Saturday, June 30, 2012

Curls of Joy Hair Challenge - Wrap Up & Final Check-In

The Curls of Joy "Know Your Hair, Love Your Hair Challenge" officially ended on June 23, 2012.  I must say that it was very informative, a great learning experience.  Although I'm not a "natural newbie", this challenge provided very valuable information, some of which I had seen and/or heard before, but REPETITION IS GOOD!  Especially when it comes to our well-being.  I needed to hear that information again, so it could really sink in this time.

Here's a recap of weeks 9 through 12:

Week 9 - Shedding, Breaking, & Lenth Retention, featured Kimmaytube's video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afpgjYXY3hE&feature=player_detailpage).  While I knew that we all shed hair daily, I'm now more clear on the difference between breaking and shedding.  Normally shed hair has the white bulb on the end, while broken hair does not.  I was relieved to discover, after examining the "fallen" strands of my hair, to see the white bulb on the end.  So, it's good to know that my hair was not breaking (as it did so much before truly going natural/before my big chop), but just shedding, which is completely normal.

Now, a big challenge in my natural hair journey has been length retention.  As Kimmaytube mentioned in her videos, she struggled to retain length for many years.  When the ends of her hair became damaged and "see-through", she would cut them off, and keep going through the same cycle over and over, never seeing any real progress in the length of her hair.  I can TOTALLY identify with that!

As I stated in a previous post, over the past year, I got to the point of having to trim my hair every three weeks, because of knotty ends.  However, with the advice of natural hair experts, after doing more of a "cut" than a trim, to eliminate all of the bad ends, along with tweaking my hair care regimen, the knotting (and the need to trim so often) have been practically eliminated.  As a result, I think I'm retaining length now.

In fact, since cutting my hair on March 3rd, I've done a few "length checks", to gauge my progress.  Comparing lengths from several sections of my hair, (during the Curls of Joy Challenge only) from April 16th to June 26th, I experienced changes in growth ranging from half an inch to an inch and a half.  Whoo hoo!  Progress!  Finally! 

Week 10 - Creating a Hair Regimen:  I definitely needed to tweak my hair care regimen.  I'm still experimenting (with techniques and products), but for the most part, my revised regimen is as follows:
  • Finger detangle (with light oil and/or moisturizer).
  • Pre-poo (pre-shampoo condition) with extra virgin coconut oil, with hair in big twists.
  • Shampoo with sulfate-free shampoo.  When I began the challenge, I used Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo.  I later began using Curl Junkie Curl Assurance Gentle Cleansing Shampoo (another recommendation).  I also like Trader Joe's Nourish Spa Shampoo, which is more pH balanced for hair.
  • Deep condition.  I began the challenge using Shea Moisture's Anti-Breakage Mask and later changed to Deva Curl Heaven In Hair Intense Moisture Treatment (another recommendation).  I think I prefer the latter.
  • Leave-in conditioner, with hair in big twists.  I began the challenge using Koils By Nature Moisturizing Shealoe Leave-In Conditioner and later switched to Curl Junkie Curl Assurance Smoothing Lotion Leave-In Hair Conditioner (another recommendation).  Just from the feel and the "slip" (ease of maneuvering/combing through the hair) of it, I prefer the latter.  Then, this past weekend, I tried Kimmaytube's homemade leave-in conditioner.  I know.  I know.  I just said in my last post that I didn't have the patience to make up homemade hair products.  Well, after watching Kimmaytube's video series on pH balance of hair a couple more times, I changed my mind and decided to give it a try...for my hair's well-being and to see if I'd get better results...the jury's still out on that.  By the way, I ordered the pH strips and went wild, testing all of my hair care products!  Interesting results...
  • Moisturize.  I prefer Entwine Couture's Exotique Butter-Creme Hydrator, but I'm experimenting with some other products, just to see how they work.
  • Seal with oil.  I switch between and/or mix different oils, but I think I prefer Entwine Couture's Total Perfection 100% Raw Moroccan Argan Oil.  I also oil my scalp in the process, either with the argan oil, Doo Gro Mega Thick Growth Oil (the one without mineral oil, etc), or Pooka Pure & Simple Nectar Hair Oil & Treatment (from Whole Foods).
  • Usually style in mini-twists with Entwine Couture's Creme Jelle Styler (one of my favorite products), sometimes combined with Entwine's Creme De La Mold.  Then, eventually/sometimes rock a twist-out!
  • Maintenance:  Since I workout regularly, I usually moisturize and seal my hair (particularly the ends) and/or oil my scalp, afterwards to keep my hair and scalp from getting dry.  (The only drawback is that everything my head touches get greasy/oily).  I sleep in a satin bonnet (or something similar).  If I'm rockin' a twist-out, after about 2-3 days, I've now started putting my hair in big twists at night to make the style last longer.  And while wearing the twist-out, I've been using Pantene Relaxed & Natural Daily Oil Moisturizer or Dark & Lovely Naturally Honey Wave Glaze (a product left over from my TWA (teeny-weeny afro) days).
I know.  That's a long regimen and it does take me, literally, all day to do (down from 2-3 days since I tweaked the process), but this is my reality as I continue to experiment and learn what works best for my hair.  Let's just say, I'm in "natural hair bootcamp" right now...(smile!)  And yes, I admit it!  I've been a serious product junkie!  But I am trying to break free and narrow my collection down to just a few products...once I finally figure out what works best for my hair.  And since I began pH testing my products, I'm in the process of adjusting which products I'll be using and/or the frequency of their use.  Some may be eliminated completely.

