Monday, January 2, 2012

"Please Stay Natural!" - Challenges, Encouragement and Inspiration

In St. Kitts, November 2011

I walked towards the ship after having a great time on the island of St. Kitts and as I walked by, a guy yelled "Please stay natural!!" My response was "I wouldn't have it any other way!"  It was an amazing cruise - 6 islands in 7 days and the response was the same on the ship and on every island - People loved my hair! However, this was the first plea to stay natural, which made me think about some of the frustrations I encountered that could have caused me to run to the nearest beauty salon for a virgin relaxer.  So I thought I would have a little fun and talk about 4 challenges that were the most difficult for me to handle and hopefully offer some encouragement if you're dealing with some of the same issues. Also, since I don't post very often, I thought i would share a collage of some of my favorite hair pics.  Maybe they can be helpful for those who may be struggling with whether they want to stay natural.

Challenge #1:  Going from pseudo "good hair" to "nappy hair"

2001 college pic
Since I grew up believing that I did not have good hair and that long and straight hair was the only way to go (unless you were the Halle Berry type), it was difficult for me to go from long and straight to short and nappy and feel good about what I saw when I looked in the mirror.  Although I never had the "good hair" label, I got by with what I'm calling my "pseudo good hair" because my hair grew to shoulder length and I religiously got my touch-ups every 6 weeks to keep those roots in check. So mentally and emotionally, it was difficult to chop off what was considered beautiful and see it replaced by what was considered ugly. What helped me: Natural hair groups providing support and valuable information so I learned proper hair care and various styling options.  They also helped me see my texture as beautiful through their conversation, encouragement and pictures.  The physical change had already occurred, but they were invaluable in helping me with the mental and emotional change. 

Challenge #2:  No knowledge of natural texture and the frustrating process of learning how to style and maintain natural hair.

Like many of us, I had no knowledge of natural hair. I think my hair was only in it's natural state during the time it would have been criminal to use a chemical or heat to straighten my hair and of course at that age, I have no memory other than remembering that the comb hurt!
With one of my older brothers. I probably was one or two here with natural hair.

Fast forward a few years, I'm greased up and silky straight thanks to that torturous hot comb.
I still remember the smell of hair burning and the marks left from forehead, ear and neck burns.
Had to get those edges straight by any means necessary!
As soon as I was old enough to understand the word "hot," mom was pressing my hair and once I got older, then I got my first relaxer (probably 11 or 12) and continued relaxing until my mid/late 20s. Everyone around me wore their hair straight, so there's was nothing "unnatural" about it in my eyes at that time. When I decided to go natural (mainly out of curiosity), I had no idea what to do with my hair.  Everything I learned about hairstyles and maintenance was on chemically straighten hair.  I was easily frustrated and annoyed with the process.

Here are some of the pics I took during my early natural days.

During the early days, I didn't know how to do much,
so I  tried over-jazzing my puffs to try and create a different look.

Here's another attempt at versatility.

Initially, I didn't like twists. I thought they made me look like a man. It's interesting that when I look at the pics I took during this time frame, this is the only one where I didn't look up. I tried to embrace the look, but I was actually embarrassed.

Although I didn't like the shorter hair, I did like this  look - it was kind of sultry ;-)
I was in Mexico and this puffy twistout was compliments of the humidity.

By this time, I had gotten more comfortable and was getting a little more creative.
You can't see the front very well, but those are flat twists leading up to the twistout on top.

Major setback!! I heard about Miss Jessie's Shingling Method,
which led to my first major natural hair disaster. 


The style looked pretty good when I left home (it was still wet), so I didn't know my hair was shriveling up while it dried. I was shocked when I got home and looked in the mirror. How do you leave home looking one way and come home a couple hours later with a completely different look?? I learned the hard way.

I dealt with this challenge on an analytical level.  It was hard for me to accept that I was in my late 20s and knew nothing about the hair I was born with.  That was unacceptable to me and although I had no intentions of staying natural at that time, I felt it was important for me to learn about my hair.  I decided then that in order for me to learn how to handle my own hair, I had to do my own hair. So I stopped going to the hairstylist in 2008 and used natural hair websites, books and groups to help me with the learning process.

