Don’t Give Up On Your Natural Hair…By An Afro Hair Stylist (Who Almost Gave up)
Recently one of my clients had major hair ‘meltdown’. After I told her off for keeping her braids in for too long (tut,tut) she went on to say she’s fed up with her hair, wants to cut it, what’s the point, it won’t grow, natural hair isn’t for everyone….and the rest.
The frustration, the hurt (yes it hurts) and the disappointment were feelings I knew well. I explained to her the importance of listening and understanding your own hair. I won’t bore you with my ‘journey’ but there was actually a moment after five years of being natural; where I sat down in front of a mirror, parted my hair and said out loud ‘what do you want?!!’
From that, I realised a few things;
Why so rough?
Ladies this is in our psyche and we need to let it go. When you are growing up and people refer to your hair as ‘tough’, ‘nappy’, etc then you tend to treat your hair as such. Sometimes watching people handle natural hair makes me wince. From childhood, I associated styling ‘tough hair’ with pain – sitting on the floor, between my aunt’s legs, getting my hair braided for hours upon hours. If the pain did not come from the actual install it would surely come if I attempted to touch my head to feel what style she was doing (ok, so this would automatically result in my hand getting slapped with the comb…ahh the memories). Due to these afflicted thoughts often happening subconsciously, you are not even aware that you have embraced the negative connotation about your hair until you are sitting in front of a mirror asking it what it wants! Having been told many times, “your brothers got the good hair” I realised I hadn’t been showing my hair any respect due to it being ‘bad hair’. This may sound basic but it’s a necessity; be gentle with your hair, comb it in sections and please, please invest in a large tooth comb!
“I can’t speak for previous styles but for my era, that sleek ponytail with fringe (think 90’s R&B group Sista) caused many a headache and sore scalps yet were never deterred. Believe it or not, I’ve almost passed out from a hairstyle back in the day […] That wig cap was far too tight!”
If it ain’t tight it ain’t right – wrong!
Also in our psyche I’m afraid! In line with how rough some of us treat our hair, somewhere at some point we decided that a style that caused pain was ok and to be expected. I can’t speak for previous styles but for my era, that sleek ponytail with fringe (think 90’s R&B group Sista) caused many a headache and sore scalps yet were never deterred. Believe it or not, I’ve almost passed out from a hairstyle back in the day, hahaha. That wig cap was far too tight! We have to realise that a good style does not have to come at a sacrifice. There are techniques that will specifically reduce tension when installing braids and faux locs for example. The tightness of the install should not contribute to the success of the execution of the style. We are so used to styling in discomfort that one of my clients could not get her head around a painless crotchet – she loved the style but felt like her hair hadn’t been ‘done’ because she wasn’t in pain (this is a true story).
I had been unkind…
When I sat and thought about it, I had been cruel to my hair for YEARS. I always treated my weaves better than the hair on my head. I figured I paid good money for those bundles, I’m going to invest time into them, care and maintain them. I realised I wasn’t that attentive to my own hair. I ignored my hair when it begged and pleaded to be kinky, I assumed my constant regrowth was another indicator of my ‘bad hair’. I was one of those women that religiously permed their hair EVERY four weeks. My hair despised straighteners but I insisted. To be honest I am lucky my hair stuck around after the abuse and mistreatment. Acknowledge what your hair has been through, it will need time and space to heal (see below).
“I always try to keep myself in the loop with natural hair trends but there is so much out there it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Many of my new clients start off by telling me they are confused by hair care and I know the reason why….IT IS BECAUSE WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT”
Applying the latest conditioning hair masque on Monday will not yield results by Wednesday! Unrealistic expectations will cause you to resent your hair and continually change products – then you can’t keep track of what’s working and what’s not. Keep 3-4 items as your core hair products (not including your shampoo & conditioner) – this is for the ladies that are currently confused and panicky in the hair shop.
Texture & Curl Patterns – Know Yourself!
I’m what’s known as an ‘organic’ stylist aka not formally trained. I started doing hair from a young age (won’t bore you with that story either) and professionally at age 13. I always try to keep myself in the loop with natural hair trends but there is so much out there it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Many of my new clients start off by telling me they are confused by hair care and I know the reason why….IT IS BECAUSE WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT! Relatively recently, hair has been categorised by curl pattern; 3A, 3B, 3C, 4A, 4B, 4C unfortunately I am none of these (I could fall into 4C but I don’t want to). My hair is almost a combi texture, I could switch between two categories. Unless you know your hair, this can cause confusion and cause you to spend unnecessarily on ‘category specific’ products. It’s great if you can identify with these but if you can’t do not worry, listen to your hair and create your own category.
