Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hair-Raising Adventures-- Relaxers, Naturals and Transitioning

Yesterday, I took Sisi to the salon for a touch-up. We hadn't been in a while-- she gets a touch up maybe twice a year-- and she had quite a bit of new growth. I would have preferred to wait until the Fall since she'll spend the summer swimming and spelunking and generally do all kinds of things that make spending money on hair now silly. But this is impossible: the 8th grade prom is this weekend and there is no way my big girl is going to the prom "looking busted" as she put it.

My feelings about my own hair have changed. After nearly three decades of regular chemical relaxers, I'm seriously considering going natural.

Why? Several reasons, that, it turns out, are interconnected.

1. I workout every day. Most weeks, I run three times a week (3-4 miles each session) hit the boxing bag and jump rope twice a week, and do yoga to stretch everything out once or twice a week. Most summer days, the girls and I end up at the pool in the afternoon, swimming and splashing. Relaxed hair doesn't last under that punishment-- and to keep it up, my stylist and I have a long and intimate relationship that has made me one of her best clients.

But more and more, I realize the waste of all this. Financially, it's silly-- that money could be better spent. Even if I still choose to spend it on myself in some way, I can think of better ways. A dance class, for example. Or cuter workout clothes. I might even put the cash aside for my "plastic surgery fund." Joking, really. Just joking.

Of course, I could choose hair over exercise... but this seems a shallow trade, given what we know about how exercise helps your brain, your body and adds years to your life. I once took a Facebook poll asking ladies which we'd rather have: perfect hair or a perfect body. Forty friends answered-- and no one voted for hair. But many of us choose not to exercise if it only improves an imperfect body-- and then only on the inside. I don't have a perfect body, but I do have perfect blood work, no major health issues and can still wear some clothes from ten years ago (Some, however, seem to have gotten mysterious tight in the waist. Hmmmm...) The point is exercise, for all its internal benefits, doesn't always create a bikini body. And let's face it, it's hard work! By comparison, a banging hairdo seems like instant gratification, instant improvement.

I might be persuaded that hair is worth the expense--even if the effect is short-lived-- if it weren't for...

2. I'm not really a "hair" woman in the first place. I've worn my hair about the same way (or the same couple of ways) all my life. I've never had a weave, never had braids, never done twists, never really experimented with much beyond color-- and I've stopped doing that, too. And while occasionally I cut my hair or grow it long, even those changes are in the same basic style.

Being that I'm not a hair person, I have very little ego about it. I think I may soon be one of those middle aged black women who cut her hair down to a short 'fro-- and went about her business, without feeling like I left my femininity on the salon floor.

I'm helped in feeling feminine with flowing tresses by...

3. My husband doesn't care. Most men like long hair on women, if you ask them. They find it sexy and alluring. Much has been written about the preference some black men have for black women whose hair is "dyed, fried and laid to the side." I don't have to go there: my husband's white. But I do think men, regardless of their ethnicity, find long hair to be feminine and attractive.

I expected that answer from Kevin-- and if it had mattered to him, his feeling about it would have factored into my decision. But when I asked him about it, his response was practical. "I think you spend too much time and money on it," he said. "I think it's much more important that you keep yourself in shape-- do I have to remind you we have a five year old? Besides, you always look good to me, so why are you messing with yourself?"

I love him. Not only does he say the right thing, he means it. His reply connects to the last piece of my decision to grow the relaxer, which is my own growing sense of personal identity, separate and a part from the expectations of our culture, which leads to...

4. Hair politics. I've never really thought of hair as a political statement. Hair to me has been mainly an adornment but I do appreciate the arguments of those who feel that we should love it exactly as it comes out of our heads. To me, this is not simply a racial issue, but a gender one. Women of most cultures feel the pressure to "do" their hair, whether that means curling, straightening, growing, dyeing, etc. Men just wash it and occasionally cut it... and it costs them far less in time, money and aggravation.

I want that freedom.

So, I'm transitioning. Right now I've got about an inch of new growth and I need to cut about an inch off the ends. Here are the visuals:



Today right after my workout--most of the length is slicked back:

Meanwhile, Sisi got her hair straigtened-- and that's fine with me. Her journey with her hair is hers: it's not for me to impose my journey on her. For different seasons, different hairstyles and different hair-raising adventures.

I'll update you on my hair journey in the weeks and months ahead.


  1. Looking good Karyn!

    Come over to the natural side

  2. Congratulations on your decision!

    I wanted to add that you hair can be long and flowing as a natural. You will get some shrinkage anywhere up to 50%, but that is a good sign because it means that your hair is healthy/elastic. Once you hair gets past a certain length it will hang. And you have tons of options for straightening that use reduced heat/manipulation should you choose.

    I haven't relaxed since I was a child (I do color though) and the past few years I have been really taking care of the condition of my hair e.g. (protein, moisture treatments, and protective styles) and I am now hip length stretched and hovering bra strap/mid back length unstretched.

    My goal is ankle/floor length.

    Good luck with your hair journey.

  3. Congratulations on your decision to go natural, Karyn! I've been natural for...well..that would date me, so, let's just say I've been natural longer than I have been relaxed.

    As you go on your healthy hair journey, check out all the sites that are dedicated to natural hair, like

  4. Congrats on your decision to go natural! It has been two years now for me and I have no regrets!!!