Week 11 - Styling Methods & Tools:  My primary style is mini two-strand twists, to serve as a protective style, to avoid over manipulating my hair.  It lasts a long time and is easier to manage with my workout schedule.  I occasionally wear a twist-out or an afro puff in a headband.

My tools of choice include my fingers (since I recently began finger detangling), a wide-tooth comb (the wider the better) and sometimes a denman brush, now that I've learned how to use it without tearing my hair out.  I also use a very soft bristle brush to brush the "baby hair" around the edges, if necessary. 

I no longer try to comb through my hair when it's dry (it tears the hair out) and of course, I only comb/finger detangle from the ends and work my way up toward the roots.  Over the past several months, I've decided to avoid using heat on my hair, except for occasional deep conditioning/coloring under a hooded dryer. 

The ony hair accessory I've been using so far is the occasional headband, but eventually, as I begin venturing into new styles, I'd like to try decorative hair pins, flowers, scarves, etc.

Week 12 - Wrap Up & Final Check-In, asks the following questions:
  1. What was your favorite weekly lesson?  My favorite was the lesson on moisture and sealing.
  2. What have you learned throughout these twelve weeks?  Oh wow!  What didn't I learn?  It was very helpful to learn about the anatomy and science of hair, as well as the vitamins/nutrients necessary for maintaining healthy hair.  It was also beneficial to have some info that I'd heard/read before be reiterated.  It actually sunk in this time, particularly the topics on pH balance and moisturizing and sealing.  I learned to be a "scientist", testing the pH balance of products and making a homemade leave-in conditioner, something I thought I'd never do.
  3. What have you accomplished? Length? Moisture?  I tweaked my hair care regimen based on much of the info presented during the challenge.  As a result of my revised, more organized, hair care regimen, I think I've maintained moisture better, length, and overall healthier looking hair.
  4. How have you grown as a natural?  I feel more in control of my hair.  Even after five (consecutive) years of being natural, as my hair goes through its next phase, I'm still learning and experimenting, to find the best products for it, but I feel more confident about managing and rockin' my natural hair again.  I'm truly getting to know my hair better and how to show it more love, so we (my hair & I) can both be happier.
Well, that's it for the Curls of Joy Challenge, but I'll be continuing my own "healthy growth and length retention" challenge that I began in March, so I'm excited to see more and more phenomenal results!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Curls of Joy Hair Challenge Update (for Week 8)

I know.  I know.  I'm wayyyy past the date for my Week 8 update in the Curls of Joy Know Your Hair, Love Your Hair Challenge.  (We're now at about Week 11 of this 12-week challenge, but I'll go ahead and do my Week 8 update anyway.)

Just to recap and pick up where I left off from my last update, Week 5 was the Ingredients Roll Call, discussing certain ingredients found in hair care products that are not the best products for natural hair, such as sulfates and silicones.  Sulfates can dry and strip natural hair of necessary moisture.  I try to avoid these ingredients by choosing sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners.  Silicones can sometimes be used to smooth and protect hair during heat styling.  However, silicones can sometimes cause buildup in the hair and prevent the hair from retaining moisture.  I've decided, particularly since beginning these hair growth challenges, to avoid heat as much as possible, so I really have no need to use the silicones.

Week 6 covers the pH of hair and features an excellent video by Kimmaytube on the subject (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3T7AjyDtbY).  She demonstrates two options.  In option 1, because hair is slightly acidic, she prefers to use products with a pH balance ranging between 4.0 and 5.5, to seal the cuticles, retain moisture and help the ends of the hair curl and grow better.  In option 2, she uses products with a pH balance between 6.0 and 7.0. for fuller, stretched, bushier hair.  Thus, more acidic products (with a lower pH) give the hair a curlier, more "controlled" look, while products with a more neutral pH (closer to 7.0 - by the way, pure water has a pH of 7.0) have less effect and the result is fuller, bushier hair.  Well...these were the results for her hair.  I'll have to do some experimenting to see if I get the same results.

Week 6 also features a video by MsVCharles (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l0XEzOBDZM) on jojoba oil and its many benefits, such as balancing the pH of the scalp.  There are also other links for articles listing the pH of some popular shampoos and conditioners.

Week 7 covers deep conditioners and treatments.  It is recommended that we use a deep conditioner weekly and a protein treatment every four to six weeks.  Of course, this isn't etched in stone, as each of us must figure out what's best for our own hair and flow with that.  Week 7 also features videos demonstrating homemade conditioner mixtures.  To avoid any mishaps from experiments gone wrong, I, personally, prefer to use products already mixed and ready for use.  Honestly, the natural hair journey and trying to find the right products and methods to use is enough of an experiment for me.  But, to each her own.  I applaud those willing to take the time and effort to make their own conditioners and hair treatments.  Who knows, one day I may give it a try, but for now, I'd rather just go to the store, get what I need and keep the process as simple as possible.

