Navigating Black Hair
A personal story about the complexity of being natural and constantly changing routines that come with it.
Written by: Cimira Crews
From stressful nights sitting in between our moms’ legs getting our hair braided, to sitting in a salon chair getting our hair chemically straightened, to the internet coaching us through hair care to us Black women being told that what we know about our hair is completely wrong, natural hair is already something that sparks debate outside of our community. Lately, the conversations inside the community have been heated.
During my childhood, natural hair wasn’t common: straight hair was the norm. My mom worked full-time, and I was “tender-headed” according to her accounts. So once I was old enough to go to the salon for my first relaxer, a piece of my identity suddenly felt erased. I was just eight years old when I was first introduced to what we call “creamy crack”, or relaxer, and didn’t stop getting the treatments until I was thirteen and refused to go to the hairdresser. The pain of the chemicals burning my scalp every two weeks was reason enough to protest. I was left to figure out this mystery that was my hair. My texture was foreign, and how to take care of it was unimaginable — until YouTube came along.
So once I was old enough to go to the salon for my first relaxer, a piece of my identity suddenly felt erased.
Social Media and Black Hair
Imagine never seeing Black hair in its natural state for your entire childhood. YouTube felt like utopia for not only me, but plenty of other Black women navigating their hair for the first time from all age ranges and backgrounds. To see someone who looked like me, but with a beautiful afro, just made my journey even more empowering. For the first time in my life, I felt connected to my heritage. YouTubers like Mini Marley, MahoganyCurls and Shanique Buntyn were all influencers who grew with me on my natural hair journey. These women would give tips and tricks on how to grow out your natural hair, recommend butters and styling creams for the perfect twist out, and help you identify your hair type and porosity. Methods like LOC (liquid, oil, cream) and co-washing (using conditioner as shampoo between weekly washes) were introduced and for years, there was nothing to oppose these trends. As time went on, viewers, including myself, began to question these influencers due to the quickly changing routines. Every week was a new video, introducing a new product line to implement in our already complex routines. Wash days took a minimum of five hours and would typically be an all-day event. As natural hair YouTube began to die down, an opposing community emerged to combat the methods that influencers introduced.
Every week was a new video, introducing a new product line to implement in our already complex routines.
Professional Hairstylists vs Influencers
Influencers had no opposing voices when it came to Black hair — they were relatable and just as unknowing as us and that made the journey much more personal. Although Black stylists never disappeared, once the natural hair community on YouTube began to fade, their voices, opinions and recommendations became amplified in the same way influencers once were. These stylists began to promote routines that seemed almost ridiculous to me. I was already so used to my butters, creams and seven-hour-long wash days that I couldn’t fathom that the only thing I knew was suddenly so wrong. The routines, you might ask? A simple wash, condition, a deep condition if necessary and a very minimal styling product like a light gel. For my kinky hair? I couldn’t believe it could just be that simple. No oils, no butters, no creams, no leave-ins, no more co-washing and definitely no more constantly manipulating my hair.
For about a month during the height of the pandemic, I decided to try the minimal routine that professionals were promoting. That way, if anything was to go wrong, I was home and nobody would see me if my hair looked crazy. Wash days turned into two-hour-long events, but I wasn’t seeing the benefits they raved about. My hair was dry, brittle and lacking the bounce it normally had; it felt like I was fighting with my hair all over again, as if I was that pre-teen just doing my natural hair for the first time.
Although women were having similar experiences as me, plenty of women felt like this recommendation was better than anything they had done before. The simplified routine and the way their hair benefited from the light products drew them in. Now they swear by keeping the routine and opt to throw away the heavy products they used to hoard. I find that these recommendations are geared more toward women with looser curl patterns and less dense hair. As someone with 4B textured hair, I need all the moisture and oil I can get to stop the breakage my hair is so easily subjected to.
Professional stylists say these tactics aren’t new and were always encouraged. They aren’t wrong, but these tactics were only known if you had a knowledgeable hairstylist. What most fail to realize is that the kinkier and thicker the hair (usually categorized as type 4 hair) the fewer professionals can help you maintain healthy hair on a simple routine. Access is also an issue; a trip to the salon has to be regular, usually once a week, every week and can cost anywhere between $60 to $150 per trip. For a community that is already statistically struggling financially, what better tactic is there than to master your own hair and learn it for free in the comfort of your own home?
Are oils, butters and different products ‘bad’ for your hair? Effectively, no. Our hair contains natural oils and there are certain oils on the market that are scientifically meant to penetrate the hair or protect it. Of course there are products that sit on top of the hair, but they can also benefit natural hair when it comes to the longevity of a style, especially in tighter-textured hair.
Not everything is one-size-fits-all, and the opposing experiences show just that.
Whether or not you choose to use oils and butters, or use sulfate vs sulfate-free shampoo, or whatever the Black hair community chooses to debate about today, is completely up to you! Natural hair is complex on top of already being human, so if something works for you, don’t change it. Not everything is one-size-fits-all, and the opposing experiences show just that. Our hair is such an integral part of who we are, regardless of texture. The most important thing is that your hair is healthy, no matter what routine that led you there.