I Am Not My Hair ;-)Shona

I’ll start off by saying that I’m not a beauty guru and I definitely do not have any special talents when it comes to doing hair. Therefore I will not be the type of online personality that will discuss and go over hair care tips. I’ll freely share what I do and give opinions on my relationship with my hair (seems so odd…like saying “my relationship with my shoulders”; but to Black women, it makes sense).

Keep in mind I don’t take a lot of photos and definitely didn’t take any specialized shots of my hair. Apologies ahead of time here!

As A Kid

Like many Black women will be able to tell you, some of the earliest assessments of your physicality that are made about you when you are a little girl is if you have “good hair” or not. For me, those assessments were mostly of disappointment. My Mom’s hair was thick, but short and coarse. My Dad, being 1/2 (East) Indian had big thick curls. When my hair grew in more cottony than silky, people vocally balked at how that could be.

And as a child…I had no idea either! 🙁

It’s so sad, that as a toddler you get this awareness that they way that God made you is imperfect. I must have been about 4 years old, but I remember asking my aunt (my Dad’s sister) what shampoo she used after watching her loose, bra-strap length hair swing and move when she did.

Me at my 5th birthday party. I was so cute! But I assure you, I hated, hated my hair back then. It stuck out instead of hanging down. And it didn’t touch my shoulders or back.



On the other side of the fence, my Mom was very skilled with my hair. She did cornrows, beads, pigtails, press & curls…you name it. She and others in her side of my family would remark that my hair had a “nice texture” and was “good and thick”. But for me it was short and it stuck straight up in the air at every opportunity (unless it was weighed down with beads). So the exact opposite of “good” hair it seemed.

Teenage Years

To my Mom’s credit she “dealt with” my hair until I was about 11 years old. That’s when I got my first perm. I do not have any pictures, but I remember being amazed at how soft and straight my hair was after that first perm. After that…it was all downhill. Wearing my permed hair out meant I had to take a curling iron to it. My ends would get straggly and need to be cut off. Even with a perm, my hair would frizz, which meant taking a blow dryer to it to get it presentable. Most of the time I just threw it in a ponytail. In high school I started getting braid extensions a lot because 1) My mom learned how to do them and 2) It gave my hair a break…because it was getting pretty damaged.

Senior pic from 1997; I wore braid extensions pretty frequently back then. Also sorry that the top of my head is cut off. Must have been how it was scanned and I don’t have the original handy to re-scan it 🙁


In college I went back to perms and “wrapping” my hair to get it poker straight. It solved the frizz problem, but not the breakage problem. I even got my hair cut into an ear length bob (again no pics of this…sorry!) to try to create a healthy head of hair. It looked great for about 6 months or so; until the longer layers started showing damage.

pierpoint

Me in college in 1999 with permed & wrapped hair. Not sure what was going on with those bangs…yikes!


I threw in the towel after this. My sister started cornrowing my hair and I grew out enough natural hair to start dreadlocks in 2003.

The Locs

locs

2003, right before I moved to Miami, FL


So I know I’ve apologized before and I sound like a broken record, but I’m really sorry that I don’t have more pics of my hair from these days. In the pic above, I had gotten two strand twists about 6 months prior and my hair was starting to bud. I thought they were great and they looked cute. But I got several disparaging remarks from my family…which was discouraging.

Me in Miami…so about a year or so later. I know, you can hardly see my hair! But they were mature locs at this point…and fell around the bottom of my cheeks length-wise

Now to my Dad’s credit, he started locing his hair way back when I was six or seven years old. He and his side of the family (you know, the one’s with the long “pretty” hair) were actually more encouraging and complimenting of my loced hair than my Mom’s side of the family. Funny how that works!

My hair was loced for about 3 years (including the 1 year it took for my two strand twists to morph into locs). I took a really low maintenance approach. Just washed with diluted Dr. Bonner’s castile soap and spritzed with African Pride braid spray. I went in to get my locs retwisted professionally only twice. My hair and scalp were pretty darn happy at this time.

Insecurity

So why did I lose the locs? Well it was two big forces mainly:

My career

During this time, I secured my first real professional position. I was 24 or 25 at the time, so I really didn’t have that much of a backbone then. Also I was a college dropout. I felt so blessed/lucky that I would even be offered such a job. Being in Miami, my office was pretty diverse. About 80% of the employees were either Black or Latino. But I was the only Black woman with natural hair. The other ones had perms, weaves and wigs. Just about all of them remarked at some point that I should “do something” different with my hair. They weren’t saying it to be mean. However short fuzzy locs on a woman just didn’t fit into the sexy Miami mami that many women in South Florida, and in real estate especially, embrace in order to become successful.

Orthodox Judaism

Yeah…yeah, I know. This one kind of gets under my skin today. But at some point I heard that braids and dreadlocks are not allowed in the mikvah…so basically if you immerse with them in the mikvah, your tevillah (dip) is not valid. Well immersing in the mikvah is a part of conversion. I definitely did not want my hair to get in the way of that (or be pointed out by a rabbi as an excuse to not convert me). However what I found out years later that there is the opinion that if the braids are small, or if the locs are not easily undone (which is pretty much the definition of a loc), then they are ok.



