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Jen Holmes

Jen Holmes – On Natural Hair and Standing Out

Hers is a story that many women can relate to, but few have had the courage to step out of. Jen has a confident voice, contagious laugh and a distinctive head of hair thanks to her Jamaican and English/ Scottish heritage.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Jen is a makeup artist by profession. She’s used to making people look beautiful, but she didn’t always realise the beauty in her natural hair. She stands out, but it hasn’t always been something she embraced.

At the tender age of eight, Jen went up to her mum and asked her to chemically relax her hair. Her mother didn’t put up a fight- the hair tugging and time spent braiding her hair every couple of nights was a difficult process for the both of them.

“I wanted to have straight hair, just like my friends… [Curly hair] was so time consuming and hard and I didn’t want to face every night of my mum pulling on my hair.”

So she took the route of that most girls with curly hair go–she relaxed her hair.

The chemical relaxer did what it was designed to do– it suppressed the spunk and free expression of natural hair, leaving behind societal expectations in the form of straight hair.

Then there is the price that we pay for conforming. With her straight hair, Jen was left with scalp burns and unhealthy hair.

“It was super brutal. It’s ridiculous what you’re putting on your head. But it’s that creamy crack–you just can’t quit it.”

Natural Hair Transitioning

Eventually, Jen decided to stop chemically straightening her hair and she began her natural hair transitioning. Chris Rock’s film “Good Hair” as well as seeing more and more women, especially Solange Knowles embracing their natural curls, helped her with her process.

Her transition entailed her not using heat on her hair, and leaving it wavy. This helped make the grow-out easier and less noticeable. YouTube tutorials were also extremely helpful with styling and helping her create a new routine.

People’s Reaction

The change has helped her embrace her individuality, and the attention that comes with it. People’s reaction has generally been positive, but she’s experienced everything from people trying to touch her mane to people asking if her hair is a wig.

“Lots of people will come up and touch and grab my hair. It’s rude and impolite and I don’t like it. Some people will come up to me and ask, which is nice, but I decline.”

She believes that this is due to a lack of awareness, and the only way that this can be changed is by education and more women taking the plunge.

“Putting the message online so people can find it even if they weren’t looking. Simply talking to them when people ask questions. I don’t mind talking and answering questions about it. I think that the more I start doing it I think is going to be the biggest thing… I hope that in the future more women will be natural and people will take notice and be more aware and knowledgeable”

Her favourite products are olive oil and coconut oil. She’s a firm believer in natural products, and she uses Aubrey Organics Shampoo and Conditioner. She does a twist out to define her curl pattern, and uses coconut oil for added moisture in the process.

Her advice to other women is not to let their children go through the same experience that she did

“Don’t ever relax your hair. If I could speak to my younger self, I would tell myself not to. It’s horrible and extremely damaging for your hair, and honestly at this point you would love your hair. I regret relaxing my hair all those years. Appreciate your hair. Love your hair.”

Sintra Lewis

Put together. Stylist. Fit. Beautiful.

Those are some of the words I would use to describe Sintra Lewis. For fourteen years, Sintra was a dedicated track and field athlete. Then one day she decided she was over the tomboy look. She started searching through various blogs online and suddenly found herself waist deep in clothes, shoes, jewelry—and a modeling contract.

“I like the way fashion makes me feel. It gives me the opportunity to be artistic. Sometimes I lie in bed and instead of sleeping I put outfits together in my head.”

Unfortunately, as I’m sure we all know, being fashionable is expensive. “Keeping up with the latest trends can be a pain,” says Sintra. But somehow, she does it. Sintra frequents fashion blogs like Cupcakes and Cashmere and Atlantic Pacific for her daily inspiration.

Sintra’s hair is an integral part of her overall style. She describes her style as classic and feels that her straight hair enhances her look. “I just need it to stay in place,” she says with a chuckle. Sintra’s hair is usually relaxed with a few added weave tracks for body. She trusts her salon so much that her hairstylist is not just her stylist—she’s her friend. “Once Yvette of Yves Salon gives me a wash and blowout I have good hair days for weeks.”

