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Today’s post is a mix of a requested post and an experience. Over time, I have gotten a number of requests to share my hair routine, but I have never done a post on hair because you know, it’s not particularly how we roll here. However, in honor of Black History Month, I participated in a readathon in which I was to read for ten minutes from either a personal work or another writer’s work. I chose the latter, so I read from bell hooks’s “Black Is a Woman’s Color.” I picked this piece because for me, it adequately captures my natural hair experience, and I am going to post it below before sharing my story and my routine.
From Black is A Woman’s Color
Good hair – that’s the expression. We all know it, begin to hear it when we are small children. When we are sitting between the legs of mothers and sisters getting our hair combed. Good hair is hair that is not kinky, hair that does not feel like balls of steel wool, hair that does not take hours to comb, hair that does not need tons of grease to untangle, hair that is long. Real good hair is straight hair, hair like white folk’s hair. Yet no one says so. No one says Your hair is so nice, so beautiful because it is like white folk’s hair. We pretend that the standards we measure our beauty by are own invention – that it is questions of time and money that lead us to make distinctions between good hair and bad hair. I know from birth that I am lucky, lucky to have hair at all for I was bald for two years, then lucky finally to have thin almost straight hair, hair that does not need to be combed.
We are six girls who live in a house together. We have different textures of hair, short, long, thin, thick. We do not appreciate these differences. We do not celebrate the variety that is ourselves. We do not run our fingers through each other’s dry hair after it is washed. We sit in the kitchen and wait our turn for the hot comb, wait to sit in the chair by the stove smelling grease, feeling the heat warm our scalp like a sticky hot summer sun.
For each of us, getting our hair pressed is an important ritual. It is not a sign of our longing to be white. It is not a sign of our quest to be beautiful. We are girls. It is a sign of our desire to be women. It is a gesture that says we are approaching womanhood. It is a rite of passage. Before we reach the appropriate age, we wear braids and plaits that we are symbols of our innocence, our youth, our childhood. Then we are comforted by the parting hands that comb and braid, comforted by the intimacy and bliss. There is a deeper intimacy in the kitchen on Saturday when hair is pressed, when fish is fried, when sodas are passed around, when soul music drifts over the talk. We are women together. This is our ritual and our time. It is a time without men. It is a time when we work to meet each other’s needs, to make each other beautiful in whatever way we can. It is a time of laughter and mellow talk. Sometimes it is an occasion for tears and sorrow. Mama is angry, sick of it all, pulling the hair too tight, using too much grease, burning one ear and then the next.
At first, I cannot participate in the ritual. I have good hair that does not need pressing. Without the hot comb I remain a child, one of the uninitiated. I plead, I beg, I cry for my turn. They tell me once you start you will be sorry. You will wish you had never straightened your hair. They do not understand that it is not the straightening I seek but the chance to belong, to be the one in this world of women. It is finally my turn. I am happy. Happy even though my thin hair straightened looks like black thread, has no body, stands in the air like ends of barbed wire; happy even though the sweet smell of unpressed hair is gone forever. Secretly I had hoped that the hot comb would transform me, turn the thin good hair into thick nappy hair, the kind of hair I like and long for, the kind you can do anything with, wear in all kinds of styles. I am bitterly disappointed in the new look.
A senior in high school, I want to wear a natural, an afro, I want never to get my hair pressed again. It is no longer a rite of passage, a chance to be intimate in the world of women. The intimacy masks betrayal. Together we change ourselves. The closeness, an embrace before parting, a gesture of farewell to love and one another.
My Natural Hair Story
hooks’s story, as I said earlier, reminds me of mine.