As far as deep conditioners go, I began this challenge using the Shea Moisture Antibreakage Mask, which I guess did a fairly decent job and probably did eventually soften my hair, while it was on my hair.  However, I didn't notice any significant difference from using other deep conditioners.  After week 8, I did change deep conditioners.  But since this is a "belated" Week 8 update, I'll give those details in a later update.

Week 8 covers moisure and sealing, featuring an EXCELLENT video by IslandGurl3601 on moisture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alqhhpvgz5E), as well as links to helpful articles from Black Girl with Long Hair.  As I mentioned in my last update, moisturizing natural hair is a two-step process involving the use of a water-based moisturizer or water itself (many natural hair enthusiasts have stated that water is the best moisturizer), followed by natural oils for sealing the moisture in, particularly on the ends (the oldest part of our hair).

For the most part, I was using Entwine's Exotique Butter Creme Hydrator as a moisturizer and Entwine Total Perfection Raw Vegan Argan Oil as a sealant.  When I ran out of both products, I began using Simply Healthy's Grapeseed Oil Hydrating & Growth Shine Creme as a (temporary) moisturizer and extra virgin coconut oil as a sealant.  I did notice that the Simply Healthy Grapeseed moisturizer was lighter and didn't feel as heavy as the Entwine Moisturizer, which is a good thing.  My hair didn't feel as weighed down.  (IslandGurl3601 mentions in her video that grapeseed oil is a lighter oil.)  However, I'm unsure if my hair retained moisture as long as it did with Entwine.  Just a side note, the Simply Healthy moisturizer does contain some ingredients that are not recommended, such as petrolatum and parabens.

Within this update period, I also experimented with wearing my "twist-out" for a longer period of time.  My twist-outs have been looking better (probably from cutting off those knotty/damaged ends) and lasting longer, even through workouts!  Another thing I did differently, to make the twist-out last longer, is sometimes twisting my hair in bigger twists at night, then untwisting the next day, when I'm about to go somewhere.  When I wear my twist-outs, I use Pantene Relaxed & Natural Daily Oil Cream Moisturizer as my moisturizer.  Although it also contains some "non-recommended" ingredients (silicone and parabens), it does contain coconut and jojoba oils.  And as a confessed "product junkie", I have pulled an old product, that I used when I wore my TWA (teeny weeny afro), out of the archives (from 2007/2008), Dark & Lovely Naturally-Honey Wave Glaze.  I apply it to my twist-out and it seems to keep it together, with a softer look...maybe?  I think that product is supposed to create a soft hold for textured hair.  How 'bout that?  A styling product that actually works on this hair of mine!

I also gave myself a permanent color, using the Naturatint brand (sold at Whole Foods and other health food stores).  Although it does contain peroxide, it does not contain some other harmful ingredients, such as ammonia, that other "less natural" hair colors contain.  I wasn't completely satisfied with the color (Light Copper Chestnut), although I've worn this color before.  Also, because the instructions said to apply the color to dry hair, I didn't do my coconut oil pre-poo conditioner.  As a result of that and probably from using a permanent color, I did notice that my hair, particularly my ends, felt drier afterwards.  But, I'll get into the aftermath of that in my next update.

Well, that's all for now.  I'll be back with another Curls of Joy Hair Challenge update.  Have any of you decided to participate in the Curls of Joy Challenge or any other challenges?


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Curls of Joy "Know Your Hair, Love Your Hair" Challenge - Week 4 Update

I'm back for my Week 4 Update for the Curls of Joy "Know Your Hair, Love Your Hair" Challenge! (http://curlsofjoy.blogspot.com)  As I stated in my last post, I'm actually participating in two hair challenges.  Along with the Curls of Joy challenge, I'm doing my own "Healthy Growth & Length Retention Challenge", which I begin in March. 

Week 1 of the Curls of Joy Challenge involved setting goals.  In my last post, I stated that my goals are to grow and maintain healthy hair, achieve/retain and increase the length of the hair I grow, learn how and why my hair responds to different methods and products, learn to love my hair again and go back to enjoying my natural hair journey.  I also listed the issues I was having with my hair...knotty/tangled ends, lack of length retention (from excessive trimming due to knotty ends), roughness/hardness of my hair, and increased difficulty managing my hair.

Some of the tools/methods I began using (in March) to achieve these goals are tips/advice I received from well-known natural hairstylist, Felicia Leatherwood of Loving Your Hair with Natural Care Workshop (http://www.lovingyourhairworkshop.com) and Jc of The Natural Haven (http://www.thenaturalhavenbloom.com/).

After describing my issues to her, Felicia recommended that I try the following products:
  • Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo
  • Shea Moisture Anti-Breakage Mask
  • Koils By Nature Moisturizing Shealoe Leave-In Conditioner
  • Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Reconstructive Elixir
She also recommended trimming the remainder of the bad ends off.  Yikes!  (I ended up cutting quite a bit of hair off, BUT the raggedy ends are gone!)