Sintra is in her thirtys and was born in Grenada but grew up in Trinidad. She describes herself as Afro-Caribbean and now lives in Edmonton, AB.

Sintra says when her roots grow out her curls are between 3B and 3C. Her 5 favorite hair tools are:

Check out Sintra’s favorite hair products with her reasons why below:

  1. Redkin Smooth Down Heat Glide
    – I use this right before I flat iron my hair. It’s a leave-in serum that provides heat-safe control to take frizz.
    – A dime size is amount enough for my entire head.
  2. Big Sexy Smooth & Seal
    – This is a finishing spray to help lock out moisture and keep my hair smooth and shiny.
    – I usually spray it on my hair before applying heat.
  3. Big Sexy Spray & Play Hairspray
    – This is the most ideal hairspray!
    – Gives my hair hold and movement. It’s manageable and shiny and the next day it does not have that caked-on finish.
    – This product makes it easy to comb through my hair when I’m tired of one style and style my hair another way.

Have you used any of these products? Do they work for you?

Have you used any of these products? Do they work for you?

Natural Hair Essentials

One thing that I have learnt with trying to take care of my natural hair is that without my weapons of choice, I would be fighting a losing battle. I get asked a lot about my routine- most people think that it’s extremely difficult maintaining my hair. The truth is, its not too bad!

My Hair Routine Exists in 5 Steps:

Finger Detangling

In my experience, it’s always best to detangle my hair when dry. It causes so much less breakage, and saves me from premature split ends. Finger detangling is always the best-parting my hair in smaller sections and dealing with knots individually has really helped me with hair growth and strength. However, finger detangling is not always possible as it is time consuming and tedious.

On regular days, I try to detangle my hair when dry using a wide-toothed comb, but most days I wet my hair in the shower with lots of conditioner, part and then comb through. I’ve experimented with lots of products, but what I find provides me with the most slip (which is very necessary!) is DevaCurl One Condition and your regular ol’ Dove Daily Moisture Conditioner.

Washing my Hair

I know, I know- you’re supposed to shampoo first! My hair can be exceptionally dry – years of straightening it has stripped the moisture out of it. Shampooing my hair after detangling makes the cleaning process a lot easier. I don’t like to use very harsh shampoos, as they tend to suck my hair of all its natural oils and that’s a serious no-no!

I use DevaCurl’s Low-Poo Shampoo. It cleans my hair, and the added Rosemary and Chamomile leaves my hair feeling fresh and wholesome. I usually coat my ends with some coconut oil before shampooing to prevent them from drying out. No-poo and Low-Poo shampoo barely has any lather, so the trick is to scrub your scalp real good, rinse out, and repeat until you feel your hair is clean. Once I’ve shampooed, I go ahead and re-condition and give a quick comb through, leaving the conditioner in my hair. This helps battle frizz and dryness.

Wet hair? Dry with a Cotton T-Shirt

It’s always best to air dry your hair, but I have found that wrapping my hair in an old cotton T-Shirt has really helped with battling frizz. Air drying hair is great for adding extra volume and unruliness, but that’s not always feasible for me (especially in the wintertime!).

When I step out of the shower, I never let a towel touch my hair – towel fibers are rough and harsh, and cause unnecessary frizz. I instantly wrap my hair in the T-Shirt and go about getting dressed. This helps absorb all the excess water from my hair, and stops me from leaving a wet trail in my wake. Cotton T-Shirts absorb water almost as fast as towels do, and in just 10-15 minutes, my hair is ready to style.

Moisturizing my Hair

Coconut oil is my go to when it comes to moisturizing my hair – I’ve tried and tested lots of different products, but I keep coming back to my trusted sidekick. I normally apply a coin-sized scoop of coconut oil in my palm (you would need more or less depending on the texture and length of your hair). I then run my palms through my hair, concentrating on my ends and center, as that’s the driest part of my hair. This helps keep my hair from drying out and matting. I do this every day until I’m due for my next wash.

