Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Hair Raising Experiment: Going Natural for Two Weeks

Me smiling on a weekend trip to a flea market. My smile would fade by the next day, though.

A few weeks ago, I chatted with my friend Keyia about a number of things. Her life in Florida, her son Zade's (isn't that one of the coolest names ever?) upcoming preschool graduation, and finally, hair. Keyia went natural last year, hacking off her long relaxed locks. Since her hair grows like a weed, she already has hair that could be pulled up. I grilled her on hair products, styles and her experience. Her words of advice stuck with me, though: "If you're going to do it, make sure you have a lot of support because it's going to be hard." Girl ain't ever lie.

The next morning, I headed off to CVS and beelined it to the hair product aisle. "Hmm... let's see, ethnic, ethnic, ethnic" I repeated to myself, because these pharmacies always cram the Black hair care products under the heading of "ethnic", no matter how different they may be. I have also noticed such distinctions at Shoprites when we're looking for rice and beans. In the non-ethnic aisle live pastas and macaroni; on the ethnic side, every kind of Goya bean and rice sit next to Jamaican seasonings and racks of curry. For whatever reason, segregation is alive and well in stores. But anyway, upon finding the right section of hair products, I stood there confused. First, most of the products Keyia mentioned weren't even sold in the store. Even Pantene's Relaxed & Natural choices were pretty skimpy.

How my relaxed hair typically looks after a doobie. Although I usually wear in up or pulled into a ponytail. And no, I don't sit around taking pics in our car everyday. I just get bored waiting for K sometimes.

Second, most of the aisle was smashed full of relaxers. For fine, for thick, for extra coarse hair. For little girls and gray haired grandmommas and everyone in between. For girls who speak Spanish and French, for women who just want to texturize their tresses. But where's the conditioners for natural girls? I roamed back and forth, picking up jars of pomades. grease and oil sheens. Since my hair IS relaxed, I didn't want anything with alcohol, especially since my hair is also colored. That simple requirement eliminated a huge chunk of the products surprisingly. Good. Then a few were eliminated since they were for locs or dreads. Alright.... five minutes later, K comes back looking with a "What? Are you still looking for something?" I gave him a non-verbal "Yes, so buzz off" face, which sent him over to the snack aisle. In his defense, he had no clue I was looking to style my hair differently. The last few weeks, I had been skipping the salon. There was no malice involved. It's just that with the weather finally breaking, the thought of sitting in a salon for five hours for a deep condition and roller set made me nauseous. So I was washing it at home, then blow drying it straight, then pulling it into a neat little librarian's bun. This time, I was on a mission to not use the blowdryer and check out the results.

After what felt like forever (and must've seemed like I was stealing since an employee walked by to "straighten" the products), I left with a jar of gel (no alcohol, not the black gooey stuff or Jam, either, but still obviously ethnic) and a bottle of some leave in conditioner to bring out waves and curls (which sat in between the ethnic and non-ethnic products; I guess it's the Alicia Keys of hair mosturizers).

I went home, washed my hair and noticed my new growth was starting to get kinda long. Now my hair naturally is very thick and wavy. I wish it was a little less thick and curly (my sister has curls that look like spirals-cute). But I like my hair. It's dependable. Grows well. And stays in place. So I was optimistic about the results. I placed the Alicia Keys on the new growth hoping it would tame it a bit and prevent frizzies. I then slathered the ethnic gel on the relaxed parts, sometimes having to scrunch. I let it air dry slowly, watching bad TV to pass the time. It ended up like this:

As an added bonus, I had the Friday off! That alone could bring about such cheesing.

I was pleasantly surprised, feeling like... my little girl self. When K returned home after spending a couple of hours at the mall, he stared surprised at my transformation. I suddenly looked like an Island girl, and his Trini self was quite happy. I later saw my mom and grandma and they were pleased. This was echoed by my brother, sister and brother-in-law. I felt hot! Surprisingly to me, the waves remained. They just retracted and became poofier, like in the picture at the top of this entry. I was happy.

