Thanks to the ever-growing online natural hair movement, there have never been more resources to help Black women to move away from chemical treatments and towards embracing their natural kinks and curls.
Deborah, 23; a Content Creator from Essex, had tried everything marketed towards her, from ‘creamy crack’ (chemical relaxer) to weaves and protective styles, before making the decision to go for 'The Big Chop' two years ago. Here, for WH series Back to my Roots, part of Hearst Beauty Month 2020, she shares her journey.
Like most women with afro hair I had done it all – I had texturised hair at seven, transitioned to a chemical relaxer by my pre-teens, and always for the same result – straight hair. My mum was always my designated hairstylist, so when she first relaxed my hair in my auntie’s salon, in Ghana, the process was much like any other treatment that had come before.
I always loved the silkiness of my hair, post chemical relaxer. However, as anyone who has ever ‘relaxed’ their hair knows, it is the epitome of ‘no pain, no gain’ beauty: a burning sensation on your scalp, all for silky, straight hair. I actually never formally made the decision to relax my hair, it was just the way you styled it. Over the years however, I began to notice the subtle differences in the way natural hair was described in comparison to relaxed hair. Natural hair was supposedly ‘hard’ to manage whereas my chemically treated hair was always praised for its ‘ease’ by the ‘Auntie’s’ at salons.
School reinforced this – especially when it came time to move into up into secondary education. I grew up in Essex and attended a predominately white school so like most girls my age, I wanted to fit in. Silky hair helped me do that. Nonetheless, my treated hair was not without its faults. The dreaded ‘chlorine water versus treated afro hair’ battle meant that, soon enough after weekly swimming lessons, my hair began to break. This damage to my hair made braids and cornrows my new go-to, before I moved onto weaves at sixteen.
Years of this made me start to question what all that relaxer meant for my natural afro. I knew I wanted to give any future daughters I might have the opportunity to choose how they wanted to wear their hair, and to keep it natural, if that was to be their preference. But I didn’t know where to start with my own natural hair. So I decided, for my twenty first birthday, to give myself – and any possible daughters to come – a gift: I would go for 'The Big Chop' and learn to work with my hair, as it grows from my head. It’s crazy to think that as a Black woman, you can have a part of you, something that grows naturally from your scalp, that you have no idea how to look after.
I gave myself five months till Chop Day, which in hindsight was a great idea: It gave me time to adjust. When I speak to women about going natural, a countdown (and the knowledge that water is a Fro’s Friend) is what I advocate for most. The time allowed me to really think about what I was about to do. Initially, I was set on a full head shave – my Mum however, was not as keen.
The Chop day itself took a lot less planning. My parents had gone out to dinner and I simply handed my cousin the scissors. I knew if I didn't just do that day, I wouldn't do it at all. My cousin cried, but for me, it felt like a release. That feeling lasted only a few moments before the alarm bells of – 'Oh my gosh, what have I done, I have no idea how to look after this' – rang.
Once the initial shock dissipated, I knew I had made the right call. My facial features and bone structure were on show and the new length cut my styling time in half. It took everyone – my mum and dad, friends at church – a while to get used to it, but once they associated me with my afro, it was great and it ultimately helped me embrace it more. Even today, my dad will say things like ‘if you have all this hair, why did you wear wigs and weaves?'
That's not to say that the process was challenge-free – I still had to adapt to looking after my natural hair. Lockdown brought this home even more so for me, as it was the longest time I had ever had to have my natural hair out without any protective styles. The time, however, helped me get to know my hair. I now know that it loves water, nourishing leave-in conditioners and doesn’t fare well with constant manipulation.
The Chop can seem daunting, but being prepared to accept whatever kinks and curls grow in was like nothing I had ever experienced with my hair before. My understanding of hair health also had to change because shrinkage is real, and length doesn’t always equal health. If I could go back and say 'just shave it off, go for it, it will grow back and sometimes it grows better' – I would.
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