Jc, in a post on Black Girl with Long Hair, http://blackgirllonghair.com/2011/10/5-reasons-youre-not-gaining-length/, suggested that I try finger detangling my hair, instead of combing (when I take my mini two-strand twists loose to prep for washing).  She recommended a tutorial on finger detangling by chery818 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOwuT3vzxP0).  Using this method has already made a BIG difference.  It takes a long time and a lot of patience, but the amount of hair lost has greatly decreased and I have had very little, if any, tangling and knotting on the ends.  Yippee!
 
In addition to the above regimens, I've also begun using extra virgin coconut oil as a "pre-poo" (pre-shampoo) conditioner, twisting the hair in big two-strand twists, covering with a plastic cap, and letting it (coconut oil) sit for no less than 30 minutes (sometimes overnight).   The result - very soft, detangled hair!  Whoo hoo!
 
Another method I've incorporated is twisting my hair in big twists after applying the Koils By Nature Moisturizing Shealoe Leave-In Conditioner.  So far, it hasn't necessarily made my hair softer, but by twisting the hair with the leave-in and leaving it twisted until I get ready to do my regular mini-twist style, it decreases shrinkage and prevents tangling and knotting.  This keeps me from fighting to tear my way (literally, tearing hair out) through a dry, rough, tangled, knotted, shrunken mess that used to take me a couple of days to twist (and my hair's not even long yet).  Now, I can do my hair, from start (finger detangling) to finish (mini twists), in one day!  Yeah!

I've also learned that there's a difference between moisturizing and sealing.  So, I've tweaked my regimen by moisturizing my hair, preferably with a water-based moisturizer, then sealing the moisture into the hair, particularly the ends, with natural oil(s).  I've learned the importance of paying special attention to the ends (the oldest part of the hair).  I like the way one blogger puts it, "Treat your ends like your elders."  Make sure they're well taken care of.  :-)

Week 2 - "The Anatomy and Science of Hair", http://curlsofjoy.blogspot.com/2012/04/week-two-anatomy-and-science-of-hair.html, features links to some great videos and articles breaking the subject down.  Kimmaytube does an awesome job in her video series on the structure and pH of hair! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i3MC4d-HmY).  There's also a video by LaBellaNatural that gives a great, basic explanation of the anatomy of hair:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fxg_qzHFC0.

Week 3 - "Vitamins, Lifestyle, & Diet", http://curlsofjoy.blogspot.com/2012/04/week-three-vitamins-lifestyle-diet.html, includes some very informative articles on vitamins and minerals, as well as the foods that contain them, that are vital for the health of hair.  While I do eat a pretty healthy diet with foods that contain almost all, if not all, of these necessary nutrients, I know I could do better.  I've definitely got to do something about that "sweet tooth" that has been rearing its ugly head from time to time. Sugar is not my friend!

Lately, I've being hearing from a couple of different sources that since our bodies are automatically programmed for survival, the most vital organs, i.e. heart, lungs, thyroid, etc., draw from the the body's supply of vitamins and minerals first.  Then, whatever's left over is what's available for "less vital" organs, such as hair, skin, and nails.  That's why we could be eating a so-called "healthy" diet, and wonder why our hair, skin, nails, or other "less vital" organs are not functioning properly or not responding to those nutrients the way we think they should.  We're often getting the nutrients, but not enough for all of the organs that need them.  With that said, I'm going to make sure that I continue and/or increase the intake of foods necessary for healthy hair, continue taking my multivitamin, as well as add additional supplements that are vital for healthy hair.

Water and exercise are also vital for the hair.  According to one of the articles listed under Week 3, 13 Nutrients That Promote Hair Growth, "Water makes up one-fourth of the weight of a strand of hair...Eight to ten glasses of water a day are absolutely necessary to nourish healthy hair."  Lack of water is also a cause of dry hair.  Exercise increases blood flow, therefore, increasing the oxygen supply to the hair and scalp.  In addition, when we sweat, we release toxins from the body.  Thus, less toxins in the hair and scalp.  I'm getting plenty of water and exercise.  So, I'll make sure I keep it up and don't let either of those slip, and even increase both, as necessary.  As exercise increases, so does the necessity for water.

The article also lists things to avoid if you want healthy hair.  "Eating dead food can lead to lifeless hair.  These are sugars, chocolate, cakes, cookies, starches, soft drinks, snacks, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and recreational drugs...destroy important hair growing nutrients."  Omg!  Not only does sugar contribute to obesity, premature aging, joint problems, tooth decay, and all kinds of other health issues, but now I see that it's even bad for hair!  I have got to keep reminding myself...SUGAR IS NOT MY FRIEND!