“As a child, if my mother was doing my hair I would be so upset as I knew it was either one of two styles; 3-4 plaits (flatteringly referred to as ‘doo doo plaits’) with accompanying ribbon or the ‘Leroy’, paying homage to the character in the film ‘Fame’ which consists of 4-6 cainrows”
What’s Good for the Goose Isn’t Always Good for the Gander
A lesson I learnt the hard way! And without being repetitive, had I only listened to my hair! Every time a product blows up or a technique is on trend there is that temptation to want a piece of that BUT if your hair is showing you it’s not liking it then stop using it. There is no point in trying to will your hair to want this product, just so you can say you’re using this too! Just because coconut oil worked for your friend doesn’t mean it’s meant for you. For example, my hair does not like raw oil -I know, unheard of. With all the new oils coming out, smelling lovely and looking good I ignored my hair and used oil anyway…then got into a strop when my hair didn’t co-operate. Once I listened to my hair and mixed my chosen oil with moisturiser, I was good to go! It is important that you accept that your hair will not respond to all products – find out what it likes and what it doesn’t!
Variety, variety, variety!
So, my Mother is a wonderful woman with many attributable traits and skills, but styling hair is not one of them! As a child, if my mother was doing my hair I would be so upset as I knew it was either one of two styles; 3-4 plaits (flatteringly referred to as ‘doo doo plaits’) with accompanying ribbon or the ‘Leroy’, paying homage to the character in the film ‘Fame’ which consists of 4-6 cainrows (apologies to all that refer to this technique as cornrows…I just can’t) going straight back with said accompanying ribbon. This assumed lack of variety in Afro styling can cause some women to be put off taking that plunge into a chemical free world. As well as going to a ‘natural’ forum and all of the styles etc are dedicated to women with loose or wavy curl patterns – they serve no purpose to those of us with tight coils. Yet Afro hair is so versatile, the number of looks you can create is crazy, just have a look through the Afrocks stylist galleries!
“If your hair is not doing what you want it’s probably because you’re not listening to it.”
Hair is not a chore.
I used to get annoyed when wash day approached. It was time-consuming, the process hurt, my hair didn’t like heat so I had to dry naturally, it was all just long. I no longer see wash day and subsequent Hair Care Plan (HCP – I avoid using the word ‘regime’, it makes you feel guilty if you miss a wash day)
as a chore. Instead it’s become ‘me’ time. I make such a song and dance about the process. Everyone is so busy and time is always an issue, turn your HCP into quality time for yourself! If you can sit and have a weave or braids installed then you can find time to wash and condition your hair at leisure!
It’s not enough to just no longer put chemicals in your hair – because it’s our ‘natural’ state, we take it for granted. Natural hair requires a certain amount of investment – you need to pay attention to it. No matter what length or texture, there is a protective style and HCP that can get you through those ‘I can’t do this anymore…where is the perm?’ stage. If your hair is not doing what you want it’s probably because you’re not listening to it. Oh, and one more thing! You do not get props for keeping your protective style in for 6 months! The purpose is in the name, it’s supposed to protect your hair. Always put your hair before a style, for example, keep your braids down for up to 3 days after install (that ponytail can wait).
Think about it like this, just like a team, there will be little or no productivity if the workforce feel they are being ignored. Do not assume your hair care needs – LISTEN TO YOUR HAIR!
When ladies with natural hair speak of their ‘journeys’ many say it changed their outlook on many things, how great it is and so on and it’s hard to imagine when you are at that ‘I’m just gonna cut this off, G.I Jane style because I can’t be arsed” stage. Don’t give up! The first step to getting there is getting to know your hair, look after it, cherish it and then it will happen for you too! Like me, you WILL get to that point when you realise this hair that you had despised and resented for so long, ain’t so bad after all.
So, even though my brothers have ‘good’ hair, they can rock a red kinky twist updo with cuff hair accessories…#TwirlsAwayToGetsheaoil
Hello! My name is Simone, I am a London-based self-taught natural hair stylist and braider. I am available for booking across London on Afrocks.com.
You can also review my work on my instagram page Hair Passion UK