The Nappy Hair Chronicles: Nappy Hair IS Good Hair! 

When I was just a little girl, I began to understand the negativity associated with the word “nappy.” I would hear six and seven year olds say, “He got some nappy hair,” or “Her hair is so nappy.” Not quite knowing what “nappy” meant, for special occasions only, my natural hair was straightened with intense heat using some kind of colored grease and a straightening comb in my momma’s or grandma’s kitchen. As a practical matter, my daily look was quite different-my thick natural hair was regularly shampooed and conditioned. Afterwards, my scalp was greased with Blue Magic Hair & Scalp Conditioner, then meticulously styled with a plastic wide-tooth comb. To finish the process, my clean, wet hair was brushed before styling it into parted, rubber banded, plaited sections and embellished with hair bows, ponytail twister balls, or barrettes. As far as my young mind could process, if your hair was “nappy,” it was uncombed, unruly, and definitely undesirable in the 1970’s. My hair was not “nappy.”

I was in junior high school and headed to high school by the time I had my first kiddy perm, but by then, I was clear about the meaning of “nappy” hair vs. “good” hair. “Nappy” hair in the 1980’s, took on a different meaning; it was a textural, touchy-feely, purely aesthetic thing. My first cousins, Len and Jackie who are sisters, had “good” hair. My hair was distinctly different from their textures, and because they both had different fathers, even their “good” hair varied in texture. Interestingly, our mothers are sisters who were birthed by the same mother and father, yet their hair textures were quite different. Back then, I remember thinking that my auntie, their mother, had hair like “white folks.” It was long, jet black, wavy, and clearly what I would define today as Type 3A hair. She hardly ever wore it “down” or in a style. My aunt’s pretty, Type 3 hair was always in a shiny bun, carefully pinned in the back of her head. My mother, on the other hand, had a very different type of hair. She wore a lot of long wigs when I was a child. In fact, I don’t ever recall seeing her natural hair. I’ll talk more directly about hair types later, but as I reflect on those early years, it was around that time that I first understood that I just might have “nappy” hair.

My cousin Len’s hair was very similar to her mother’s, still in the Type 3 family. Her sister, Jackie, with Type 4A hair, had hair that was more similar to my own hair texture, Type 4B, but in my mind, Jackie’s hair was still “good” hair. I suspect I always thought that because their momma had “good” hair, they couldn’t help but to have “good” hair, too. I don’t really remember harboring any negative feelings about my hair as a child, nor do I recall being envious of my cousins’ hair when we were all children. The styling process was identical, no matter the texture. As small children, we sat on the floor, on a pillow adjusted comfortably between the knees of a female family member, to get our “hair done.” Whether or not our hair was “good” or “nappy,” it was always neatly combed and styled.

When did things change? When does hair become an obsession for girl children? In middle school, hair becomes more important to ‘tweens and teens. By the time high school is a certainty, physical appearance, in general, along with a hyper-preoccupation with looks, personal hygiene, body image, and clothing can be all-consuming. For a young girl, the desire to wear her hair “down” is a right of passage-the daily plaits, braids, or ponytails take a back seat to a more mature look. Eventually, parents yield just a bit; they allow make up and more fitted clothing complete the look.

During my career as an educator, I’ve seen the devastating effect that a bad hair day causes for the psyche of a young girl, especially if the texture of her hair is the subject of ridicule or made her the target of “checking” which inevitably leads to those dreaded four words, “…with yo’ nappy head!” Nothing, I mean nothing, seems quite as harsh to a young woman who is still grappling with her own sense of self worth than to be verbally attacked by someone who, more times than not, looks like herself. Those four harsh words, unfortunately, can become the sum total of her being. If she is not hearing consistent positive messages about her appearance from those she loves, this fact may negatively impact her self-esteem and relationships with others in the future.