Deep Conditioning Treatment

The secrets out-it’s all about conditioning. I try to deep condition my hair once every 3 months, or whenever the weather changes (this tends to leave my hair exceptionally dry). I use DevaCurl Heaven in Hair deep conditioner, which is specially designed for colour treated and relaxed hair. When I have extra time, I like to do a deep conditioning treatment, mixing egg and coconut oil, applying that to my hair and leaving it in for about an hour, then thoroughly shampooing it out. This protein mask helps ease breakage and leaves my hair shiny, light and soft.

The secrets out-it’s all about conditioning. I try to deep condition my hair once every 3 months, or whenever the weather changes (this tends to leave my hair exceptionally dry).

How To: Safely Straightening Coily Hair and Avoiding Heat Damage

One of the things I love about being natural is the versatility I have. I am in no way obligated to maintain one look in particular, and I find that my whole style changes as I go from big curly hair to sleek polished hairstyles. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with my hair, and I can’t say I miss the creamy crack. While I do enjoy my curls and kinks, there are times that having my hair straight saves me time. At night I don’t have to twist or braid my hair, and in the morning I don’t have to worry about my braid-outs looking cute. In all honesty I just really value my sleep.

At one point I thought that my flatiron would be synonymous to the death of my hair. However, nightmares of my hair as a garden of split-ends are over, and I am free to do with my hair as I please without guilt. If you want to straighten your hair once in a while you should be able to do that, but I definitely think you should be mindful of the products and amount of heat you put on your hair.

Trying to go from curly hair to straight hair can seem daunting, and there are days when I literally have to prepare myself mentally before I begin the process. However, with some patience, and the occasional pep talk, I get through it.

I got my last perm about 4 years ago and I’ve been straightening for the past two years. I straighten my hair about six times a year and so far I haven’t had any heat damage.

  1. To begin, I usually detangle my hair with my hands because I don’t like combs. Detangling with my fingers allows me to feel the knots, separate the hair and loosen knots without causing breakage due to combs pulling on the hair.
  2. Next I shampoo my hair to get rid of product buildup. Then I proceed to condition and detangle.
  3. After washing out all of my conditioner I towel dry my hair and section it into four equal parts.
  4. In order to prevent damage due to heat I use a heat protecting spray all over my head, and I rub a small amount of oil throughout my hair before blow-drying. I prefer to use Jamaican Black Castor Oil in my hair, but because it is thick and tends to weigh my hair down if I use a lot, I use it sparingly when preparing to straighten my hair.
  5. To blowout my hair I use my Vidal Sassoon blow dryer with the comb attachments to dry, detangle, and stretch my hair out.
  6. Once all my hair is blown out I part and twist my hair up in sections to make flat-ironing easier.
  7. The flatiron that I use is the Conair Infiniti, it has about 5 temperature settings and goes up to 455 °F. Setting my iron to the second highest temperature works really well for me. I usually only have to pass my flatiron through my hair once, but while doing this I run a rat-tail comb ahead of it to produce smooth even tension to get my hair as straight as possible. However, because I have two different textures of hair throughout my head, I sometimes have to go over certain sections twice .Tip: Before assuming that your hair requires the highest temperature setting possible, try out lower temperatures first and increase until you find the temperature that works best for your hair. The hair in the front of my head is slightly looser than the rest of my hair, so to prevent damaging my curl pattern I lower the heat.
  8. After straightening all of my hair, depending on how it looks and feels, sometimes I’ll rub a little bit of castor oil in my hands and smooth it over my hair to add some shine and reduce flyaway’s.

    After all that work I generally wear my hair straight for one to two weeks without adding any additional heat. To maintain it, I either wrap it up at night with hairpins or do a low bun to get a curl in the morning without using heat. At the end of the day when it comes to straightening your hair I would recommend being careful. Don’t assume that your flatiron needs to be at the highest setting to get your hair straight. Detangle well so you don’t have to pass over your hair with heat too many times, and use a heat protector.

My name is Whitney, I live in Calgary, Alberta, but claim the beautiful island of Jamaica to be my home. I am a recent university graduate striving to nurture my creativity. I am passionate about art and its many mediums of expression. Confession: I decided to give up the creamy-crack after watching Usher’s Daddy’s Home – gorgeous curly hair everywhere.

