“Your hair is too nice to be black:” Life as a naturalista

By Khalima Botus-Foster

Staff Writer

For the past three years, I have been wearing my natural hair again after getting relaxers for almost six years. The process wasn’t the easiest, but I enjoyed it every step of the way.

I wish I can tell you how many styling creams I use or the number of ECO-Styler gels I’ve owned over the years. I’ve explored so many oils and creams that provide a lot of benefits. I’ve tried many styles, such as a two-strand twist out, braid outs and flexi-rods.

Having natural hair became a confidence builder for me and has always been a conversation starter. I’ve received positive comments that continue to motivate me with this journey. I also receive negative feedback, as well.

Is that your real hair? Can I touch it? Do you wash your hair? Can you comb your hair? Your hair is way too nice to be black, are you mixed? For a three year naturalista, or natural hair enthusiast, these questions have overstayed their welcome.

Once again, taking the steps to become natural isn’t easier, especially when you grow up seeing multiple relaxer ads on every other page in magazine such as Ebony, JET and Essence.

It makes perfect sense because relaxers are a significant part of the black community. In fact, in a HuffPost article titled, “The Changing Business of Black Hair, a potentially $500b Industry,” it mentions how although relaxers sales have gone down 15 percent in 2011, but relaxers are 21 percent of the black hair market.

When I used to get relaxers, I was unhappy. Inches of my hair would just break out and fall out any moment. The new hair growth – or unprocessed, unaltered hair that grows naturally from a person’s scalp – didn’t help my case.

When I finally made the decision to go natural, I barely received any support and tons of ridicule from family and friends. I didn’t understand why I was receiving backlash because my hair was gorgeous before I started relaxing my hair.

The only two people who encouraged me to go natural were my oldest sister Asia and my cousin Stacy. I spent a year and a half transitioning and wearing the most unorthodox protective hairstyle.

When I finally cut off my relaxed ends on March 17, 2014, I felt like weight was lifted off my shoulders. I finally started to feel beautiful because hair was very important in my life. From sitting on pillows in the living as my mom did my hair every Sunday, to being under the dryer at the Dominican salon for a blow dry, to burning my scalp with Just For Me relaxers, I feel like I can breathe now.

Since going natural, I’ve grown to love new products. My favorite styles to do are two-strand twist outs and the wash-and-go.

Rather than listen to the people who kept telling me to get a relaxer, I’ve continued to let my hair grow healthier. Those same people who were convincing me to stay relaxed, have contacted me asking for any natural hair tips. Funny, right?

My other sister, Alaysia, has had natural hair for 15 years. Like myself, she grew up getting frequent perms and relaxers, though our mom was known for braiding hair. After she entered high school, she decided to let her hair do what it wants.

Guyelle Saintil, a good friend of mine, has been natural for three and half years and she described her six-month transition to be very difficult.

Guyelle said, “For a while, I just wanted my hair to grow and be long. I would get box braids or twists in my hair every chance I got. I wouldn’t let my hair breathe as much as it needed to. I also didn’t like getting trims because I felt like it would delay the process of my hair getting long.”

She also said she began to dye her hair and add other harsh chemicals. Once she started talking to other naturalistas about her journey, she received some tips about revitalizing her hair.

Since receiving support and help from others, Guyelle took it upon herself to stop getting braids as often and let her hair breathe.

Guyelle said she “decided to do more co-washing with deep conditioner or regular conditioner instead of stripping my hair with shampoo all the time. I purchased spray bottles – one for only water and the other for water and olive oil. I learned how to leave my hair alone. When I first started going natural, I always wanted to comb, brush or touch my hair every chance I got. Now, some weeks, I either leave my hair in an afro, or I do a protective style in the beginning of the week and make it last five to seven days.”

Guyelle said, “In the beginning of my natural hair journey, I stayed away from salons. I either went to the wrong people or didn’t like the outcome of my hair after it was done. I realized not every hairdresser knows how to take care of natural hair, even if they say they do. About a year ago, I found a salon who specializes in natural hair. Every so often, I would go to the salon and get a trim and a protective style. After three years of being natural and turning away from old habits, not only have I seen growth but my hair is healthier.”

Like Alaysia, Guyelle also received negative feedback about her hair. When she did her big chop, she feel very insecure about her hair.

In fact, Guyelle said, “Once my hair started to grow, people in my family told me I needed a perm. People in my family also questioned if I really wanted to stay natural, questioning me every chance they got.”

Although she’s been natural for quite some time, Guyelle still hasn’t found the right products for her hair or products that she loves.

Sophomore Yulitza Valentin has been transitioning her hair from relaxed to natural for six years now. She describes her journey as “expensive, but worth it.”

She said, “It was very hard at first because I was the only person in my family trying to embrace my natural hair. I come from a Hispanic-Latino culture and their belief is to have long straight hair like our European ancestors. So it was a lonely process until about year three when most of my chemically processed hair was gone and my family started to actually appreciate my new look.”