The unwanted nomenclature of being “nappy-headed” conjures up images of unruly, kinky, coily, hell…nappy hair. But from where does this stigma come? What’s wrong with nappy hair? Why is nappy hair undesirable? I suspect its vestiges are deeply rooted in slavery and the rape culture that bred black and white offspring. When I was growing up, if you had “good” hair, you must have had “Indian in your family.” A quick Google search of “Indian in your family” reveals Luster’s S Curl Regular Texturizer for Natural Looking Wave & Curl Styles in Minutes. Funny to me! Clearly, in order to possess desirable, silky, wavy, or naturally “springy” curly hair, you could not be 100% black;  your genetic make-up had to include a race or culture that made you, your momma, or your grandmomma the product of a mixed-race encounter somewhere along the branches of the family tree.

Not until recently did I really care about my own hair type. The care of my natural hair made me want to understand more deeply how varied hair types require a very different hair care regimen. Do you know your hair type? This article is comprehensive and helpful when it comes to figuring out your own hair type: http://www.black-women-beauty-central.com/black-hair-types.html. You’ll see images, descriptors of curl patterns, and suggestions on how to best care for your hair type as determined by Oprah Winfrey’s famed stylist, Andre Walker. In his book, Andre Talks Hair, Walker discusses the fact that there is no such thing as bad hair and teaches you how to care for and love the hair you have.

Here are some other images to consider for the majority of black women who have Type 3 or Type 4 hair:

Type 3A Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com

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Type 3B Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com

Type 3C Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com

Type 4A Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com

Type 4B Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com

Type 4C Curly Hair-Image Courtesy of Naturallycurly.com

In 2016, black hair is still as controversial as it always has been. In our community, folks continue to reference “good” hair and its desirability. I’ve even heard stories of black women purposefully breeding with men of other ethnicities for the sole purpose of ensuring a baby with “good” hair. As ridiculous as that sounds, there is a large segment of our community who thinks this way, and it underscores the unfortunate reality and level of self-hatred in our community. Call it what you like.

If you have ANY hair, I suspect it’s good; just ask anyone, of any ethnicity, who has lost their hair to chronic illness, genetic thinning or balding, unexpected physical or emotional trauma, or unsuccessful chemical hair treatments. In my opinion, the love of your hair is inextricably tied to self-love; you cannot profess to love yourself fully without loving every inch of yourself, even the Type 4 hair that may grow from your scalp. With the resurgence of natural hair as a conscientious choice of beauty personified, I am so proud of the young sisters I see in the hallways of my school building, proudly wearing their curly mega ‘fros, hair beautifully coifed in intricate patterned braids, colorful hair clips and blingy head bands adorning frizzy, nappy, curly hair, and confidently rocking that teeny weeny Afro…with a smile, heads held high because they know, even at that age, that what they have on the inside is what really matters. Nappy and proud…

However, it took me many years, some time during my mid-20’s, to understand that ALL hair really IS “good” hair, no matter the hair type. When it comes to “nappy” hair and the images associated with deeply coiled, kinky, curly hair, we must be careful how we message self-love, especially to our children. Make it your personal goal to look into the eyes of little black girls, tell them how smart and beautiful they are, and it won’t hurt one bit to add to your loving declaration (withOUT touching it), “I love your hair!” That little girl with the Type 4 hair needs the same inner and outer beauty reassurance that the one with the Type 3 hair gets with ease. After all, India Arie expressed it best in the chorus of “I Am Not My Hair,”

I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am not your expectations no no

I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am a soul that lives within.

Andi’s Hair Journey: The Beginnings

After years of short, relaxed cuts, shoulder-length bobs, micro-braids, and even a short-lived Big Chop in 2013, I began a hair journey of mishaps, blunders, and wonders over the past 18 months.

Here I am in January 2015, fresh-faced, at my allergist’s office with a roller set:


Here I am later that same month at my sorority’s Founders Day Ecumenical Service: 

After months of personal hair care and indecision about what I wanted to do with my hair, by March 2015, my hair was relaxed, neck-length, thick, and relatively healthy. I spent about six weeks in micro braids, and I began “lightly” relaxing my hair on my own. It was presentable, but not exactly “hair-dresser straightened and styled.”  Desirous of a change and trusting my new hair stylist and colorist, I made a sudden and drastic transition during Spring Break from a very dark brown natural hair color to a lighter reddish-blond color. While I liked the initial lighter color, my hair would undergo several changes over the next year and a half.