This is my story: My mum would not let me relax my hair till I was done with secondary school. This was annoying. I went to school with my hair either plaited (and curled up after the plait), so you could not even tell the length, or with my hair in rubber thread (I ‘hated’ this one). I always admired my classmates who had relaxed hair, who had hair that straightened to their nape whenever they made styles all back or Evelyn King. I eagerly waited for my turn. Long story short, graduation week came, and I could finally relax my hair. My mum tried to convince me to stay natural – I had thick, long, full hair (better than it is now), but I was determined. So yes, I did it! It was exactly what hooks called it – “a rite of passage” into the status of womanhood. After the deed was done, I looked in the mirror and the length was all I could see. It was longer than usual, but all the thickness had gone down the bathroom tub. Who was I to admit that I didn’t particularly like it? I smiled and took many pictures.
I got into the university, and in my first and second year, having hair that could billow in the breeze came with a great feeling. I was happy, until I began to notice the light feather that my hair became as the days went by. It was falling out. My hairdresser asked what was wrong. My friends said, “Alex, did you do something to your hair”, “You used to have full hair in 100level oh”, and for a long time, I kept it under wigs, weaves, and braids, away from analysts and spectators.
For my bachelor’s thesis, I read Americanah by Chimamanda N. Adichie, and I could see through the symbol of hair as a major part of the identity theme. I began to reflect on my choices, and after much thought, I knew I wanted my natural hair back. I started the transitioning process, filled my laptop screen with wallpapers of naturalistas. What I once had for free became a goal. I transitioned for nine months – no hot irons, no relaxer, nothing. Just wash, leave to dry, cream, plait, and wear a wig. Nine months after, my program was over. I got home and did the BIG CHOP when no one was home (May 2017).
My mother was the first to laugh at me. It was an experience all on its own. By and by, my hair grew. I was frustrated at first – it was dry, I could hardly style it, and I couldn’t keep it low because I really wanted it to grow. I had a love-hate relationship with hair products. I spent hours on YouTube and did all I could till I finally found a routine that worked for me.
My Natural Hair Routine
MASTER KEY TIP:
- Don’t use too many products.
MY ROUTINE AND HAIR CARE PRODUCTS:
- Cantu Shampoo
- Cantu Argan Oil leave in conditioner (Shea Butter Leave-in is also good)
- Virgin hair fertilizer (This is a Nigerian product, but if you’re outside Nigeria, the beauty supply stores have it)
- Coconut oil or Tea Tree/ Jojoba oil
- Aphogee leave in conditioner (I hardly use this though because it causes too much heat for my hair)
Those changes, y’all!
So, when I wash, I use the Cantu Sulfate-Free Shampoo, and I wash twice or more depending on product build-up. Then, I section into four while the hair is still damp, and I apply the argan oil leave-in conditioner to each section. Then I comb through, because the conditioner softens your hair, and it is less of a pain to comb the hair when it’s damp.
After combing, I apply the virgin hair fertilizer to all the edges of my hair, and to the lines between the four sections. Then, I apply the tea tree and jojoba oil or the cream or coconut oil (or a mixture of two) to the hair itself. (When I had my big chop, I used a lot of jojoba oil before getting into products, and that’s another thing, when you’re just starting out, be easy on the products). Then, I plait each section.
If I’m going to have it on for a while, I spray some water on it daily (sometimes I don’t, but daily is advisable), and I put some oil – tea tree, coconut, castor – whichever you choose, and I style. If you find it too tough, get that leave-in conditioner in, and it will help the texture. To prevent frizz during the day, the leave-in conditioning mist will work great, just in case you have hair that is tough, or you’re in winter season.
Nights: plait it every night by sectioning into four, except of course, if it’s still in the TWA stage. If it is, make it a bit damp before bed. DO NOT leave your hair to itself. If you have to, probably thrice or four times in four to six weeks, nothing more.
Extras: I wash every two weeks if I have it on for a while. If it’s under a weave or braids, then every three to four weeks is fine.
That’s basically it!
DISCLAIMER: I am not against relaxed hair or wearing wigs or weaves. I do so myself. But the point is, when we choose what type of “hair” we want to wear, we should always know and understand why we do so. If it is to fit in with a particular race, clan, or whatnot, that might not be the best. Love and appreciate your person…and hey, this applies to everything! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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With Overflowing Love,