Week 4 - "Learn to Analyze Your Hair & First Check In!" explains porosity and hair typing systems, as well as how to determine one's own porosity, hair type and pattern.  I'm unsure of my hair's porosity right now.  I'll do the porosity test the next time I wash my hair.  As far as my hair type and pattern goes, I've always assumed that my hair was type 4c and/or 4b, because of its "kinkiness" and the way it felt (rough).  According to the hair typing systems, type 4 has a "Z" pattern.  I'm pretty certain that my hair, for the most part, fits into that category, with an occasional corkscrew pattern (only slightly resembling type 3) here and there.  And according to the tightness of the curl and degree of shrinkage, I'm still pretty convinced of the "c" curl, maybe with a mixture of "b".  Regardless, other than the purpose of determining how the hair may or may not respond to certain products or methods, hair type is not that big of a deal to me, because essentially, what matters is having a healthy head of hair and knowing how to properly manage it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Curls of Joy "Know Your Hair, Love Your Hair" Challenge


April 1st was the kickoff of Curls of Joy's "Know Your Hair, Love Your Hair" Challenge (http://curlsofjoy.blogspot.com) and I decided to participate. This was right on time, coinciding with my own personal challenge, which I titled my "Healthy Growth & Length Retention Challenge", which I began on March 2nd.

My overall goal is to achieve growth/length retention and overall healthy hair. I want to learn more about my hair and truly become more acquainted with it, learning what the best methods and products are for it. And last, but certainly not least, I want to go back to enjoying my natural hair journey, as I did...well, even more than I did, in the earlier days of the journey. As a part of my "dual challenge", I'll be tracking my progress through pictures, keeping a hair diary, and blogging.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I'm saying I need to get more acquainted with my hair, after all these years of being natural. (I was back and forth between natural and relaxed hair since 1999 or 2000. I've been relaxer-free since 2004 (except for that brief stint with a texturizer in '07), and publicly natural since 2007). "So, shouldn't you know your hair and how to handle it by now?" you may ask.

Well, I've discovered (and I'm sure many of you have, as well) that as our natural hair grows, much like a child, it goes through different phases, demanding different treatment, different products, and different methods in each phase, taking on its own personality, often misbehaving, not doing what you want it to do, trying to get its own way. You love it, because it's yours, but...well...sometimes, you enjoy the journey and sometimes you don't. But, the more you get to know it and what makes it tick, the better you're able to gauge exactly what you need to do to keep it in line and make it respect and obey you. And ultimately, you want to find that "happy medium", where you're both happy and have a drama-free relationship. That's what I want!

I felt I needed to do these hair challenges, because I had reached a crossroad with my hair. It was getting thicker and fuller, and that's great! I'm very grateful to have a head full of hair. But it didn't seem to be growing as long as I thought it should be. And it was becoming harder to manage.

It's interesting that I really took notice of the lack of (visible) growth when a male cousin of mine mentioned (in late 2010) that I had been wearing twists ("these things", as he called them) for a while, and that it seemed like my hair should've been alot longer by then. I say "visible" growth, because, as many of us naturals have noticed, we often experience significant shrinkage (when the hair draws up, appearing much shorter than it actually is). Anyway, I explained the shrinkage issue to my cousin, but I really had to think about it myself after that...why isn't my hair longer by now?

I'm not saying that my hair wasn't growing at all, because it was, but it just wasn't as visible or happening as fast as I thought it should have. Granted, a lot of things have happened in the past couple of years that may have affected the state and wellness of my hair...long bouts of unemployment and/or underemployment, financial difficulties, deaths in my family, minor yet relevant health issues, relocation, disappointments, etc... These things may have affected its growth...I don't know. I did have some breakage over a year ago, but only in the top/crown of my head (something I've mentioned in previous blog posts that occurred during stressful times in my life), but as I mentioned above, my hair has continued to grow thicker and fuller.

I digress. Sorry! Back to my pre-challenge issues...I cut my hair in early 2011, because of all the knotting on the ends. And for the past several months, I found myself having to trim my ends every three or four weeks, because of knotting and raggedy ends. I was also having a really hard time combing through my hair, unless it was wet. It seemed that no matter how much I trimmed my ends, they kept knotting up. Obviously, with all of that trimming, my hair didn't have much chance to show its growth. In addition to these issues, after washing my hair, when it dried, it often felt hard and rough, especially if I wore it loose, in an afro.

A couple of months ago, I sought the advice of a couple of well-known natural hair experts, as well as reading natural hair blogs regarding the issues I was having, and watching YouTube videos. I'll include the advice/new knowledge I received and details about products and methods in separate posts, as I track my progress. But, I will say, the new-found wisdom I received has made a tremendous difference and has made maintenance of my hair much less of a headache. Stay tuned! :-)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Cycles of Damage

After wearing my hair (publically) natural for over four years now, it’s hard to even imagine not being natural.  But, I have to say, it took a lot for me to get to this point.  For several years, before I took the “natural plunge”, I often admired natural hairstyles that I saw other people (both females and males) rockin’.  I wanted to go natural, over ten years ago, but every time I planned to do it, I’d find some reason not to.