Challenge #3:  My three textures and the horror of tangles and knots

Seems like no matter what I do, I have to deal with tangles.  When I keep my hair stretched, I don't have as many, but the tangles are always there.  If I wear a puff or an afro, the tangles are almost unbearable.  The section in the back of my head is the worse, the section in the front is slightly better and the section at the top is the easiest.  So one day, I pulled a strand from each section to conduct a little unscientific experiment. The strands on the napkin shows the back, front and top from left to right.  The first row of numbers shows my hair length in each of those sections and the second row of numbers shows the length of each strand when stretched.  I did this to see that each strand was a good representation of the hair in each section.  The number I forgot to write down was the length of the hair without being stretched, which I think was about 1.5 in, 2in, and 3.5in,  respectively. I used those number to estimate the shrinkage.  

So what did this tell me?
I get these knots mostly with fro styles. I have to cut them,
which is why I don't wear fro styles often.
  • I have three textures that I have to deal with, which I believe are 4a, 4b and 4c. The kinkiest of the kinky
  • Unstretched, my hair will shrink about 78% - 88% of its actual length.
  • If I properly moisturize my hair and keep it stretched and trim damaged strands, that will likely be the only way to minimize tangles and knots but I will probably always have them.
  • Most importantly, I have a new appreciation for my hair and a new level of understanding. How could I have a head full of 4a/4b/4c hair and not deal with tangles, knots and damage? In fact, I'm shocked I have as much hair as I do!  This also reinforced the need for me to be gentle when handling my hair since I understand that every twist and curve is a potential breaking point and each strand of my hair is filled with twists and curves!

Challenge #4: Negative reaction of others. 

I like to believe that the opinion of others do not bother me, but I have to admit that there were times that negative comments got to me especially when they came from the people I cared about most. However, I realized that those reactions had nothing to do with me.  They were deeply rooted in the past combined with the shock of seeing the dramatic change in my hair.  I got through those difficult times by educating myself on the history of our hair and realizing that this issue was bigger than a hairstyle.  I let my curiosity and logic guide my decisions rather than emotion.  I felt this was a test of my strength and endurance and I would not be defeated.  Now I've gotten through those difficult moments and several family members and a few friends are natural. I can't claim responsibility for their transition, but I know that I helped in some ways - whether it was introducing the thought of going natural, sharing information and in most cases just being able to show that natural hair is not only acceptable, but beautiful as well.  

Mom, me, brother and aunt. One of my proudest moments
was seeing my mother and aunt natural for the first time.

My sister-in-law. The newest natural in the family.

1st Vice President (me) with President of a national professional organization.
Natural and professional - it's not an oxymoron.

With friend and co-worker rocking our natural hair and red outfits. 

Natural hair is beautiful, but it's not without challenges.  Although my hair is relatively healthy, it's growing and I'm doing a pretty good job of retaining length, I have noticed some holes in some of my strands and I'm trying to determine what's causing that and the best way of dealing with it.  So even after 4 years of wearing my hair naturally, I still deal with some challenges and unsolved mysteries. I try to look at this as a continuation of my journey and another opportunity to learn. Besides, I've worn my hair straight for 20+ years. I can't expect to have this natural hair thing down in just a few years. Talk about unrealistic expectations!!

I received many messages from natural ladies saying that some of my natural hair pics are inspirational especially given the texture of my hair, so I'm sharing some of my favorite hair pics taken at some point within the past year (unless otherwise noted) which I think shows the versatility and beauty of our hair.  Hopefully these pics may also help others to stay natural.

Twists - Big & Small

Big twists can be pinned up in different ways with accessories to create various looks.

Same size twists as above.  I shaped each twist into a circle,
pinned them up and tied a colorful scarf around it for flare.
This is an old favorite. Twists formed in circles (pin curls) and pinned at the top,
but I took the bottom section down. Purple flowers are nice additions.

Now, I love my twists. The extra length made a big difference for me.
I also like to rod the ends to make them curly. For this style, I just
pulled up one side in a clip.
Over time the curl loosens up a little, but I still like the look.
In this style, I pulled up the front in a pony tail.