At one point I thought that my flatiron would be synonymous to the death of my hair. #bhs Click To Tweet

 

One of the things I love about being natural is the versatility I have. I am in no way obligated to maintain one look in particular, and I find that my whole style changes as I go from big curly hair to sleek polished hairstyles.

The Accidental yet Unapologetic Politicized Crown

“What I have learned for myself is that I don’t have to be anybody else; and that myself is good enough; and that when I am being true to that self, then I can avail myself to extraordinary things” – Lupita Nyong’o

Back in 2009, with my three high school friends, I started an organization that led to an annual exhibit called AfroChic celebrating black beauty manifested through fashion, art, hair, music, and businesses in a safe community space. AfroChic has since gone on to become what could be considered a staple in Toronto culture. Our mandate has been to provide a positive representation of the black community and culture. Our goals have helped us to foster relationships with a myriad of local based organizations and even global corporations with a similar mission.

Our emphasis on highlighting “natural hair” throughout the exhibit during the fashion show, artwork and overall promotional aesthetic has led many to deem AfroChic as a “natural hair art show”, a categorization we have not only embraced but have also used in our communications marketing strategy. We have created a brand that has thrived off of providing an outlet for women of color to see images of women of color in their natural hair state in a chic and glamorous light. We have worked with women in beauty industries and put them at the forefront of our campaigns to show that their beauty, their gifts, their light are valuable and deserve recognition in a world that may or may not provide similar opportunities.

Over the years, we have experienced some who are in support of the AfroChic mandate as well as those who believe we are divisive and dismissive towards black women by our choice to highlight natural hairstyles (locks, twists, kinks, curls and coils). Outside of these variables, we experience criticism against our personal appearances as a result of this production and its layered relationship with image and community representation. Many have questioned my appearance. People often tell me in varying ways; “If you put on a show about natural hair and all of your marketing, branding and efforts goes towards highlighting the natural hair community – why do you yourself color your hair, wear hair extensions, rock straight weaves, and flat iron your real hair?” “Aren’t you contributing to the self-hate and standardization of the Eurocentric beauty value system that you fight against?”

These are very layered and powerful, important questions that I have never truly felt the need or had the ability to address until now.

When I first “went natural” back in November 2009, and earlier before that back in summer 2004 – I made the decision to stop relaxing my hair simply for financial, health and fashion reasons. Plain and simple. I wanted to try out new hairstyles that would give me the ability to do creative things without having to put costly chemicals in my hair.

There was no real political, social or emotional agenda tied to this decision. I had a great boyfriend at the time who would listen to me talk about how burnt off my edges were and would see me sacrifice some basic necessities for my bi-monthly committed hair perm or treatment. I decided one day I was over the expensive part of permanently straightened hair, and that I would just be chopping it all off and starting fresh. I also thought to myself “damn I don’t even remember what my hair looks like without perm in it.” So I was up for the challenge.

The first day, it was all good and dandy I loved my short crop and was digging my kinky coily texture. Days, weeks and months went by and I started to feel absolutely bored and bland. I tried the Teeny Weeny Afro (TWA) twist out look, I tried putting a flower behind my ear, tried putting on a headband and rocking out but I was truly bored and feeling uncomfortable.  My good friends and boyfriend at the time would say very uplifting things to me like; “Don’t worry about it Amoye, it will grow soon, you’ll love it.” But it took forever to grow for me.

After hours and hours of constant YouTube do-it-yourself videos, articles upon articles of “This is my hair journey, it only took 3 years from my TWA to grow my hair to my waist” I started to lose patience and belief in the life-changing ability of natural hair and the internet! I thought to myself; “How long is this thing going to take?”  “Don’t I have a graduation coming up?”  “I have events to attend and life to live I can’t be so consumed with this natural hair stuff, spending money on all these products – way more money spent than when I was relaxing” “I’m taking back control of my life…” so I bought a few wigs and kept it moving.

