When I first considered making the big chop, years ago, I went through several stages of emotions about transitioning to natural hair (procrastination being the longest one). I even used the excuse that I would get married first, then cut off my straight hair, just to make sure I had already nailed down a partner, and wouldn't be faced with a life of solitude as I grew my natural hair back in. The biggest problem about transitioning from chemically straightened or permed hair is that you have to actually start over. As in chop your hair off as short as it will go (in my case, that meant shaving it). Your hair needs to be reborn even if you are a grown woman that still has to attend work and social functions. Ideally, I wanted to take a sabbatical from the world and travel to a remote island where I could be alone while my hair awkwardly grew to be what I deemed an acceptable length.
Well, on a freelancers budget, I couldn't quite afford that. There were several avenues I could have taken, like a weave or a wig, to disguise what was happening underneath, but since the entire idea of chopping off my hair was to start over with healthy, undamaged hair, I didn't want to risk any breakage that could have been avoided. Not to mention the fact that choosing to go natural was a hard enough decision for me to make without then having to choose a faux hair style to go on top of it. If I had to choose which hair color, type, texture to purchase, I'd still be sitting here conducting extensive internet research.
Whether your transition involves a wig or a bald head, no doubt your emotions are running rampant, either from vanity or institutionalized stereotypes of natural hair. If those annoying factors aren't enough to ruin an otherwise empowering experience, the fact that you'll now have to learn how to manipulate, detangle, and style your new hair is enough to send most of us running for the hills. To those of us who have jumped in head first, without the solace of a deserted island or an expensive wig, I give you the emotional stages of transitioning to a natural hair do.
1. Living With Two Drastically Different Hair Textures
For me, getting a relaxer was about as pleasant of an experience as going to the gynecologist. The salon is freezing, all times of year, the idle small talk was excruciating, and waiting over an hour when I already had an appointment made my blood boil before I was even in the chair. The idea of going to a new hair dresser fueled the idea of going natural; I simply didn't make any new appointments for seven months and ended up trying to find products to smooth the new kinky hair into my 12 inches of straight hair. Nothing was heavy enough to weigh down my new growth and everything made my straight hair flat and greasy. Getting my hair ready for work became a grueling hour-long process at least. I needed two hours of warning if someone wanted me to leave the house for me tame the craziness that my hair had become.
2. Having All Your New Growth Get Chopped Off Anyway
When I felt like I had enough hair to have an adorable mini-fro, I immediately made my move. I proudly went to the salon and assumed she would marvel at and applaud me for my new growth. While seated in a chair, surrounded by a pile of my old straight hair, I started to notice some serious hacking being done on my precious new kinks that had taken months to grow. "Hold up, ma, hold UP! That's good hair that your chopping up!" I said, frantically. Clearly, the weight of my relaxed hair on my new fragile curls had lead to some breakage and I lost most of the hair that I was slowly growing. All that time I spent styling two textures went completely to waste.
3. Dealing With Unwanted Attention To Your Slightly Awkward Transitioning Style
Oh, your best friend whom I've never met just went natural too? Coooooool. I get that you're trying to relate or whatever, but chances are this phantom bestie's hair is completely different and irrelevant to my new transitioning process. I know it looks a little weird. Stop pretending you think my transitioning 'do is super pretty.
4. Realizing Your Natural Hair Isn't Quite The Texture You Had In Mind
Even if everyone in your family has the same, super tight kinks, you still envision your natural texture to be big, bouncy, glossy ringlets. Tough luck, my friend. Since natural hair basically shrinks up immediately at the mere thought of moisture, you might turn to a blow dryer to loosen your fro out a little bit — damaging your delicate new strands in the process. The first time you do it, you feel alive even though your hair may feel slightly dead and brittle. It takes serious self-control to not become a heat addict in those first months of growing it all out. Trust me, though: With proper care your hair will eventually be as big as your blow dryer makes it.
5. Trying To Decide If Your New 'Do Looks Fierce, Or Just Like You've Had An Emotional Breakdown That Involved A Razor
If you haven't had short hair since birth, a new short or shaved do can likely lead to tears. Hopefully, those tears dry up after you get used to it. Although most of my friends knew I was thinking of doing the big chop, I couldn't prepare my all-white consulting firm for the drastic change in my hairstyle. Not that I should have had to. My friends used words like "fierce" and "elegant" to decide my nearly shaved head, but when I got to work on Monday, the HR woman asked me if everything was alright. It took a lot of over-the-top laughing to convince her I hadn't had a breakdown and shaved my head over the weekend — this was a planned, conscious decision.
6. Getting Confused By Conflicting Care Advice On Natural Hair Blogs
Oh natural hair blogs, where would we be without them? Prior to the natural hair craze being introduced to the Internet, the only way you could get answers, suggestions, and styling tips were from friends and family, which didn't always yield positive results. Unfortunately, a quick search on the best way to detangle hair can prove that's also true on natural hair blogs. Not all afros are the same — what works for one blogger may be your 'fro's worst nightmare.
7. Waiting For Basically An Eternity To See Any Real Growth
"If my hair is down to my shoulders by June, I'll stop drinking during the week." Those are the types of deals I made with the hair gods when I was transitioning — and they never worked. Every new inch of hair seems to increase the obsession for long locks (even though having healthy hair should be enough of a reward).
8. Loving Your Curls — And Being Paranoid That They're All Falling Out
Once my hair started to gain length and detangling became a necessity, I basically counted each individual strand I lost during the process to compare with the last time I detangled my hair. "Is my hair falling out?" is my most popular Google search. I love the new length I worked so hard to reach, and the fear of going through the the big chop twice is even more horrifying than this entire emotional list combined.
Images: Kara McGrath; Giphy