Ohhhh watch out now! Gold accents with the majority
pulled back in a ponytail.  The twists that I hated are becoming a fav!

Natural surrounded by nature. One of my favorite pics, not only because I'm wearing the
dreaded twists (lol), but because it speaks volumes of where I am now compared to where I was.

Twists pulled back and covered with a knit beeny thing
(sorry don't know what that's called!). I held it in place with hair pins.

Twistouts - Big & Small

I used to hate shrinkage. I wanted to show my length and was frustrated that I couldn't do that without heat. Now I like it. It's a trait that's uniquely ours and it helps with versatility allowing us to go from short to long if you chose to use heat or stretch your hair for some additional length.

I also love that by varying the sizes of the twists, you can create a fuller twistout.

Natural hair can be the best fashion accessory .
Look at those waves! Who needs a wavy weave??!

Formal Hair

This pic is from 2008. I went through great trouble to identify a natural style (that I could do myself) that would be fancy enough for a formal party. I still love this look, but over the years, I lost interest in spending that much time on my hair.
Nowadays, formal to me means I pull my hair up :-)

If I want to get fancy, I may add a flower.
The Puff

This pic was taken on the same cruise I referenced above.
I usually wear a scarf with my puffs, but it looks great without it too.

It's something about the puff that creates a regal look.

How can I hate my 3 textures when they come together to create this magnificent  puff??

A Touch of Creativity

There were moments, I got a little bored and tried something that was a little different,
but didn't require a lot of work. The back is pulled up and pinned like a french roll. I call it the "fro roll."
The front is from an old twistout made from large twists.

When I posted this Frohawk on FB, I was shocked at the overwhelming response. Of all my pics, this one has gotten the most responses.  I absolutely LOVE this look, but you can look at it and imagine how much trouble I had detangling it. I think I may try this again one day on stretched hair.

Stretched Hair - Fingers Only

I'm anti-heat, so I created this look by doing some intense finger combing on dry hair using oil.
I had no idea my hair would expand like this!! Our hair naturally clumps together,
so separating those strands created this beautiful monstrous sight!

Before going to bed, I put my stretched hair into large twists.
This was the result in the morning when I took them out.

I love big hair, but I had to find a way to make this style a little smaller for work, so I twisted and pinned the top.

Still have the big hair look, but it's a little more tamed for the office.

Slight variation from the above. You can see some of the waves from me twisting it the night before.

Sometimes I surprise myself. On this day, I didn't want to have my hair out, so I  just played around with a few twists and came up with this. The bottom clip is only over the very top part of my hair. Otherwise, it would have broke!
The old saying is anything worth having takes work.  There will be some bumps along the road, but if you stick with it, it gets better.  Our hair is beautiful and unique. Those textures we were taught to hate flourish when properly cared for and they create some of the most beautiful styles you can imagine. So if you're transitioning, know that there will be some challenges.  If you're a new natural, then I share the words of the guy from St. Kitts, "please stay natural." In my humble opinion, there's nothing better than natural beauty.

~Loving Me Naturally



  2. Thanks Minasek - That's why I like to show where I started and talk about some of the challenges cuz I think people sometimes see where you are but don't know how you got there. The stretched style is something new I tried recently. I plan to have a great time working that style during the spring and fall :-)


  4. This post and your journey is very inspiring to me. I'm coming up on being natural for 2yrs and had to deal with some challenges too. They are still there but now I can handle them better than before.

  5. stumbled onto your blog and just wanted to show some blog luv! def enjoyed this post!

  6. I hope this comment finds you well. I stumbled upon your blog a long while ago and really feel in love not only with it but also with your hair. As a result, I have nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award. The details can be found at my blog,

    I look forward to your next entry and to seeing what your hair is doing these days.

  7. You have such beautiful hair and I applaud you on your journey. I am always searching for fabulous hair-spiration and I am adding you to the top of the list. I am not not-so-newly-natural (2 yrs 4 months) but I still have soooo much to learn. Thanks for the hair-spiration!!!