So with a dental pick, a lot of conditioner, and about a month work of time I took the locs out (as I “freed” a loc, I would two strand twist it…worked from the back of my head forward to try to hide what was going on). Again no pics from this experience! But length wise, I lost about 2-3 inches once all the shed hair in the locs was washed away. I wore my hair in two-strand twists until 2007 when I went to a Dominican salon to get a perm. I was told quite frankly that “no one knows how to straighten hair better than the Dominicans!”

Staten Island

Me in 2009. I had just hit up the local Dominican salon in Staten Island the day before 😉


I permed my hair up until 2011. That last year it has all started again with the breaking, putting it back into a ponytail/bun, wearing weaves. My hair was newly permed when I had my conversion in March of that year. And then that was it. Fin. זה הכל . That’s all she wrote. I was beyond tired of it, and really saw no reason to keep perming my hair anymore.

Back On The Wagon

Even though I stopped perming my hair 5 years ago, it hasn’t been easy. I did not transition well at all. My first mistake is that I was drawing upon my locing experience. I thought that the less you did to natural hair, the better. Wrong! OMG…sooo wrong! I would wash, then blow dry/flat iron my hair to deal with the two textures. On the weekends when I was off, I would just wash and go…and the result was something like I looked in the pic below.

2012 selfie

Me in 2012. My hair looks lush and full here. But I assure you, I lost all of that hair over the next 2-3 years due to breakage.

By 2014, I could feel entire patches on my head where my hair was just gone. They weren’t bald patches. But my hair was very, very short in spots. Like carpet fiber short. I was freaked! Never in my life had I dealt with severe hair loss/breakage like that before. 🙁


Current Regimen

This past year I’ve been doing quick weaves and cornrow/braid extensions. In both cases, my hair does ok (in terms of breakage and growth). But my scalp gets so itchy and the resulting dandruff (I actually have seborrheic dermatitis…more on that below) is just way too much. Plus I can’t do quick weaves and extensions myself (my sister usually does them). So going into 2016, I’ll be making an effort to do my hair myself.

I did the porosity test, and my hair practically swims to the bottom (so high porosity). I know for sure that I’m still dealing with some damage, but I’ve seen my breakage go down significantly…so I think I’m on the right track.

Washing

  • Jan. 2016 – I have Pantene’s Truly Natural Clarifying shampoo (sulfates) and Shea Moisture’s Moisture Retention shampoo (no sulfates). I wash my hair each week with two weeks of the Shea Moisture shampoo, an “off week” of co-washing, then one week with the Pantene shampoo.  I wash my hair in 4 sections…to minimize tangling. 
    Shampoo For
    Thorough cleaning after weaves and extensions. Once per month to remove product buildup. Leaves my hair pretty soft after use.
    Regular shampooing. Leaves my hair really soft. Kind of tough to rinse out well. Others have complained that it doesn’t lather well, but it lathers just fine on my hair. (?)
  • Feb. 2016 – I started working a co-wash into my weekly wash rotation. A 1 month cycle has 2 co-washes, 1 shampoo, then one clarifying shampoo. 
    Co-Wash For
    This is my first co-wash ever….so I’m not really sure what to expect. It’s thin…like lotion. It seems to coat the hair ok. Not a lot of suds (I guess I should expect this). It seems to clean ok and it does leave the hair soft. At $14 a bottle, I’m concerned about the affordability of this. I noticed a Pantene co-wash at the dollar store for much less so I might pick that up after this runs out.
  • Item #3

Conditioning

  • Jan. 2016 – I have three conditioners currently; a deep conditioner, a wash out conditioner and a leave-in conditioner. My wash out conditioner I rotate and is usually whatever I can pick up for cheap in the local dollar store. I’ve been using Cantu’s Shea Butter Leave-in Conditioner and a Shea Moisture hair mask. Still experimenting here!  
    Conditioner Assessment
    This is thin, so it takes a lot of it to coat all my hair. It smells kind of weird too. I let it sit on my hair for an hour under a plastic cap. I do like how it makes my hair feel after! It’s not a “slippy” conditioner, so before rinsing out, I run a bit of cheapie (so silicone based) conditioner in my hair to help minimize tangling.
    This is my leave-in conditioner that I use to twist my hair up with. It smells lovely. It doesn’t have a lot of stickiness or hold to it (the first ingredient is water). I don’t care about that though…I’ve learned to embace some frizz 😉
    This is my current cheapie conditioner. It contains dimethicone, which people say is bad. What can I say though, I like the slip it gives. It helps with detangling my hair under the water with my fingers. Hopefully my monthly sulfate shampoo will clear out any product buildup.
  • Item #2
  • Item #3

