My hair is natural now, but it wasn't always that way. From around age 7 till I was 18, I would get my hair chemically relaxed every two months.
If you've never experienced a chemical relaxer, it goes something like this:
First, you sit in the chair and the hairdresser mixes up the chemicals into a white paste-like mixture. Then, they'll apply the mixture to your hair, section by section. Then you sit there until it starts to burn. (The rule of thumb is that you should feel a burning sensation, but not too much of a burning sensation—this part, you will find, is very subjective.) In my case, I would pass that intense 20 minutes by reading Harry Potter while my mom gossiped with the hairdresser.
In the '90s, natural hair wasn't as big of a thing as it is now. My mom thought my hair was unmanageable and she didn't have time to do it. When my hair had been relaxed it became long and straight, and when I'd go to school after having it done, everyone wanted to touch it. It made me feel really good, like the pain and damage to my hair was—maybe—worth it.
But then, one day, I just didn't want to do it anymore. The summer before I left for college, I decided that this would be last time I ever put chemicals on my hair. I wanted to stop it for aesthetic reasons (I loved seeing Tracee Ellis Ross's big, curly hair on the show Girlfriends, which I watched all the time), but it also felt like part of a greater journey—being natural was right for me.
When You Go Natural You Have Two Choices
No. 1: You can shave your head and wait for new hair to grow in.
No. 2: You can "transition" your hair and put up with a fairly long awkward period where the roots and ends of your hair have two very different textures.
I went with the second option, which means I had to try lots of different styles to merge the two textures. I did a lot of twist outs—basically putting product in my hair and then twisting it in sections to create curls. At the time I only had one other friend who had natural hair.
Then Comes the Big Chop
A year-and-a-half after deciding to go natural, I came home for Thanksgiving break, called one of my friends up and said, "I'm cutting my hair today." This is known as "the big chop" in natural hair lingo: it's when you finally cut off what remains of your chemically treated hair. The friend who I called had been on the journey with me—we had been sharing products and tips with each other the entire time. She wasn't ready to do her chop that day, so I did it on my own.
I didn't tell my mom what I was doing—I told her I was getting a trim. I came back with a really short, curly afro and she was just, like, "Oh, my God, Natalia. You cut off all your hair!" At the time she was against my going natural, and she didn't like the cut at first. Even though I did it mostly for the looks, it really meant a lot more than that to me. It gave me more confidence, and now my hair is always a conversation-starter, which I like. And when I see someone who has hair like mine, I immediately feel a connection with them, even if we've never met—that's pretty cool.
As for my mom? She decided to go natural two years ago. I like to think I influenced her.
Your Hair Is Finally Natural. Now What?
New hair means you need all new products. Before going natural, I didn't care if shampoo had sulfates in it or anything like that, but now I read the ingredients closely. The routine is completely different, and even though I am technically doing less dramatic things to my hair by not using chemicals on it, the maintenance can take a lot longer.
Here Are a Few Things You'll Need:
Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner
Nourishing, Leave-In Conditioner
Denman Brush for Detangling
Travel-Size Spray Bottle*
*I make my own mixture of conditioner and water that I spray in my hair throughout the day to keep it from getting too dry.
OK, But What About Making It Look Cool?
I usually wash my hair on Sundays, then I'll put it in twists and that will last me a couple of days. After that, I'll do things like this:
Add a Headband
Tie a Scarf on Top
Braid It and Put in Some Fun Accessories
(Try and) keep up with Natalia's hair adventures by following her on Snapchat! @tallylabella