Coming from a Hispanic background, Yulitza was criticized a lot for her hair, mostly by family and a little by peers, but typically her peers had straight hair, so they didn’t understand how her hair worked to begin with.

Yulitza said, “My family always told me that I looked unkempt and that it was not professional. They also said that I looked like a ‘bruja,’ which translates to witch in English. Witches are typically, like, messy and portrayed as ugly with messy big hair. My dad also called me Tina Turner and Chaka Khan, because of their big hair.

“But with time, they learned to embrace it, and I actually helped a few cousins and aunts on their natural hair journey since they saw how good my hair looks now. My brother also asks me what products I use on my hair because he has similar hair and he himself doesn’t know what to do with it.”

Senior Bethany Norman said she has been natural for about two and a half years. She described her natural hair journey as being a struggle.

“Trying to find the right products for my hair type with a college-kid budget is always difficult. At first I regretted chopping off my hair, but soon came to appreciate my natural kinks and curls. Now I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever done because my hair has gotten longer and a lot more healthy,” she said.

Bethany been criticized a lot, strangely enough even by friends who are also natural. While they tend to always have weaves or braids in to cover their natural hair, she definitely wears her hair in its natural state more often, which prompted people to make more remarks about her hair.

She said, “When my hair is out, people have told me I need to get it done or that I should just straighten it. When I first cut it, I got a lot of praise from other women that have taken that step, but also some negative remarks which I took to heart at first. But at the end of the day, it’s my hair and I’m proud of it. Since my hair has gotten longer over the past couple of years, I don’t necessarily get those negative comments anymore.”

Going natural has impacted Bethany because it allowed her to have more confidence in who she is and to just be comfortable in her natural state. “This was how I was meant to be,” said Bethany. “Being natural also comes with being a part of a community where people like you are going through the same journey. It helps to know that you’re not alone.”

Kenetra Hinkins, a senior and co-founder of Brilliance Guidance Melanin Togetherness (BGMT), has been a part of the natural hair community since she was a sophomore in high school.

She said, “The journey was long. It took me a long time to love my natural hair, but now I couldn’t image not being natural. My routine is simple. I use co-wash with two leave-in conditioners. I received a lot of criticism when I was younger about my hair, but not so much now. People usually just touch my hair or compliment it now, but during my transitioning phase, people used to ask me, ‘What did you do to it?’ which was extremely annoying.”

Senior and co-founder of BGMT Adebusola Ajao has been natural for almost seven years, but has worn her locks for about five years. Adebusola describe her journey as a rough one.

“I felt confidence for the first time whilst going natural,” said Adebusola.

“I’ve gotten criticized severely for chopping off all of my hair but, personally, it changed my life in a very positive way. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I was tired of poisoning my hair with perm. Going natural was my first step to loving myself,” she added.

Cacia Weekes has been natural for nearly her whole life. She never really put any chemicals in her hair and recently stopped using heat on her hair about a year or so ago.

Cacia described her hair type to be a mix of type 3C, 4A and 4B – like myself – and said it’s really hard for her to get a consistent curl throughout her whole head.

Cacia said, “My journey has been fun. I love trying new products and new methods of styling and moisturizing. I cut off my heat damage at the end of last month. I was putting it off because I didn’t want to lose any length. Then, I realized that it’s just hair, and it’ll grow back healthier.

She said she usually washes her hair once a week with a co-wash, and uses a monthly clarifying or sulfate-free shampoo, depending on product build-up. She added she’ll pre-poo with coconut or grapeseed oil, then shower and detangle.

After washing her hair, Cacia said she uses a mask or deep conditioner on her hair for 10 minutes before rinsing. She added she uses the “LCO method” – liquid, cream, oil.

“I find that my hair is softer and more moisturized this way,” she said.

Cacia said to style, she’ll either “flat twist or throw it up in a pineapple – sometimes I’ll finger coil. I had to go through a lot of trial and error to know what my hair likes, and I think this routine is a solid one for my hair type. My hair tends to get really dry, so for me the key is to get maximum moisture throughout my hair. I’ll probably change it up come summer time.”

Cacia has been criticized a lot about her hair. “People think that curly hair is nappy, and it’s not. I hate the word nappy, because nappy has such a negative connotation to it, when in fact curly hair is simply kinky,” said Cacia.

“I remember I had an interview for an internship at a human resource firm. The woman that interviewed me told me at the end that if I got the job I would have to keep my hair ‘professional.’ I’ve also had people come up to me, asking to touch my hair, as if it were something to pet. I think the stigma on natural hair is real.”

Although being natural comes with its negatives, I wouldn’t change my decision to go natural. I’m learning so much about myself on this journey, and I would tell the whole wide world to wear natural hair.

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