Going From Relaxed to Natural Hair in Mid-Life

My Natural Hair Story

Going from relaxed to natural hair is not simple and easy for most.  It’s a decision that involves not only the physical act of cutting off your relaxed ends; it’s also an emotional experience that you may or may not be prepared for.

On a cold day in mid-December 2011, my relaxed hair was due for a “touch-up.” As I got ready to call my salon to schedule an appointment, I felt a sense of dread. The salon that I patronized did a good job, but there was always a long wait before getting your hair done. I had NO desire to spend a good part of my day there. This feeling was the norm for me, but even more so on that day. Around this time, I had been viewing a number of natural hair videos on YouTube where women discussed their natural hair journeys and routines. Between my dread of going back to the salon and viewing these natural hair videos, I made my decision to go natural!

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Early 1970s: Me in my braids and barrettes!

Let me take you back in time for a bit. My mother was a stickler when it came to making sure that my hair was always “greased and combed.”   When I was a toddler she would wash it and then braid it using plain old Vaseline.  She started straightening my hair with a hot comb when I turned five.  Her hair routine for me included washing it with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo & Conditioner,  She would then detangle it, part it into sections, braid it and let it air dry overnight. The next day, she would get the hot comb ready on our small, white Caloric stove and sit me in a chair piled with pillows so that she had easy access to my now dry head of hair.  With that hot comb and a big jar of green Dax hair grease, she would spend the next hour carefully straightening my hair. Afterwards, she would style my hair in neat braids using the Dax grease and Dippity Doo hair gel topped off with a couple of colorful hair ribbons or barrettes.

This was during the early 1970s when Afros were all the rage.  I loved Afros!  I would see all of these beautiful black women with their gorgeous, full Afros and wish I could wear my hair like them.  One day, I asked Mom if I could wear one. Let’s just say that it was the first and LAST time I asked her that…lol!

For special occasions we would go to the beauty parlor located within walking distance from our home and we’d both get our hair “done.”  We’d be there for hours, but unlike my feelings as an adult, I didn’t care at the time. I loved listening to the “shop talk” between all the neighborhood ladies while the radio played my R&B favorites tunes.  Mom would order corned beef sandwiches on rye bread and a cold soda from the deli located close by. If we had an early morning appointment on Saturday, the salon owner would turn on the Saturday morning cartoons for all of us kids to watch (this was before cable TV).  I got to sit under a hair dryer like a “big girl” and get my hair styled in pretty curls! Such great memories!

My hair thrived under the care of my Mom and these old-school stylists.

These rituals went on until I was 15-years-old.  It was then that Mom decided to try a “mild” relaxer in my hair.  One day she brought home a relaxer product called Gentle Treatment and gave me my very first hair relaxer.  After she was done, I was completely in love!  My hair was “easier” to manage and I could create all kinds of hairstyles with my handy hot curler…you couldn’t me tell anything!

For the next 30 years, I went to various salons to get my hair relaxed/touched up on a regular basis.  I went through different versions of having it “fried, dyed and laid to the side.” As the years went by, the condition of my hair fluctuated between being healthy and damaged.  Gradually, it went from full, bouncy and shiny to thin, lifeless but beautifully styled (go figure).  It also got shorter and shorter.  One “professional” stylist explained to me that “this was normal for women as they got older.  At some point your hair just stops growing.” Sigh!

So on that December day in 2011, at age 46, I decided to go natural by letting my hair grow out and gradually cutting off the relaxed parts (a process called transitioning).  This method was hard for me!  Caring for and styling both natural and relaxed hair took more time than I was willing to spend.  After three months, on March 18, 2012, I did the big chop and cut off the relaxed parts of my hair.

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2012: Day of my Big Chop

After doing my big chop, I spent a good amount of time in the mirror studying my hair. I will admit that I had to get used seeing my hair in a short, natural “fro.” I wore short styles during my relaxed years, but this was different.  I had no idea what to expect in regards to my hair’s texture, “type,” etc. but I really didn’t care.  I was ready to accept my hair for whatever it was and learn how to care for it accordingly. I had already stocked up on a ton of natural hair products and couldn’t wait to try them out!

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2013 – 15 Months Natural!

 

I spent the next year trying many products and hair routines. It took that same amount of time to figure out what worked best for my hair.  The first challenge was managing my hair’s moisture level.  In the morning I would start off with a fresh, moisturized TWA (teeny weeny afro) but by midday it would dry out. I had to reapply moisture with a curl cream and spritz it with water once or twice daily. I had to learn how to manage the single strand knots that popped up every now and then. It was a challenge but it got better over time.  After much trial and error, I learned that wash-and-go hairstyles worked best for me.

 

 

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2016 – My Natural Hair Today

Fast forward to now…going natural has given my hair new life and is clearly one of the best beauty and health decisions I’ve made! My hair has not been this consistently healthy since my Mom cared for it years ago.  I even use some of her techniques in my weekly haircare routine (no hot combs though).  Having natural hair has so many cool benefits too. If it rains, I don’t care if it gets wet.  When a hot flash turns my body into a human oven, my hair is not affected.  When I dance (and when I dance, I DANCE!), it still looks good after I work up a sweat!  If I want to straighten my hair, I can do so temporarily and return it back to its naturally curly state.

Can I list any cons about being a naturalista? Not really! Aside from the occasional single-strand knot, caring for my hair is much easier and less time consuming than when it was relaxed. The only thing that I regret about going natural is that I did not do it sooner! I totally prefer my own curly hair over my former chemically-altered hair! Are you a naturalista or considering going natural after years of having relaxed hair?  I’d love to learn about your experience with going natural or if you’re thinking about going natural, I’d be happy to answer any questions!

Warm regards,

Cheryl

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3 comments

  1. Thank your for sharing your hair story. I’ve not had a perm in my hair since 1990 but I’ve worn braids since then. I keep saying I’m going to take the next step and stop wearing braids. But everytime I take them I and attempt the natural look – it’s a lot of work.. and the braids still give me that “get up and go” vibe. One day I’ll stick with it, because seeing ladies with hair like yours makes me inspired. I love the look on you

  2. I so enjoyed reading your hair story. I went natural in October of 2010 and did the big chop in December of 2011….one of the best decisions of my life! My staple natural hair styles are twists and twist outs. Natural hair is so versatile as you stated….we have so many choices as naturals! I also love how you explained how you took time out to learn your hair and what works for YOU. That’s a really important factor in the natural hair society…everybody’s hair texture and type are different. Thanks so much for sharing….a good read!

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