Natural Hair vs. Relaxed Hair - How to Choose What’s Best for You?
In the last decade, we have seen a huge movement within the African American community of women going from chemically relaxed or straightened hair to growing our natural hair out. We are living in an era where we are seeking liberation, truth, freedom, individualism, and the discovery of who we are authentically. With that said, many of us wonder what kind of hair we really have growing at the roots. This quest is changing how we feel about ourselves; we are realizing that we are all unique, beautiful in our own ways, and being different (if that's how you see it) is indeed a wonderful thing to be celebrated. I think we are who we are and who we are destined to be. Others may try to make us feel different, but they have only made their insecurities our insecurities. This is something we must self-correct for the sake of all generations to come.
I must say, I was one of those souls that had no idea what type of hair was growing out of my head. Getting my hair chemically relaxed was a way of life for me. My mom started relaxing my hair when I was about twelve years old. Before then, my mom would send me to the neighborhood beautician who just happened to be my best friend’s mom. She would press my hair with a hot comb and I left feeling pretty with my long silky hair. Although, I did feel bad for her because she always looked tense when I walked through the door. She gave me this look like, “Oh no, not you again with that thick, long, coarse hair.”
At about 12 years old, for some reason it was decided, without me knowing or having a say in the decision, that I had graduated to perms–chemically relaxed hair. Looking back, I realize I was a bit of a guinea pig, yes, a bit of an experiment. My mom would always invoke the assistance of my Aunt Flo, as if this was some major event she needed help with or perhaps just for emotional support.
Neither of them had any expertise in this area, only the instructions on the box; and I don't even think they followed those to the ‘T.’ They would sit in the kitchen and have coffee together as I naively let them relax my hair. My mom, God bless her soul, was born with the straightest hair ever, and my Aunt Flo had silky curly locks. They never had a perm nor understood in anyway the damage they were causing to my hair. I would run around the house as the relaxer burned my scalp until it was time to rinse it out. Their thought process was: the longer the relaxer stayed on my hair, the straighter my hair would come out. However, I must say that I enjoyed being the center of attention with my mom and Aunt Flo. I was the typical ‘middle child’ and felt invisible most of the time, so when I got a chance to bond with my mom, I loved every minute of it, painful or not.
It wasn't until over 25 years later, getting my hair done professionally most of my adult life, that I decided to go for it and grow out my permed hair to see what was really growing out of my head. The turning point of going from relaxed to natural hair was after continuous visits to the salon and being told every six or seven months by different stylists that my hair had breakage. I asked how this could happen. The answers always varied from: How often do you use a curling iron or flat iron on your hair? Do you wrap your hair with a silk or satin scarf at night? Are you wearing your hair up in a pony tail very often? Perhaps, it could be the clip you put on your hair or from the low bun you always wear?
I was inquisitive and equally irritated and frustrated at these answers. I felt not having options to wear my hair the way I wanted was infringing on my right to have freedoms. Freedoms that others took for granted. I wondered if I could do any fun styles without causing breakage to my hair. I was perplexed, and I never received a straight answer from any stylist I had seen, until one day a wonderful person and stylist finally answered this daunting question for me. She explained how the chemicals in a relaxing perm break down hair follicles, making it more fragile. This process, time and time again, ultimately limited the flexibility I desired. So, I asked her, “If I grew my hair out naturally, would I have more options?” And she said, “Yes.” For me, more options meant wearing my hair in a high pony tail, or in a side bun, or being able to curl it with a curling wand whenever I decided to wear it down. Well, that was the answer I was looking for, all these years!
After that, I decided to grow my natural hair out. However, I would not go through, in my opinion, the torturous regime of slowly cutting out my perm as it grew, or getting my hair braided. I went straight for the weave option, and it was the best decision for my hair and my life style. I wore a weave for over a year. To my surprise, I had curly, thick, fun, hair -- and lots of it. I was overwhelmed and had no idea what to do with it or even what products to use. It was a time of liberation, thinking, “This is really me, who I am, the hair I was born with.” And yet, it felt very intimidating because there was still the question of, “What do I do with it now?”
My stylist had no idea either, how to advise me moving forward, as that was not her area of expertise. My stylist was prepared to only wash my hair, blow dry it, and flat iron all my beautiful curls away. And, a part of me always felt like - Oh no, she just flat ironed my beautiful curls away.
I had solved one problem and was left with a new one. What to do with my natural curls? At this point I made the decision to continue with flat ironing. The positive in this decision was that I finally had very healthy hair with beautiful texture. I was also able to add color without worrying about breakage, and I had much more flexibility. I wore it any way I wanted, and my hair did not break. I was very happy with the decision to go natural although not wearing it in its naturally curly state. I still felt a since of freedom because at least I was afforded more options.
Everyone's hair journey is unique. This just happens to be my own personal experience. Choosing to have natural hair has been a very freeing experience for me. Deciding to let my hair grow out with a weave was a personal choice. I know of many young girls and women who choose a variety of all three options. It really depends on so many factors:
- Can you style your hair on your own? If not, you will have to see a stylist regularly while growing it out to also avoid potential breakage.
- Can you afford that? And, does it fit in to your life style, time wise?
- Can you go through the awkward in-between phase without feeling unattractive and helpless?
- Do you look good in braids? And, do you know a good braider you can trust, who will not braid your hair too tight?
For me the answer was ‘no’ to all those questions. So, there you have it – a weave it was.
We now have so much information available to us on the internet. There are plenty of YouTube videos and blog articles on these topics. I say, if it appears safe and without long term negative effects on your hair, trying something new could be worth a shot. I’d love to hear your stories and what your experience has been like going from relaxed to natural tresses.