Here I am getting color, for the first time in over 15 years (March 2015):

Color 1

Looking cute! Here is the finished result of my color treatment (March 2015):

Color 2

I took pretty good care of my tresses; almost never applying heat unless it was being professionally shampooed and conditioned, and I pin-curled or slept in magnetic or soft satin rollers to maintain a basic and conservative “style.” Eventually, the light color started to fade and dark roots grew. I was forced to make another hair decision. To color or not to color?

Color 3

Later in the summer of 2015, just before the start of a new school year, I took the color plunge once again…this time, lightening my hair considerably.

Here I am in July 2015-a blonder blond! Brows and all!

Color 4

It was a change…yes, a drastic one, and I didn’t love it or hate it. On most days, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it and there wasn’t much I could do at that point. It was simply VERY light, and I tried to camouflage it with several different styles. Once the color “calmed down” and deepened a bit (thank goodness!), I found the color more tolerable. I even experimented with different textures and curly roller sets, too.

Textures 1

Textures 2

Textures 3

So, after a few months of wearing the blondest blond (for my taste), I did what I always do when I have no idea of what I want to do with my hair…I returned to micro braids.

Hard to believe it, but underneath that dark braiding hair is a blond living and breathing! November 2015-digging the braids once again:

Braids 1

 

The Waiting Game: May 2016

I have come to the realization that it is the back of my head that stands between my Sisterlocks installation date and my waning patience. The pictures below give the appearance of my hair being pretty much one length all over, but the top of my hair is almost three times the length of the back and twice the length of the sides. I do a “hair pick check” once a week just to see how much my hair has grown. One thing is perfectly clear…my hair is super thick, and closest to the scalp, it’s super coily. I’m hopeful that the awkward (and often unsightly) spacing of the grid pattern I have  of my locks will not be a huge concern.


Getting in Touch With My Hair: February to April 2016

Anyone who has done the “Big Chop” will tell you how obsessed one becomes with one’s hair. You can’t stop touching your hair, water is your FRIEND (umbrella…for what?), and your hair is so dynamic that your emotions about your hair tend to swing and shift and fluctuate almost on a daily basis. Even though I am still rocking a TWA (teeny weeny Afro), my make-up usage has also changed with my hair. I’m wearing less of it, choosing instead to focus on making sure that my eyebrows are well-groomed, a translucent mineral powder soaks up morning oil, my lipstick or gloss is conservative and appropriate for my career, and a couple of coats of mascara ensure that I am out the door in just enough time to begin my day-on time. I spend about ten minutes each morning grooming my hair and face. I have it down to an exact science at this point which is one of the many reasons I am loving my naturalness, in general, and my sense of self, in particular. I feel pretty…all the time…and that feeling permeates my relationships with others, even strangers.

Front 1

Front 3

Front 4

Front 2

As a side note, I changed jobs in February 2016 after over 18 years as a classroom teacher teaching Spanish to urban students in a small, college-prep high school. Within that same district, I transitioned to the role of an Instructional Facilitator at another urban high school, triple the size of my former school. I realize that the “me” my new school sees everyday is a “me” that is still new to me. They (except a few newly-friended FB/IG connects) have not seen the pre-natural, non-‘fro-wearing, relaxed short cut, braided, blond-haired Andi that most of the world knows.

I kind of like that anonymity at this stage in my maturity. This new “me” is a much better me!

Now What? Girl, you’re looking GOOD!

I’m even sad to acknowledge it, but this TWA won’t be here very much longer. As much as I love the ease, the look, and the freedom from frequent visits to the salon (much more about my time than about my money), over the past several weeks, I have begun to think about what I will do with my hair next. What I know for sure is that the next transition will be a permanent one. I will not spend the next decades of my life obsessing about my hair.

Here, I am on my way to sorority meeting, and I’m feeling myself! I love my hair-in all of its nappy, frizzy, curly, coily glory!

