I’ve been going to the hair salon every other Saturday morning since I was 7 years old. Wash, condition, put into rollers, sit under the dryer, blow dry, flat iron, curl the ends—three magazines and four hours later, my hair is straight and shiny, blowing in the wind and giving me the fresh-out-the-hair-salon vibes that elevates my mood and confidence. The first 10 steps out of the salon makes the hours spent worth it every time. But having straightened hair isn’t all roses. Over the years, I’ve developed a cat-like response to water. Sprinkle me with water, and I will hiss at you with the threat of having to pay for my next appointment. My workout schedule, for so long, revolved around my hair routine, meaning I didn’t work out the first week of straight hair. Sounds unhealthy and a little over-the-top, right? Well, for me (and many women), it’s the norm…until recently.
About three years ago, I started to feel a shift. The majority of my friends put down their hot combs and turned away from relaxers, a.k.a. the creamy crack. Publications like CRWN Magazine and festivals like Afro Punk gained popularity as more black women embraced their natural hair texture and provided endless hair inspiration. Natural hair became regular on the red carpet, too. “My curly journey has been a fun one, yet nonetheless difficult,” Blackish star Yara Shahidi told Mane Addicts early this year, becoming one of the many faces of the natural hair movement. “It most definitely hasn’t been overnight, and I know the struggle of throwing out the curling irons and flat combs… Being an actress, many times our hair is overworked, so it has been rewarding learning how to care for my curls whenever, wherever.”Servicing celebs like Yara, Zendaya and Rihanna and non-celebs alike, companies like Shea Moisture, DevaCurl and Carol’s Daughter made popular and accessible products for black hair textures. “The Big Chop” became a thing. And, “love your natural hair” became a marketing ploy for mainstream beauty brands.
On a smaller scale, the women around me that made the change were encouraging their peers to do the same. “Your hair is beautiful,” accompanied by a tone filled with assumption surrounding my (lack of) love for my hair, and “I hate it when black women don’t embrace their natural curls” were things I started to hear. With the major shift in pop culture, it felt as if my peers were using a black woman’s hair routine to gauge her self-love.Do I, with my flat ironed hair, love myself less than a woman with a wash-‘n’-go style? I was determined to find out and the following three months changed my life forever.
My journey started at Tantris, Russell Simmon‘s yoga-studio-meets-hair-salon business in Los Angeles, where hair educator Angela Stevens introduced me to new products and hacks for my journey. “Co-wash is a cream version of shampoo. It has antimicrobial natural oils that help cleanse the hair,” she told me while finger coiling my hair. I’d never heard of co-wash before. “When you shampoo your hair, you’re striping the hair down of all of its oils, and then rebuilding with conditioner. This is great if you have oily hair and you want to wear it straight, but if you have oily hair and you want to wear it curly, co-wash is your best friend.”While I did appreciate my finger-coiled hair, it only lasted a couple of days. I realized quickly that in contrast to taking off my hair scarf and walking out the door with my straight hair, my curly hair requires work…and professional help.
Nai’vasha Johnson, whose clients include Yara Shahidi, Uzo Aduba and Logan Browning, was a saving grace. The celeb hairstylist walked me through all of my favorite Logan hairstyles, offering the products, steps and her inspiration. “The diffuser is a big deal, and the technique is really important,” she shared. “I turn the diffuser on, and I hold it in front of [Logan]. The diffuser never actually touches her hair”—a good tip to know before I bought my first diffuser, which kept my curls from shrinking and dried my tresses quickly. Tracee Ellis Ross and Gabrielle Union‘s hair pro, Larry Sims, gave me serious hair inspiration, showing me how to elevate my hair with accessories (for those days I’m just not feeling it). “I particularly like the double strand headbands, because it adds an extra dimension to the overall look,” he said on set of a E! Style crown braid tutorial.
During the three months, I tried about fifty products, if not more. I started to figure what worked for me…and what didn’t. For example, there’s a presumed exocticism that comes with curly hair that translates into products that smell like coconuts, papayas and pineapples. “Did someone make a smoothie?” my coworker asked enthusiastically during our morning elevator ride. “No, my hair is wet,” I responded with an unamused attitude. It wasn’t her fault. I smelled freshly blended.This is 60 percent of the reason I fell in love in Vernon Francois‘ new line. Its cologne-like smell is heaven in comparison to fruit. I sat down with the hairstylist who commonly works with Lupita Nyong’o, Solange and Willow Smith, and shared with him that although my lifestyle had changed, my transitioning to curly hair was more psychological than anything else. I was missing the fresh-out-of-the-hair-salon vibes that I’d been accustomed to for so long, and I wasn’t feeling good about my transitional hair.
“It has to be about what you’re trying to say, what are you reflecting,” the hair guru said as he finger twisted my hair into perfection. He has dedicated his career to making women fall in love with their natural texture. “Until you answer those questions, you can often feel insecure about whatever you’re doing with your hair.” What was I trying to say? I do love myself and my hair. Does my natural hair say that I’m proud to be me? Why doesn’t my flat ironed hair say that? That’s me, too.After a week of repeating Vernon’s question in my head, I finally answered all of my questions. First, the women in my peer group were right: as I explored my natural texture, I grew a deeper understanding of who I was. Two, living with heat-induced hair is unhealthy—straight hair isn’t more important than a healthy body. Three, I am who I am whether my hair is straight or curly. The beauty is in its versatility, and I love it in every shape and form—that’s what matters.