I remember, about a decade ago, a male coworker friend and I had both planned to start loc’ing our hair together.  He was growing his fro’ out and I think I was wearing braids at the time, with my natural and/or transitioning hair underneath.  We had planned on calling up a loctitian and scheduling an appointment to get our starter locs.  But, every time, we chickened out.  He’d get his fro cut down to a low fade and I’d either get my hair braided again or go back to the perm.

With all that wishy-washy stuff, eventually, the ultimate decision basically was made for me...by my own hair, through recurring cycles of hair damage.  It was as if my hair was saying, “Alright!  Enough of this madness!  No more relaxers!  I’m not putting up with this anymore!  Get off the creamy crack, Yo!”

For me, the cycles of hair damage began around 1994, when I was in my early 20’s.  In hindsight, I can tie many of the cycles of hair damage to life-changing experiences.  As my life went through transitions, so did my hair.

I began experiencing breakage in the top, or crown, of my head.  Somebody told me that was the “nerve spot”, where the hair is affected by stress.  Well, that was easy to explain.  I was extremely stressed out, working on a job I absolutely hated! 

When the breakage wouldn’t seem to stop, I had my hair cut short, to let the hair to grow out the same length all over.  Relief finally came when I changed jobs later that year.  (Whew!  Thank ya, Lord!)  The funny thing is, the new job was, literally, right across the street from the old one AND I actually took a $4,000 cut in pay just to get outta that place!  Now, I know some people might think taking that much of a pay cut is crazy, but...if I hadn’t left that job...oooohhh!!!  Let’s just say, I needed to do that to keep my sanity!  And I can honestly say, to this day, I have absolutely NO regrets about making that move.

I’m not saying that the job was THE sole source of my stress (knowing the person I was back then, there was probably something else going on with me), but making that transition definitely did some good.  Not only did my hair grow back, but my skin cleared up, my demeanor and attitude improved (I may have still been somewhat of a drama queen back then, but I was so much more pleasant to be around...well, at least I think I was.  Hmmm, might have to ask some of the people who were around me then.)  AND I lost 50 pounds!  (Being all stressed out on that other job, I had regained all but 13 of the 35 to 40 pounds I had lost a couple of years earlier.)  But, most important of all, I had PEACE OF MIND...priceless!  Now, that’s when I got a true revelation that money ain’t everything.  And on top of that, I didn’t miss a beat financially.  God had my back!

Problem solved, right?  Yeah, for a while.  Even though my hair-breakage issue did seem to go away then, I did eventually go through those cycles of damage again in later years and several times.

I shared that experience to demonstrate that although the “creamy crack” (chemical relaxer) can often be the primary culprit of hair damage, it may not always be the ONLY factor.  Stress, as well as diet, also play key roles in the health of our hair, whether natural, relaxed, or somewhere in between.  We, naturalistas and transitionistas, can be sittin’ up here with totally chemical-free hair and still experience the same type of breakage (I’m speaking from experience).

Whether we’re experiencing damage/breakage or not, I believe we should occasionally take time to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves:
  • How well do I manage the stress in my life?
  • What do I need to change?  What can I do to eliminate the stressors in my life?
  • How is my diet?  Am I cultivating my temple (my body) with healthy life-giving foods or am I stuffing it with a bunch of junk and poisonous substances?
  • Am I drinking enough water?  (Our bodies are made mostly of water, so we need to make sure we are well hydrated.  And yes, not drinking enough water can affect our hair.)

Let’s love our bodies and love our hair by not only putting healthy things in them, but also by eliminating the negativity, stress, and drama from our lives.  You know what they say, “Garbage in, garbage out!”  Let’s get the garbage out of our lives.

Let’s also try to find better ways to deal with unavoidable stress, such as not giving in to negative emotions, not caving in to emotional eating, not allowing negativity and words of “doom and gloom” to come out of our mouths, and most importantly, learning to cast our cares upon the Lord (I Peter 5:7) and PRAY!  PRAY!  PRAY! (I Thes. 5-17)

I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to comment.  Have you experienced this type of “stress damage”?
Also feel free to drop me a line via email (NaturallyYo@gmail.com) for suggestions on topics you’d like me to cover in the future.

(Contains excerpts from "TranZitions: Revelations on My Journey to Natural Hair and Freedom" by Y. T. Jones)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Accepting Our Uniqueness

As we celebrate our heritage this Black History Month, we can acknowledge that wearing our hair in its natural hair texture is definitely a part of our history, dating back to the Motherland.  Some of us celebrate our hair, while others...well...don’t...feeling that their natural hair is nothing to celebrate, but rather, something to loathe, or be ashamed of.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who wears her hair braided in extensions.  Her braids were gorgeous!  I complimented her on her braids.  At the same time, she complimented me on my natural hair, which I usually wear in two-strand twists.  She’s wearing braids while in transition to completely natural hair.  She said she wanted to give her hair a break from the braids and was trying to decide what to do with her hair next.  I made a few suggestions of transitional hairstyles she could try.  I like talking about hair, so the conversation continued for a couple of minutes, mainly about the “transition” process, etc.  But, I had to make my exit when she said that she had asked God why she couldn’t have the “good stuff”, the type of hair that she could just “wet and go” (I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t remember her exact words).  But, the bottom line is that she wished that she had what she considered “good hair”.

