My Black Hair: Love & Freedom

Mainstream appreciation for Black women wearing their tightly coiled hair in natural styles is blossoming. Having worn an afro for the past 15 years, I love to see it. And I’ve watched styles evolve. From the teeny weenie afro (TWA), braids, locs, and now toward healthy growth, jumbo hair, with optional curl patterns created by braiding or twisting hair when wet, well-moisturized, and conditioned. Big shiny swirls and coils of exuberant style are personal goals for the rest of 2020.

In the past, like most Black women of a certain age, I understood and accepted that straightened hair was the hair a Black woman needed to succeed in corporate America. Sure, my hairstyle complimented my face, but it was nondescript. And yet, that conformity conveyed that I was “professional.”

Fitting in is in the eye of the beholder

I have no doubt that wearing an afro hairstyle at the time, a couple of decades ago, would have at least triggered questions about how I would “fit in.” Keeping up with straightened hair cost me big money, usually a few hundred dollars every couple of months. Further, I endured a third-degree chemical burn from a relaxer and repeated heat burns on my ears and forehead from curling irons while maintaining straightened hair.

Hard to believe that there is such a stigma against the natural hairstyles worn by Black people that states have had to adopt laws addressing the problem. Natural Black hair is still considered “controversial” in many environments that range from schools to executive offices. So much so that legislation against hair discrimination has been enacted across the country; this is often referred to as “The Crown Act” movement.

As of July 2020, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, Washington have all passed legislation barring policies that penalize Black people for wearing afros, dreadlocks, twists, braids and other hairstyles that embody cultural identity.

I felt like I was alone in this (spoiler alert: I wasn't)

Still, although I’ve been wearing my hair natural and am very comfortable working with my afro, there is always more to learn. I felt alone 15 years ago, figuring out which products worked best for the new 'do.

Now, with a keystroke, we have access to hundreds of videos—mostly by Black women and femmes of all hues, shapes, and personalities, who share their best styling tricks, techniques, and products for curly girls like me who are always looking for the latest ideas.

Recently, I enjoyed a breakthrough that has improved both my hair and my routine. I took a leap of faith and enrolled in the Naturalicious Repair Your Hair Challenge. Naturalicious is an innovative, natural, vegan, line of hair care products created several years ago by Gwen Jimmere, who is the only Black woman to have ever received a patent for hair care formulations.

I did not know what I was stepping into, but decided to sign up because as I’m going gray, the heat and hard water I deal with here in Southern California seemed to be leaving my hair a little harder to manage than in summers' past. I love Gwen’s personality and passion, which is always on display in her videos and in her Naturalicious FB groups or Insta live sessions. So I purchased a set of Naturalicious products, and a few extra tools—including a satin pillowcase, scarf, covered ponytail elastics, and a blow dryer—to get ready.

A little community goes a long way

My fellow hair repair warriors and I met via Zoom every evening for 15 days. I choked up during that first meeting. I wanted to reach out and embrace the dozens of fellow Black women—some in deep frustration and pain struggling to style their natural or transitioning hair the way they wanted.

We all celebrated each other in that safe space as we connected to grow our beauty. Our chat thread overflowed with “attagirl,” “you got this,” and my favorite, “smoochez.” Through tears and laughter, we poured support upon each other with a quickness. It was beautiful. 

We learned to wash and detangle our hair in sections. Gwen, in a bodysuit, hopped in the shower, in real-time, as we schlepped our laptops into the bathroom and washed our hair alongside her. It was brilliant and fun. We learned how to do effective protein and deep-conditioning treatments, how to effectively trim dead and uneven ends on afro hair, and then the best tips and techniques for a banging Wash n’ Go (WNG) and how to do a Twist Out (TO) that lasts. We learned how to sleep to reduce “shrinkage,” which is what happens when strong coily hair flattens and tightens overnight. 

Salt and pepper makes everything yummier

There is no doubt that I am closer to my salt and pepper jumbo ‘fro than I was before the Challenge, since my hair is now more moisturized and not snapping off at the ends. But, the most important element of all, given the historical and too often present-day animosity against natural Black hair, is that I learned to take my time with my hair, to detangle each strand patiently, and to set a nighttime routine that ensures my hair gets the moisture it needs.

In short, I fell in love with my hair all over again. And I feel more beautiful and powerful because of it.

My everyday go-to hair products:

1. Natralicious: Moroccan Rhassoul 5-In-1 Clay Treatment

2. Naturalicious: Moisture Infusion Styling Creme 

3. Naturalicious: Divine Shine Moisture Lock & Frizz-Fighter 

4. Naturalicious: Heavenly Hydration Grapeseed Hair Mist 

5. Qhemet Biologics: Castor & Moringa Softening Serum

6. Naturalicious: Dramatic Definition Gel

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Carmen Dixon is an antiracist vegan, writer, and entrepreneur, who believes we are here to help each other.