My friends and I then formed AfroChic and as I struggled through my TWA phase, the powerful message we tried to connect to our audience started to resonate with me. Our fashion show featured beautiful women who were proud of their natural tresses at all lengths and styles. They mesmerized and wowed the crowd with their confident strides and powerful visual proclamation of self-acceptance.  After the first and second show, we had incredible feedback. There were people emailing us left, right and center, telling us that they had just done the “Big Chop” after coming to our show, or that they feel inspired and proud of what we were doing and we should also be proud of ourselves. I was proud of what we created and excited for the future, but I never really tied my personal hair journey into what we were trying to do as much as everyone had wanted. I thought to myself, “just a few more inches and then I’ll do more twist outs” or “in a year or so I’ll start locks” etc. I was never firmly committed to embodying the image I glorified through my show because I began to feel that AfroChic was a movement beyond our personal journeys. Although I was one of the founding members, I was still trying to find that “inner AfroChic” in me – I just was not “there” or “her” yet.

Time has since passed and as we have grown as an exhibit, attracting close to a thousand attendees and supporters over the years combined, I have grown and began to accept me for me. I have begun to trust my ability to express myself and fashion through my hair and styles whether I’m rocking a twist out with the hair growing out of my scalp or marley twists with hair I bought in the store, or straightened hair I bought from an online based black business woman.  I have not been as consumed with “natural hair identity” and aligning myself with the AfroChic brand because I have never stated I was here to be a brand. I was here to create an event that showed women, including myself, including my little sister, including my mother that natural hair styles and natural beauty is attainable and it exists.  Natural hair, is not some foreign look that is only sported by girls with “good hair” or those who do not have “professional jobs” or women who cannot afford to go to the salon. We highlight 4C hair, we highlight 3A hair because at times, we do not see our own selves in the systems and structures that rely on our subscriptions and our dollars for support.

The beauty and entertainment industry have recently gone crazy over Lupita Nyongo, and for understandable reasons – the woman is drop dead gorgeous.  I am absolutely certain that through her existence alone, thousands, probably even millions of little girls can confidently look into the mirror and feel they are beautiful, they are accepted and desired just as they are. And even the Melissa’s, Fatima’s, Hyancinth,’s Latoya’s of our community who do not have the perfectly smooth chocolate skin, high cheek bones, perfectly chiseled TWA’s and world-class Harvard education – I think they too feel a sense of pride when they see Lupita gracing TV screens across the globe.

And now that “society” has given her a platform and recognizes her beauty as the new standard, this creates space for more dialogue and will hopefully usher in more support for women the sexy and voluptuous size of Jill Scott or those without the commanding hips and curves of Nicki Minaj or Beyonce. Lupita has re-ignited this dialogue for an incredibly large audience and unintentionally created a new standard of beauty through her brand and identity.

As a black woman communicating in a space with other black women and sisters of color, I personally feel the need to continue dialogue around the topic of self-representation and further re-examine the ways in which our obsession with hair texture and naturally hair styling can sometime lead to oppression. When did being “natural” make you more “conscious” and more “down to earth?” When did having straight hair, or wearing a weave make you “insecure” or “weak” in the context of black beauty and identity?

Amoye Henry is a Project Manager based out of Toronto Canada. She is the co-founder of AfroChic, a cultural arts exhibit that thrived in Toronto from 2009-2014. She currently works in health care and tries to travel as much as she can. She loves hard and triumphs often.

Stopped relaxing my hair simply for financial, health and fashion reasons #bhs #naturalhair Click To Tweet

As a black woman communicating in a space with other black women and sisters of color, I personally feel the need to continue dialogue around the topic of self-representation and further re-examine the ways in which our obsession with hair texture and naturally hair styling can sometime lead to oppression.

 

 

Naturalista to Hairlista: 6 Amazing Tips for Healthy Relaxed Hair

I was natural for 24 years and then decided that I wanted a change and on a whim I relaxed my hair. It was such a freeing experience, not because my hair was now relaxed, but because I realized that I was not bound anymore by anyone’s expectations for me.

I was not afraid to do anything to my hair. I became very adventurous.

So while all my friends were transitioning to natural hairstyles, I had relaxed my hair. Over the years I have faced much criticism by people who thought that because my hair was relaxed I did not love myself or had succumbed to the pressures set by other cultures. However, after years of trying different things with my hair and trying different techniques and products I have come to the conclusion that hair is hair.

I now use the following hair techniques that I learned while I was natural on my relaxed hair to amazing results.