ME

 

The Big Chop: December 2015

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. On Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 7:30 pm, I decided to “Big Chop” my almost shoulder-length relaxed and color-treated hair. Ironically, I revisited a hair stylist I had prior to my colorist to complete this powerful and emotional transition. At the time, my hair was in braids for about six weeks, but I had not colored my hair for five months, nor had I relaxed my hair in almost three months. The darker roots were completely natural, and unfortunately, the lighter ends were fried, dry, and the vestiges of very little care while braided.

I got the most out of my braids. Truth be told, after about four weeks, I’m ready to take them down. I’m never ready for Now What? that inevitably comes once the braids are out and the hair is shampooed.

Pre-Big Chop, I wore braids for several weeks (Me-December 2015)

braids

I took down the braids the weekend that Winter Break started (sorry about all the flakes-yikes!):
BC1

Here goes…nothing! After the weaved braids were removed, my relaxed hair…is gone. That was December 2015:

BC2

Bye bye, blond!

So, what’s next with what’s left? Something that is a bit scary, a bit exhilarating, a lot shorter, and definitely a very different look. All of a sudden, I had all of these textures: straight, curly, coily, nappy, frizzy! There was just no recognizable pattern, no structure (other than a very short cut), and nothing to detract from what was…my hair-short and in its natural state. I could hear my mother in the background, “You need to ALWAYS wear some big earrings and some lipstick with THAT short hair!” Ugh…

BC3

The good thing? The proverbial light at the end of a very dark tunnel? It was Winter Break 2015, so I had at least a couple of weeks to play around with my hair-mourn the loss of my relaxed look, adjust my lifestyle to accept a new look, deeply condition it, experiment with products, grow to like it. I thought I was ready when I saw my hair in a pile on the beauty shop floor. I was not when I got home and took a long look in the mirror. In the meantime, I wore hats, lots of hats to camouflage my perceptions of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This face says it all:

BC4

Yeah, Delta ‘nalia was the gear of the winter break for me. When I wasn’t outside, I was “sequestered” inside obsessing with my new ‘do-conditioning it, running my fingers through my baby curls/coils, massaging my scalp, and just reflecting…what was I going to do with my hair when I returned to school, how would my hair be perceived by others, what was I thinking????????????


BC5

Hat

I had been on hiatus from FaceBook, Instagram, and all other forms of social media since my 47th birthday in November 2015; no one (except my hair stylist, immediate family, and close friends) knew about my Big Chop. I was planning a “comeback” to social media sometime after the start of the new year, but I just didn’t know exactly when I would do the Big Reveal.

Winter Break came to an uneventful close, and in the process, I grew to like my hair. Shocking, even to me. It was “finding its curl pattern,” and I was feeling more confident about my hair every single day. Those straight, weird prickly ends started to circle into each other and alas! Curls! Not only was I was beginning to like my hair, I was beginning to love its multi-textures, its consistent growth, its smell, and its look!

Hair 2

Hair 1

The Big Reveal: January 2016

New Year! New Attitude! New ME! I spent the last 15 days or so of 2015 getting used to my new hair and introducing my new look to my family and my close friends. Now, I would take my “show on the road” by returning to work after the holiday and returning to social media after a ten week hiatus.

This is the first picture I posted on FaceBook after my hiatus-January 2016:

BC7

My new look was well received by my students and colleagues, as well as by my friends and family on social media…there was, of course, that other acceptance, my husband, Frank. His acceptance of my hair deserves a separate post, so I will return to Frank’s love (or lack thereof) of my hair much later on during this journey. My hair journey is just that-about me and no one else.

IMG_2547

Over the next few weeks, I became more intimate with my growing TWA, and I was excited about the health of my hair-I wore those wiry graying temples like a badge of courage! My hair seemed to get thicker by the day!

BC8

Hair 4

Hair 5

Overwhelming, the response to my Big Reveal was positive. There is always the occasional, “Your hair looks good on you! It wouldn’t look good on me.” “Why did you cut your beautiful hair?” “What happened to your hair?” “What did you do to your hair?” “Are you going to color your hair?” And of course, my favorite, “What does Frank think about your hair?”

