat-damaged strands dangling down to my butt.
So, if the length sneaks up on my hair, so be it. But I’m no longer going to seek it out.
What look or style makes you, you? What makes you feel the most like yourself?
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