I’m not judging...because for a large part of my life, I felt the same way.  I remember, especially, as a child and even into young adulthood, wishing (and even praying) that my hair wasn’t so nappy, that my skin wasn’t so dark, that my nose wasn’t so wide, that my lips weren’t so full, that my thighs weren’t so big, etc., etc.  So, I’ve been there, and it’s sad...to be so “unaccepting” of oneself.

I mean, sure, who doesn’t want “no fuss” hair.  But, I have to say, I was disappointed and even slightly annoyed, to hear her say those things.  I had to make an exit, because I just didn’t want to hear that negativity.  I will tell you now, I absolutely HATE the terms “good hair” and “bad hair”, when they’re used in their traditional context, referring to hair that more closely resembles European hair as “good hair”, while the closer the hair resembles what we consider African or afro-textured hair, it is referred to as “bad hair”.  Well, who told us our hair was bad, huh?  (I think we all know the answer to that question...anyway...that question reminds me of the Bible, in Genesis, when God asked Adam and Eve, after they ate the forbidden fruit and hid their nakedness, “Who told you that you were naked?”).  What forbidden fruit (mindset, standard of beauty, etc.) have we allowed ourselves to partake of?

After so much conditioning of our minds to hate our African features (hair texture, skin color, wide noses, etc.), nobody (other races) even has to tell us that anymore.  We tell ourselves and each other...by setting standards of beauty within our own race.  (Thank God, that’s turning around, particularly, with more acceptance of our natural hair, but we’ve still got a long way to go).  The Bible says in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  God made us, including our hair.  So, if it’s good enough for God, the Creator of all things, it’s should certainly be good enough for us.

What I consider good hair is hair that is healthy, manageable, styleable.  To me, bad hair is unhealthy, damaged, unmanageable, unstyleable...consistently.  (I’m not talking about those occasional “bad hair days”, that most, if not all of us, have experienced from time to time, even with healthy hair).  My point is, I don’t care how straight or soft and wavy a person’s natural hair texture is, if it’s unhealthy, stringy, thinning, lifeless, has a bunch of split ends, etc., that’s bad hair!  Even if someone’s hair is what society considers “kinky” or “nappy”, if it’s healthy and full, and styleable (even if it’s a “nontraditional” style or even styled on the “wild” side), that’s good hair!

Yes, I’ve definitely had my share of struggles trying to maintain and style my natural hair, particularly in the earlier days of my natural hair journey.  And yes, I still go through hair struggles, but, my hair, which many may consider “nappy” or “very kinky” (I prefer the terms, “very coily” or “very curly”...wink, wink), is much healthier, thicker, fuller now, than it was during those recurring cycles of perm damage, particularly during my latter phase of straightening, when I was embarrassed, because it was breaking and thinning; when I was doing a “comb-over”, to hide the “hole” in my hair; when I didn’t want anybody to stand, walk, or sit behind me and see the back of my head.

The Bible says in Proverbs 23:7, that as a man thinks in his heart, so he is (or becomes).  We must choose to think and say positive things about ourselves and about our hair.  As I hinted above, just as a personal choice, I no longer refer to my hair as “nappy” or “kinky”, but rather “very coily” or “very curly”.  I thank God for its thickness, and that it’s healthy and strong.  I speak life and wholeness, “shalom” (a Hebrew word, meaning peace, prosperity, wholeness, soundness, nothing missing and nothing broken), not death, destruction, and weakness over my hair.

Psalm 139:14 says, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.”  We should thank God that He fearfully and wonderfully made us.  Each of us is one of His marvelous works.  We are God’s masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10).  Because our hair, whatever the texture, is a part of each of us, that means that our hair is fearfully and wonderfully made and a marvelous work of God!  And God doesn’t make mistakes!  He custom-designed our hair and made it specifically for each of us.  Our souls (our minds, our wills, and our emotions) must come to know (and accept) that very well.

So, whatever your hair texture is, don’t curse it.  It is what it is!  Accept it, thank God for it, do your best with it, take good care of it, love it, pamper it, enjoy it!  Do what’s best for you!  Do you!  Whether it’s braided, faded, loc’ed, twisted, in a curly ‘fro, a ‘fro hawk, afro puffs, relaxed, pressed, weaved, in a ponytail, under a wig, “fried, dyed, and laid to the side”, or whatever.  And if you don’t know what to do with it, ask God.  The Bible tells us in James 1:5, that if anyone lacks wisdom, we should ask God, who will give us a liberal supply of wisdom.

No matter how you choose to wear your hair, whether others choose to love it, like it, or hate it (just make sure you don’t hate it), it is what it is!  We are not our hair (and our hair should not define us), but our hair is a unique part of the masterpiece that God created each of us to be.  Embrace your uniqueness!  Love your hair (whatever the texture) and love yourself...the marvelous work of God that you are!