Styling

  • Jan. 2016 – For now, a twist out afro is my go to style. I twist damp, conditioned hair and then sleep in a plastic cap. I then take the loose locks and rub in some of Shea Moisture’s Curl Enhancing Smoothie. I don’t re-twist before was day. I just continue to sleep with a plastic cap, then spritz with either water or detangling spray. Then scrunch my hair back into shape with my fingers.  
    Products Results
    Smells nice. Seems to work ok; although I feel there is some overlap between this and the Cantu leave-in conditioner that I use. I personally don’t see the miraculous results everyone raves about. But I’ve only used it for a couple of weeks. We’ll see.
    I have this around for my boyfriend’s daughter’s hair (which is a much looser curl pattern than mine). I alternate using water and this to spritz on my hair if I’m working with it and it begins to feel dry.
    Yes, I still use this! I know mineral oil/petroleum jelly is another big no no. But I like this. It’s cheap. I take a little and rub into my palm (unlike classic Blue Magic hair grease, this melts in your palm from your body heat a bit). I thin run my palms over my twists or braids before I cover them for the night. Gives my hair just a touch of sheen without being super greasy.
  • Item #2
  • Item #3

Tools

  • Jan. 2016 – I no longer use any heat on my hair. Quite to opposite. I now focus on keeping my hair moist. I also only comb and brush my hair while it is wet or damp. By doing this I’ve really seen a difference resulting in way less hair in my bathroom sink and floor and in my drains!
    Tool How I Use It
    I use a shower comb to detangle my hair while washing; or for helping to distribute the conditioner through my hair.
    Before twisting my hair I do a final detangle with a wet brush. I make sure my hair is nice and damp when using this. It does pretty well and doesn’t rip too much hair at all (I detangle from root to tip).
    It might seems excessive, but I actually snip at my ends after every wash…so once a week. After I twist my hair, I’ll check the end of each twist. If the ends look thin or ragged, I snip them away. Usually it’s just a millimeter or two. But yes, I care more about my hair health at this point than I do about length.
     When I sleep, I cover my hair in a plastic cap. It reduces breakage and keeps the moisture in my hair.
     I have lots of these “ouchless” hair elastics on hand and I use them to keep my hair in sections when washing and detangling. As my hair gets longer, I may graduate to using hair clips.
     Currently I have two spray bottles that I keep handy for my hair. One just has water in it. The other has a mix of 1/2 water, 1/2 apple cider vinegar, and several tablespoons of honey. I spray the ACV on my scalp and let that sit for an hour or so on wash days to help with my dandruff. Also on the week that I co-wash, I spray all my hair with ACV. Rinse out with cool water. Then co-wash with the cheapie conditioner. Even diluted, ACV smells really strong. But it seems to work well on my scalp and hair. Time will tell if I continue using it or not.
  • Item #2
  • Item #3

Working On The Inside Of My Head As Well

It might have been Farrakhan or maybe Malcolm X that said something along the lines of “What’s inside your head is more important than what is on top of it.” (referring to hair). This might sound like common sense. But for millions of Black women, it’s not.

Thankfully my significant other actually prefers my big, kinky natural hair. So I do not get negativity from that front. Professionally, it has been more difficult. When I put in a quick weave, I get a lot of compliments. I wish I could say that it’s simply because the cut fits my face or that its because my (fake) hair looks healthier. But I don’t get these compliments when I get braid extensions. So basically straight bouncy hair = good.

me and taqiyya

Bad lighting, of course, but me (with my sister) in one of my many quick weaves


On one hand I don’t think it’s hypocritical to wear a weave or extensions. It definitely greatly expands the realm of styling options. However I want to embrace my own hair. I don’t want to hide it away; and I definitely don’t want to wreck it and damage it simply because I’m ignorant in regards to how to take care of it.

About a month ago, I went to work with just my hair. It was the first time I had ever gone in without a weave, extensions, or a fake hair bun/ponytail. I got two compliments and one wrinkled face from the higher ups. While I was nervous and bracing myself for the reactions, I still felt pretty confident. I knew my hair was healthy and I was personally pretty proud of it.

It’s taken a lifetime, but I’m almost in the camp where other people’s opinion’s don’t make or break my decisions. I know what’s best for my hair, and the world just needs to deal with it.


In terms of family, that’s gotten a bit better too. Three of my sisters are also natural. Of course my Mom says “You guys have the type of hair texture where you can go natural. I can’t. If I didn’t have a perm, I would be arrested because folks would think I’m crazy!” Again, to me this is fine, because if you can make relaxers work, then more power to you. They just never really worked for me. But even so, my Mom’s sentiment kind of echos what you see in the natural hair community. Being natural is fabulous when your hair is coily as opposed to kinky; and big or long as opposed to short and stuck around your ears.

All of me, hair included, is a work in progress. I love connecting with other women who know the struggle. One day,בְּלִי נֶדֶר , I hope to photograph my hair journey. When I do, I’ll be sure to link it here!

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