Until Monday. I went to work pulling half the bushy hair into a pony tail and leaving the other half out. To counter my wilder hair, I put on a white button down and a gray pencil skirt. No one seemed to notice the librarians duds, zooming in on my suddenly strange hair. I got some "Wow, that's cool" mixed with "Is that weave?" I shot a "What the..." look at them. Um, I've worked here for years. Was my same hair unstraightened THAT different? Obviously, yes. There was a clear divide, sadly. All of the West Indians loved it. The Latinos said it was nice and a good change. The whites were... okay, they were confused. Some thought I got a curly perm (lol). Or that it was weave. At any rate, I felt embarrassed by all the attention, and I quickly sent an email to Leila who runs the Black Girl Long Hair blog. I included pictures and asked for advice she wrote back: "Those women are probably just jealous. There's nothing wrong with your hair. You have a lot of length to it, which means you can always bun it as a last resort. Don't let a few co-workers determine how you will wear your hair. If your husband and your mother are on your side, then you've already won half the battle! "

She was right. What was I getting so worked up about? I decided to flaunt the natural look by spicing up my wardrobe with flea market jewelery finds. Turquoise stones, wooden pieces, over sized rings- why not? I started to regain my confidence. Until my Asian American boss admitted he hated the hair. "It looks like a duster," he said exasperated. "It's like the wool of a lamb or sheep. It's so... bushy!." I told him he was entitled to his opinion, but I disagreed. By the time I got home, I was back in the dumps. "How am I going to do this? This is what a lot of people think, but are afraid to say," I told K while washing dishes. "How do you feel?," he asked. I thought for a minute and said, "Well, I like it. I'm not sure if I'm off the creamy crack, but it's nice to have more time on my hands not sitting in the shop. And I love that you're actually touching my hair!" Hard to believe, but my husband doesn't touch my hair after I've been to the shop and it's been straightened. I ask him to play in it, but he's always reluctant. With the thick poof? He's happy and hands-on.

So I decided to have more fun again. I stuck an orchid in my hair for date night and let ocean air blow the waves wild.

Two weeks in, I don't know if I'm ready for an all natural Li, but I appreciate the loving support from my husband and friends like Lori, Keyia and Kandi. I'm also thrilled that my friend Ameerah has decided she is planning to stop relaxing her hair in a few months. I definitely know Keyia is right, though. If you're planning to do it, you'll need support. And it will be hard.


April Joy said...

the first glimpse of your girly picture, I stopped in my tracks. Your natural hair is absolutely gorgeous. Isn't it liberating too? Please, Please keep it natural and beautiful. Yeah, for variety it'll be fun to blow it straight every once an a while, but this look that God designed into the DNA of your hair, is breathtaking. i LOVE IT!!!! I felt a breath of fresh air reading how you felt more your true self and natural :) I'm imagining its how i've been feeling ever since Gary asked me to not wear alot of make up 3 years ago. haha, i didn't even want toleave the house without eye liner on...but now, I've grown to love naturalness. lol i'm even air drying my hair too!

;) i love that K touches your hair too now.

I love the girls 'Lisha. They are absolutely beautiful.

April Joy said...

lol *curls. i love the *curls

Anonymous said...

You still have your support right here Li! I chose not to wait for outside support (Rebel w/ a cause syndrome) Your family loves it & after watching Good Hair…that’s enough convincing for me to keep pushing u forward! Now… play this song when anyone tries to dampen your Natural High…

Love ya!

Alisha De Freitas said...

@April, as usual, you left me smiling brightly. It's funny about the makeup thing, too, cause K doesn't like a lot of that. His favorite time is when I wake up no make-up, now, hair crazy like a little girl, lol, and he says my eyes are gorgeous. For me it's like, what? No eyeliner or mascara or eyeshadow? Nope! I think I look 12. He thinks I look beautiful. This has been quite an adventure, and since I shared it, I've actually received two emails and a phone call with advice on good products and support! I guess there are more ladies behind me then I thought.

@Lori, THANK YOU SO MUCH! I'm going to listen it right now! LOL!

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