If you were to go on YouTube right now and search for videos related to "natural hair," you'd be met with more than 2.5 million clips covering everything from how to do a blowout on coarse curls to countless tutorials, tips, hacks, and product hauls dedicated to the care and maintenance of hair that is free of any chemical straightening treatments. It's through some of these very videos and countless websites, social media groups, and forums that I learned to embrace my own curls, though the road from being a kid who received monthly relaxers to an adult with a curly 'fro has been a journey filled with many twists and turns.
The latest natural hair movement, particularly as it relates to black women and women with naturally kinky, coily, and curly hair, has been a force in the beauty industry since the movement gained momentum in the mid-2000s. Not since the 1960s and 1970s has there been such an open celebration of afro-textured hair in its natural state, and today's generation of curlies now have access to countless products, tools, and resources available to help keep natural hair healthy, though that wasn't the case when I was growing up.
It wasn't a lack of love for my natural hair that caused me to get relaxers as a child; my mother and I just simply didn't know any other way. Growing up in the '90s, relaxers created specifically for young black girls were common in my community, and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that all of my female family members and most of my classmates had relaxed hair. Straightening black hair to make it more "acceptable" for mainstream society dates back to the early 20th century and persisted in black communities around the world. I couldn't have been more that 10 when I began begging my mom to let me get bangs like the girls on TV, and when a hot comb wasn't doing the trick anymore to press out my curls, we went to a beauty salon where I got the style I wanted, but not before getting my hair chemically straightened. What followed were years of me burning my neck, ears, and cheeks as I tried to straighten, crimp, and curl my hair myself, and by high school, I had mastered doing my own relaxers and continued to do them through college. Somewhere between my college days and the rise of YouTube, there was shift in the attitude toward natural hair, and I began to feel it on a small scale, personally, and on a larger scale, culturally.
Rocking a relaxer in 2008.
YouTube provided a world of information about how to care for curls that changed how I viewed my hair. Through tutorials from vloggers like Naptural85 and Natural Chica, I began to learn everything from the correct way to cleanse my curls to which products to buy and avoid. By the time Chris Rock's 2009 documentary Good Hair about hair culture in the black community came out and more information became available about the health dangers of chemical relaxers, I was fully convinced that I could swear off relaxers and go natural.
Ditching the chemicals was easier said than done. I didn't embrace my natural texture right away, and instead of doing "the big chop," I gradually snipped off my relaxed hair and used a blow dryer and flat iron to straighten my curls. While I was committed to doing away with relaxers, I still wasn't comfortable wearing my curls on a regular basis. This changed in May of 2014 after I shaved the left side of my head during a period when I was still straightening my hair more than 80 percent of the time. As my hair began to grow back, I couldn't imagine taking heat to my growing hair, and it was during this time when I decided to fully embrace my curls.
My curls are unpredictable and frizz-prone, but they're mine, they're here to stay, and they're glorious.
A decade into my natural hair journey, I'm still learning about my hair texture, and I discover something new about my curls every day. I've learned that my curls love the water in Atlanta and are nearly impossible to manage after a wash in New York City, and I've accepted the fact that just a little heat can damage my curl pattern. I still struggle with my hair often being unbearably dry, and I can't do a successful twist-out to save my life. I still get nervous about traveling with my curls because they can be so unpredictable and require a lot of time, so I regularly get my hair braided before every major getaway. And as much as I love my curls, I have a long way to go.
Though YouTube warned me about the investment in time and money that comes with going natural, I had to learn how to navigate life with natural hair on my own. I've had to face my deep-rooted insecurities about my hair and question why I never felt comfortable going to job interviews or formal events with my curls on display until a few years ago. Times are different now, and you can't walk pass a billboard without seeing a model rocking gorgeous curls, while modern-day natural hair icons like Issa Rae, Yara Shahidi, Lupita Nyong'o, and Tracee Ellis Ross have proven that natural hair is made for the red carpet. From the runway to the boardroom, afros are now everywhere, yet I've still had to compose myself when strangers abruptly touch my hair and call my curls "bushy" and similar to that of a French poodle. Even with the awkward social interactions my natural hair elicits from those not use to seeing hair like mine, I'm proud of my hair and of my journey.
My natural hair texture suits my facial features, personality, and style in a way that straight hair doesn't, and while my hair doesn't define me, there's no denying that it has helped me become more comfortable with everything that I am. My curls are unpredictable and frizz-prone, but they're mine, they're here to stay, and they're glorious.