(Contains excerpts from "TranZitions: Revelations on My Journey to Natural Hair and Freedom" by Yolanda T. Jones)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TRANSITION

Transition, both good and bad, is inevitable, an unavoidable part of our lives.  Oftentimes, one transition leads to a whole series of transitions, which can bring about a variety of emotions and thoughts, often shaping our lives, in one aspect or another. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of transition is “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another; a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another”, or more simply put, “CHANGE.”

Having made a recent transition, relocating from one region of the country (Midwest) to another (South), I have found myself in a whirlwind of transitions (before, during, and after the move).  Unlike my transition to natural hair, the “during” part of this transition was the easiest…just pack up the moving truck and go!

On the contrary, as many of us naturalistas can attest, particularly those who are right in the midst of transitioning, the “during” phase of transitioning to natural hair is often accompanied by some hair drama…well…my transition was.

Transition, particularly voluntary transitions, can make us question ourselves.  But we must believe, that somehow, with God directing our steps, it’ll all work out for our good…and for the good of others whose lives we touch.

The transition of relocating from one state to another has brought about other transitions, adjustments/adaptations for me…a different climate, different environment/surroundings, different people, different demographics, different living conditions.  Not only was it a physical transition, but it was (and continues to be) a time of spiritual, social, emotional, financial, and professional transition for me…not to mention the impact on other people in my life, who have been directly affected by and/or have had to make adjustments, as a result of my transition.

Even though my hair is already natural, since relocating, I’m also experiencing a hair transition…from having a natural hair stylist and a colorist doing my hair on a regular basis to doing it all myself, in addition to my hair having to adjust to a more humid climate…shrinkage!  I'm a native Southerner, but when I left the South many years ago, shrinkage wasn't really an issue for me, because I was hooked on that "creamy crack" (relaxer) back then.

You may wonder what relocating from one state to another has to do with the natural hair journey.  Well, just as relocation involves transition (passage from one place to another; movement; change), bringing about big change in life, so does making the transition (evolution from one form, stage, or style to another) from chemically-processed hair to natural hair.

Although the “before” and “after” phases of my natural hair journey weren’t as difficult as the actual “in between”/transition period itself, they were, by no means, easy.  “Pre-transition”, there was a lot of “hemming” and “hawing” about whether and when to go natural.  There were a lot of questions in my mind…How long will it take to grow out my perm?  Will I have to get all my hair cut off?  What will my natural texture look like?  What will others think about it?  Will I be able to get another job with natural hair?  Will men find me attractive with natural hair?

Unfortunately, unless you do “The Big Chop” (B.C.), the transition from chemically-relaxed hair to natural hair can be a lonnnngggggggg and/or difficult process (unless you’re really creative...and patient), not just physically, but emotionally, socially, mentally, spiritually, and financially.  Even after the B.C., the transition from the “Teeny Weeny Afro” (TWA) to longer natural hair, can be quite the experience itself…well...mine was.

In hindsight, just doing the B.C. from the beginning (instead of putting it off and continuing to go through all the hair drama…partially relaxed, partially pressed, partially natural, all at the same time), woulda killed all that noise.  It would’ve been better for me to just “chop it off & roll wit’ it”!  But like other life transitions, sometimes, we need to go through the longer journey.  We may only see the outward transformation, or drama, but all the while, God is working out a plan, working out some things within us (and out of us)…something much deeper than just growing out of a perm or moving to another state.  In the end, we realize that the transition was necessary, to get us to the other side, to the next phase, to a victorious outcome!

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  Another version of the Bible says, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (NLT)

We’re down here on Earth agonizing over our hair, relocating, jobs, relationships, the future, the past, etc., and God is up in Heaven probably saying, “Oh, my child, my child…if you only knew the things I have in store for you.  If you only knew the doors this transition will open up for you!  Be patient (steadfast, unmovable, consistent, constant)!”  In other words, “Stop trippin’!”  (I’m preachin’ to myself, if anybody, as I write this.)

Isaiah 40:28 says of God, “…There is no searching of His understanding.”  Other versions of the Bible state that “…No one can measure the depths of His understanding” (NLT) and “…He knows everything, inside and out” (MSG).  Wow!  What an awesome God!

Whether we’re making transitions with our hair, jobs, geographic locations, relationship/marital status, parenthood, finances, our spiritual lives, etc., we all go through transitions.  But it’s up to us to develop and maintain the right attitude about it and just trust God.  Our times are in God’s hands.  We must pray and allow God to guide us through the necessary steps to get “to the other side”.

When we do Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.  Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track” (MSG), we can avoid many of the obstacles and the DRAMA that often comes with transition.

Many of our transitional periods could be shorter and less painful, if we just TRUST HIM and BELIEVE!  Jesus said in Mark 9:23, “…all things are possible to him who believes” and in Mark 10:27, “…with God all things are possible.”

THE BOTTOM LINE:  as you make your transition to natural hair or to the next phase of your natural hair journey (or whatever transition you may be experiencing), BELIEVE for better results!  BELIEVE for a smooth transition!  BELIEVE for a great outcome!


(Contains excerpts from "TranZitions: Revelations on My Journey to Natural Hair and Freedom" by Yolanda T. Jones)