Find the right oil for your hair!

You learn quickly with natural hair just because someone loves a product doesn’t mean it will work for you. After a product graveyard had accumulated underneath my sink, I realized I had to figure out my hair pattern first and find products that would work.

I avoid products where the first ingredient is petroleum jelly. You wouldn’t put Vaseline in your hair so why would you put a product whose main ingredient is Vaseline?

Products that use natural oils are the best for your hair and will help your hair to grow. I have a thinner hair shaft but still have a great deal of hair. As a result, I found that Argan oil works well in my relaxed hair because it does not weigh down my hair and still moisturizes my scalp.

Pin curl your hair at night

I learned to pin curl my hair using bobby pins with my natural hair. This helped me to reduce my use of heat in my hair on a daily basis. I also found that the curls would last longer and look better longer.

One day I was frustrated with my relaxed hair and wanted to try something new.

So I experimented and realized that pin curls work just as well with my relaxed hair as my natural hair. You just need to take a small section of your hair, twist it around your finger then place it flat on your head and secure it with a pin. It’s easy and effective hairstyle that can be used to form many other intricate hairstyles.

Use protective hairstyles to prevent split ends

When my hair was natural I would twist my hair and pin it up especially in the winter so my hair wouldn’t dry out. I knew that if I wanted my hair to grow I couldn’t leave the ends exposed all day every day. However, when I first relaxed my hair I thought I could leave my hair down every day. I would love to swing my hair. After my hair split worse than Kim Kardashian’s first marriage, I decided that I had to protect my ends.

I would wrap my hair at night and in the day I would wear my hair in pin curls, buns and even twist outs. I would also trim my ends when as needed to prevent my hair from splitting up to my roots. Soon my hair was growing and I was able to maintain my new length.

Do not be afraid to try new hairstyles

It is very easy to just get into a hairstyle rut. When I had natural hair I had to learn to braid, twist and curl my hair. As a result, I saved a lot of money by not going to the hairdressers every week and I became more adventurous.

Cut your hair, change your hair colour, put your hair up or put it down! Your hair should be reflection of your personality and no one wants to be known as boring and neither should hair.

Avoid over-manipulation

Naomi Campbell should be the warning to all black women! If a woman of her financial standing can have hairline recede like that, then so can we!

I do not over manipulate my hair.

I do cool hairstyles on the weekend and then adjust that style to suit my work during the week usually using hairpins and combing out my curls. This way my hair grows quickly and my hairline isn’t constantly being brushed and manipulated.

No crunchy, stiff hair

Please avoid crunchy, stiff, dry hair! When my hair was natural I used to go to salons and they would flat iron my hair. When they were done with my hair, it had little movement because it was over-pressed or they used crème that would weigh down my hair.

I learned my lesson now that I have relaxed hair and avoid certain products and do not relax my hair bone straight. Having healthy and touchable hair is important to the overall look of my hair as well as to my husband who doesn’t want to be afraid of my hair.

I was at an event a couple weeks ago with my one of my close girlfriends who is natural. As we were siting chatting away a lady came up to her and said, “You have beautiful natural hair!”. I was extremely perturbed because I couldn’t understand why she needed to emphasize “natural hair”.

I realize now that it is important that we as black women start emphasizing the importance of healthy hair. I believe that one of the greatest things about being a black woman is the amazing things we can do with our hair when it is healthy.

I have had natural, texturized and relaxed hair and I have loved my hair in each state.

I was able to love my hair because I followed these techniques and my hair grew healthy and strong. How do you keep your hair healthy and strong?

My Natural Hair Journey

With big hair comes big responsibility. The weight of the curls brushing against me was too heavy a burden for my shoulders to bear. My natural hair journey is one filled with ups and downs–disappointments that shook my self-esteem to the core then bounced me back up. My entire being moved to the bounce of the spiral texture that is my hair.

The power of the curl is something only a person with curly hair can understand. I am coming to terms with it, and take each day as it comes, but boy has it been hard.

It is getting better though.

