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Transitioning from relaxed to natural hair is simply the process by which a person goes from a chemically altered or a relaxed hair texture, often straight, to the hair texture that they were born with, often called kinky in reference to hair that is not. The experience can be a scary one, especially if you are not familiar with your hair’s natural texture. To transition is just what it sounds like, to change. Not only will you change your hair, but your attitude regarding it and you as well.
When deciding to transition, first consider your reasons why. I started my transition in October of 2012 and had no idea that I would be embarking on a journey that would require both patience and skill. I wanted thick, healthy hair compared to the lifeless tresses that perm had provided. I began my journey by researching natural hair do’s and don’ts which included debunking any and all myths about it. For example, most people think that going natural—another term for transitioning—will spare them the responsibility of maintaining their hair. The truth of the matter is: natural hair requires a daily maintenance routine of washing, conditioning, and combing. People also have the misconception that somehow your hair’s roots are stronger because they are no longer chemically bound. Hair in its natural state is fragile and should be cared for gently.
Myths and outdated stereotypes surrounding natural hair, like the perceived inability to manage it, may discourage you. Surround yourself with those who will support your decision to transition. This may mean forgoing traditional hair salons, for salons that specialize in the styling and maintenance of your newly natural strands. Discovering your reason behind such a dramatic change allows you to remain confident about your decision, as you will encounter naysayers and you yourself may even begin to struggle with the acceptance of your natural self.
Handling negativity while on your journey requires you to inherit a new mindset. The African-American community, in particular, is preconditioned to believe that hair in its natural state is something that needs to be ‘fixed,’ when in fact, you were born that way. Likewise, it is this verbiage that has lead many women to chemically straighten their hair. There is also a wealth of stereotypes perpetuated by the media pertaining to beauty. The constant and sometimes overbearing images of women with long flowing hair have persuaded some to continue the unhealthy practice of relaxing their hair, for fear of being judged by their peers.
As you transition you will notice that your hair will take on two different textures. This stage proved to be a bit overwhelming, as I have had the privilege of learning to accept the natural texture of my hair and embrace the techniques used to blend both textures; straight and kinky, known in the natural hair community as, protective styling. Protective styling helps to reduce the chances of hair breakage or shedding caused by both textures coming together during the growth process. Braiding, curling without heat, and weaving are a few ways you can maintain hair length and provide protection from environmental factors that may threaten your hair’s natural state such as, harsh wind and the drying effects of heat from direct sunlight.
The next step in my journey was product experimentation. Growing up, there were products I used to moisturize, style and soften my relaxed hair that, once I began to transition, no longer worked. For instance, in the past I would use hair pomade or grease to tame my hair’s frizzy edges. As a naturalist, however, I considered the following: pomade contains petroleum, an ingredient that clogs the hair shaft. Instead, I was encouraged to get rid of products that contained pore clogging minerals and sulfates; chemicals that may increase hair’s dryness, often opting for natural substances like Cocoa and Shea; pronounced SHAY, butters and tea tree and peppermint oils, which help retain moisture while providing your hair with a natural sheen. This is by far the longest step in the process because as your hair changes so will your product usage.
The length of your journey depends on you. It can take up to two years to transition without what is known as, ‘The big chop,’ or cutting the relaxed ends of your hair after your desired period of new hair growth has ended. Some women skip the transition period altogether, cutting or shaving their hair and allowing it to grow back after deciding to go natural. Your overall health when transitioning is also important. Eating a well balanced diet and exercising increases blood flow which aids in the hair growth process. Equally, consider your process ongoing as you should continuously research new and natural ways to promote healthy hair growth. In his 2008 documentary, Good Hair, comedian Chris Rock discusses the damaging and long term effects that a relaxer can have on not only your hair but the human brain. In his demonstration, Rock places chemicals found in ‘perm’ atop a coke can. While watching the can disintegrate, he asks, What is Good hair? The answer however, is up to you.