The Consultation: Mother’s Day-May 8, 2016

Finally, I made a decision about my next steps. I was never really interested in wearing my hair in multiple styles for a year or so to “play around with” my natural hair. At my age, I’m certain that permanence is a more stable step for me. After a few weeks of exhaustive research about traditional locs vs. microlocs vs. Sisterlocks, I contacted two local consultants by emailing pictures of me with my TWA, concerned specifically about the length of my hair on the sides and back and whether or not my hair could (or would) lock at that length. Still researching websites and blogs daily, I decided that I would rather meet with an authorized consultant about my next hair transition than obsess about the process. Luckily, one of the two consultants responded to me by calling within 24 hours. She was not only timely in her response, but friendly and professional. Truth is, I never heard from the second consultant, and I’m glad. Responsiveness is a must and poor customer service would be the bane of my existence-not a good look for that local consultant (who shall remain nameless).

Armed with my supportive cousin and sidekick, Randy (RJ), and my newly found web knowledge of Sisterlocks, I met with a certified consultant around 2:30 pm on Sunday, May 8, 2016. RJ had traditional locks for several years, so I was very comfortable sharing this leg of my journey with him. I needed a supportive companion with me; I needed someone positive by my side.

I knew that she was going to be with a client when RJ and I entered the salon, so I was being “fit in” during a break. We all exchanged pleasantries, and she handed me a binder portfolio of her work which showcased different Sisterlocked styles and growth progression from installation to a different point in time. Periodically, she would check to see if I had questions. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to speak frankly with her in the presence of her client…not because I didn’t have questions, but because I felt a bit guarded about “my process” and who was privy to the details, especially from inception. While perusing the portfolio, I relaxed a bit and resolved that the sister whose appointment time I invaded for my consult wasn’t my enemy. She was another sister, like me…wanting to care for our natural hair in a very holistic, lifestyle-affirming way.

Shortly after our arrival, the husband of the consultant’s client arrived to keep his wife company for the afternoon break. It was then that she sat down with me and discussed the Sisterlocks method, my lifestyle, my reason for wanting Sisterlocks, and my hair, in general. RJ and I continued to look through the portfolio, and I asked questions about some of her clients’ hair. I showed her some screenshots on my phone of Sisterlocked styles (harvested from different websites during my research phase) on very short hair, similar to mine in length and/or texture. It was difficult to find short Sisterlock styles, and from that realization, the idea of creating a blog was inspired. I understood the hair length requirements, but I knew that I couldn’t be the only TWA-er desirous of Sisterlocks.

Walking into the salon, I was not 100% sure that I was going to continue along the Sisterlocks path. However, I left the salon resolved that I am taking the path that is right for me. My chief concern, at that time, was how the locks would look on my head, with this length, with this coarse, nappy, frizzy, curly, coily texture. One of the things that became clear to me, sitting on that couch with RJ by my side, is that EVERYONE’S hair is different. It is virtually impossible to look at another woman’s locks and say, “Make mine look like hers!” This is the part of the process that is both scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Before we went any further, she handed me two information and disclosure forms about the consultancy to read and sign, and I headed to her chair so that she could take a closer look at my hair.

The shot above shows two installed “test” locks (one is more prominent than the other). My hair had been shampooed the day before, and it was styled using my typical curl-enhancing products.

What I like about this picture is the subtle capture of several textures throughout my TWA, up close and personal. RJ is stretching out one of the locks so that it can be clearly distinguished. It is flanked by a wiry gray hair that he pulls out as well. My hair is very thick.

Here are those same locks from two different angles (top and bottom pictures). I left the salon that day very reflective about the visit. In an effort to subdue my need for instant gratification, I walked out, somewhat disappointed, that I had to wait…I had to postpone my plans…I had to be more patient. I needed more length in the back of my head of hair. Another half inch to a full inch, so the waiting game continues. Ever watched a phone, waiting for it to ring? You get the point…

~Worth Noting: Within this blog or comments, I’ll never address or discuss the expense of any phase of my hair journey as it relates to the installation and maintenance of my Sisterlocks. I do this for one primary reason-my experience, my hair, my process, and my expense will not be yours. Every client has a different cost based on your head of hair, and it is the consultant’s responsibility to assess your hair and determine your cost. I will divulge that I have to budget my expenses to ensure that my hair receives the attention it deserves along this journey.