I grew up feeling like some freak of nature. My East Indian roots didn’t seem to sync with my curly fro of a mane. My sister has thick wavy “East Indian” hair. My brother’s hair has always been really thick but too short to make comparisons. How did I end up looking the way that I did? Am I adopted? Do I have African blood in my lineage? Did my mother have an affair and I’m the offspring of a milkman?!

It was hard when I was younger. I remember looking at my cousins with deep envy as they detangled their silky straight hair with a brush. A NORMAL HAIR BRUSH! My hair breaks brushes. They would stand by the mirror and brush their glossy straight hair and look at me with feigned pity and say with a flick of their silky strands, “Aren’t you hot? I feel hot just looking at you”.

I just wanted to fit in and look like the other kids. I would often be the odd one in dance performances – my hair was always in a ponytail because the other hairstyles my dance group would rock wouldn’t hold. The latest hair trends always seemed to favour straight hair. At swimming practice, my hair wouldn’t stay in my swim cap, leaving my hair drenched and green after every swim practice. I didn’t know where to start when it came to styling it. I always wore it up in a ponytail pulled so tight I would get headaches, all in the hopes that my new growth would somehow be straight.

Growing up, my mum took care of my hair–she brushed and tied it every morning. Being the strong-headed child I was, at the age of 10 I proclaimed that I was old enough to take on the responsibility of styling my own hair. My mum protested, I protested even harder until she eventually gave in. I was in over my head by the first day. My baby chicken arms would hurt trying to brush my knots out. What did I know about sectioning? So I fell into the routine of brushing just the tops of my hair, tying it into my too tight ponytail, then rushing out of the house before my mother could get the chance to see me.
This routine continued for 2 weeks, before I was eventually caught. I remember sitting in the special chair my mum kept to sit on when she did my hair, my knees shaking and my lips quivering knowing the neck yanking that was to follow. My knots were so bad and my hair so matted that the only solution was to tie my hair in a ponytail and chop it right off. I was sent to school with eyes puffy and red and visions of my mangled ponytail on my bedroom floor.

Haircuts are a nightmare. I dread having to walk in to the hairdresser and have all the stylists gather around and stare at my hair, while sneaking pity looks at the stylist that has to deal with my mane. I guess you could say that I am a stylist’s nightmare, and my doubled bill represents it. The first time I ever did anything with my hair was in high school when I relaxed it. The results were disastrous. Apart from the burns behind my ears, only the top half of my hair straightened. To my disappointment, my bushy ponytail remained despite numerous attempts to tame it chemically.

I then began straightening my hair with a flat iron after I finished high school. Yes, it took 3 hours every week and I would have to wake up an hour earlier every morning to touch it up–but in my mind, it was worth it. I could do what I wanted with my hair. I didn’t stand out. I looked like every other girl walking down the street. That was what I needed at that time in my life. Looking back, I guess you could say that my straight hair was my safety net. I looked the way I was expected to and didn’t draw too much attention towards myself.

My turning point came about 5 months ago. My lifestyle had changed. I started living a healthier, more conscious lifestyle. Yoga consistently became part of my daily routine, and I became more aware of every ion in my body and every strand of my hair. With sweating daily came the realization of how impractical it was to spend all that time manipulating my hair. So one day, I let go of all the preconceived notions I had about my appearance, and went natural.

The key to living with my hair natural is taking every day as it comes, and learning to let go. In that way, my hair has been a guiding metaphor in my life. My hair has taught me so much about myself. I have learnt to let go and acknowledge that I can’t control everything, and that’s ok. I appreciate every stranger that comes up to me on the street, and entertain the men at that bar that respectfully ask to touch my hair. Embracing my hair has taken me a step closer to the individuality we all seek to have. I love my hair through the good and bad, but especially on the days when the stars align and it does what I want it to. It’s been 5 months and there’s no going back.

A Head Full of Wool: The History of Black Hair in North America

(photo source: www.reunionblackfamily.com/apps/blog/show/12783944-a-history-of-black-hair-from-the-1400s-to-present)

Where did the story of black hair begin? Too often we begin black people’s story with slavery – when we know full well that the African story began in Africa.

Before Slavery

Early in the fifteenth century, African hair was a distinct form of communication. African hair spoke of age, marital status, ethnic identity, religion, wealth, and social rank. For instance, in the Wolof tribe of Senegal, young women would shave a portion of their hair to tell the bachelors that they were single and ripe for the picking.

Africans knew their hair was beautiful. They would spend hours washing, combing, and oiling their hair to ensure it remained healthy. Africans used to use elaborate combs, brushes, and ornaments like cowrie shells to highlight the beauty of their hair.

The Birth of Good Hair

Africans were taken from their homes and sold into slavery in the 1700s. Black people were taught that to look European was to look beautiful. This is when the term “good hair” came into being. No, Chris Rock did not coin the phrase. Good hair was smooth, silky and straight. Bad hair was kinky, short and coarse.

From that point onward, Black people in North American began to do everything in our power to change our hair texture to look more like the straight hair of white people.
*****

I shift impatiently on the two pillows I snagged from the couch to sit on. My hair is freshly washed, but not oiled. My mom doesn’t oil my hair before hot combing it anymore. She’s tired of my squeals of discomfort. When the steaming metal comb gets too close to my roots it heats up the Blue Magic on my scalp and my head feels like it’s going to boil away. So I scream and I cry.

My mom walks into the living room and sits behind me on the couch, her legs on either side of my shoulders.

“Ma, I think it’s ready now,” I say. It’s important that she doesn’t leave the hot comb in its oven too long. Last time that happened I lost a significant chunk of my hair. She doesn’t answer. She lifts up the heavy metal comb, rubs it with a towel, blows on it, and brings it to my roots.

It makes a ttssssssshhhhhhttt sound as it straightens my coily tresses. “Aaahhhhhhhhhh!” I complain noisily. No oil – but the heat still burns my scalp. My mom pauses and I can feel her disapproving scowl.

“Do you want me to stop?” She asks, annoyed. “No ma,” I answer quickly. Tomorrow is my first day of grade 10. I can’t go to school with cornrows anymore. That’s for kids. I need to look beautiful.
*****

In 1909, Garrett A. Morgan invented the first hair relaxer. He was working with sewing machines in his tailoring shop when he noticed that a chemical he was using straightened the fibres of woolen cloth. From this realization the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company was born. Morgan first sold to black men who were interested in straightening their kinky hair, and then began to sell to black women.

Annie Malone became one of the first self-made black millionaires in 1920 when she patented the hot comb. The invention was initially developed in France for women with curly hair who wished to temporarily straighten their hair.

A Change of Attitude?

In the 1970s, things began to change. Political activists like Angela Davis began to wear their hair in afros and the Black Power Movement gained popularity in America. Black people of all ages began to grow their natural hair into afros in solidarity of the movement. But like many other hair crazes; the afro was popular only for a season. The popularity of chemically straightened hair remained.

In 1977, the Jheri curl chemical process exploded. The Jheri curl allowed black people to have smooth curls without the frizz of the kink. Achieving the Jheri curl look was not easy. It required a two-step application process. Wearers first applied a softener that loosened the curls, and then applied a chemical solution that permanently curled it.

The definition of good hair began to change in the 80s. Black people started to rock everything from the braids Janet Jackson wore in Poetic Justice to Lauryn Hill dreadlocks to long Beyoncé-blonde wigs and weaves to Erykah Badu head wraps.

In 2009, Solange did what the natural hair community now calls the “big chop”. She cut off all of her hair to start afresh. She went natural. Since then multitudes of black women have followed her lead, cut off their relaxed or damaged ends, and gone natural.

And now we are in the midst of a hair revolution. If you don’t believe me, type “natural hair” into Google and you’ll see millions of results. Black women in particular have begun to embrace the natural texture of their hair. After centuries of weaves and chemical straighteners we are now attempting to understand how to care for our hair in it’s natural state. Black women are investigating the intricacies of the strands that grow out of our scalps. Many black women are learning how to care for our hair for the first time in our late 20s, 30s and even 40s.

I think it’s beautiful.

That’s why in 2012 I decided to go natural. It wasn’t easy. My long straight weaves were my foundation and I didn’t feel attractive showing my natural curl pattern. I still struggle with self-image and at times yearn for my 20″ remy. But my personal conviction has been to find beauty in the natural texture of my hair.