Hairstory (my hair history)

Good Naija Girl's Hairstory - age 10For the first 17 years of my life, my hair was relaxer-free and my mom was our family’s hair guru: she took care of the hair of five people, often staying up late to do it all, especially before school would start in September. This is one of the many reasons that I’d do anything for my mom—she was dedicated to our upkeep. At first she did the Yoruba style of braiding (irun didi, which looked like teeeny french braids) for my sister and I and sometimes she’d “thread” our hair (irun kiko? I’m sure that’s not the right term); later she learned how to cornrow (we called it weaving) which is similar to irun didi.

There were only two Black girls in my graduating class in high school and I was the only one who braided her hair. My classmates thought my hair was cool, but after years of wearing it one way, I wanted hair that moved when I moved, hair that could be pulled quickly into a smooth ponytail or bun to match my low-key ways—I didn’t mind sitting for hours to get my hair braided but taking the braids out was annoying. And after years of watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and admiring Ashley Banks’s (Tatyana M. Ali) glorious hair, after seeing Oprah’s hair, and seeing the silkiness of my Jamaican classmate’s hair, I was ready to explore the world of relaxed hair.

My mom applied my first relaxer and I remember how excited I was as I set everything up in the bathroom. The results fell far short of my expectations: though it was fully relaxed my new hair didn’t move like Tatyana’s, Oprah’s, or my Jamaican friend’s. I later learned that Tatyana’s mixed heritage (her mother is Panamanian of African descent while her father is Trinidadian of East Indian descent) explained why our hair looked nothing alike. It also turned out that Oprah’s flowing locks were usually courtesy of very expensive weaves (though she had plenty of her own hair that looked much like her weaves), and after asking my Jamaican friend how her hair looked before she ever added relaxer, I learned that Black hair has many textures and variations. Looking back I see how naive I was: I was completely unaware of the intricacies of Black hair in my corner of Canada. I didn’t have any Black friends, and didn’t have any hair influences aside from my mom whose go-to hair styles were Jheri curls (yuck!) and Bob Marley style braids (do they still call it that?), styles that didn’t appeal to me because they were for old ladies and took too long to do, respectively.

Even though my hair didn’t move like I wanted it to and it took longer to style than I had ever wanted, I was happy enough with the look to keep doing it. But if someone had told me that my hair would reach its maximum length in 2001 and refuse to grow much longer than that, I wouldn’t have believed them—I really thought my hair would get super long one day—instead all it did was break.

2001 hair 2

I thought maybe it was the relaxer preventing me from having the hair I dreamed of so I kept searching for the perfect relaxer. I tried many different brands, all with the same result—hair that was fully relaxed but didn’t fall naturally into any of the styles plastered on the relaxer box. I stopped getting home relaxers, certain that the key was getting a hair dresser to do it. The result was hair that looked amazing when I left the salon but was impossible to recreate at home because I didn’t have the most important tools of all: a second pair of hands at the back of my head.

I’ve tried many salons over the years:

  • home-based salons, where I would compete for attention with the hair dresser’s children, husband, and friends (on the phone or in person)
  • salons where the hairdresser didn’t care about customer service and would keep those of us with appointments waiting, and serve walk-in clients as if they were higher priority because they were coming in to buy products
  • a hair dresser who routinely over-greased my hair and styled it in an old-fashioned style despite my specific request for “not too much oil” and providing pictures of the styles I wanted. With my extra weight I don’t need help looking matronly, thank-you-very-much!
  • a hair dresser who routinely under-relaxed my hair because she didn’t want the hair to be over-processed (which is good), but I’d have to come back a few weeks later because my hair was barely relaxed. It wasn’t until she accidentally chopped several inches of my hair off in 2011 that I finally parted ways with her.

I found a good salon in my neighbourhood soon after, but the owner sold it last year. The new owner wasn’t a hair dresser and I foolishly agreed to let one of her staff who hadn’t relaxed hair before (but had been trained) to relax my hair. It looked great until I washed it and realized it was barely relaxed. Thankfully they have someone who can relax hair so now I only do my hair with her. But the salon was sold again last month and my hair dresser is thinking of leaving. If she leaves it’ll be back to the drawing board.

So what’s next? Last year I shared four things I hated about relaxed hair, and I shared on Instagram that I was tempted to shave my hair off. Going natural could be the next logical step but I just don’t think it’ll fulfill my desire for something low-key—unless I plan to rock an afro I’m not sure what my “wash and go” options are (and when I say “wash and go” I mean that, literally, not “wash and spend four hours creating a style”). Disclaimer: I haven’t done my research yet so my concerns may be unfounded. There are lots of mixed messages out there about the ease of natural hair: some say it’s low maintenance but then I read some elaborate regimens and I just want to cry.

After all of this, it turns out that what I really want is waves or curls that could be straightened occasionally. While I decide if natural hair and a big chop is in my future, I’m going to experiment with some hair styles I’ve seen on YouTube that give a curly or wavy effect: I’m going to scrunch hair my hair using this tutorial and I want to try making curls from Bantu knots. There will be pictures.

  1. How do you wear your hair?
  2. Is there a hair style you’ve wanted to try but never have?
  3. I read somewhere that a big chop might not be required to transition, and that’s very attractive to me—has anyone transitioned from relaxed to natural hair without doing a big chop?

43 thoughts on “Hairstory (my hair history)

  1. Jummy! this topic couldn’t be more aptly timed for me. I am a natural hair wearer :-) I wrote a post about it here a few years ago here is the link: http://triumphantorder.blogspot.com/search?q=hair. Any way, yesterday I went and got my natural hair straightened/pressed?. I kind of wanted a change, this is the first time since being natural from 2008 getting my hair straightned.

    I think you could try out the natural hair journey. Please don’t be overwhelmed with all the youtube “rituals” It doesn’t require all that….really. The most important thing should you decide to try the natural hair is to keep it moisturized and don’t comb it dry (spritz with a little water). Also take a daily multi vitamin that will help promote the growth of healthy hair and eventually gradually increase your water intake. From my humble opinion, maintenance/cultivation of healthy hair is probably 10% what you put on your hair on your hair, 30% how you care for it (keeping it clean, tying in up at night before bed to reduce breakage, proper combing techniques etc.) and the other 60% is being healthy yourself like drinking adequate water, eating healthy and taking vitamin supplements.

    Also if you decide to cut your permed hair and start over growing out your natural hair, depending on how comfortable you are, you could wear wigs and weaves until your hair grows to a comfortable length or until you figure out natural hair styles that suit you.

    • Hi Highly Favored!

      Wow—the timing is uncanny! Thanks for sharing your hair journey. Straightening or pressing sounds more temporary than relaxing—is that true? Does it involve chemicals?

      Thanks for the tips too: I would not have thought that food and drink had that much impact on the hair.

      Ah, wigs! My next post covers the topic of wigs so I hope you’ll share your knowledge and experience at that time.

  2. I found this post hilarious! Oh my goodness, African women and our hair = Drama.. I think everyone has a story! But from your picture, your hair is lovely and long!
    I remember when I was younger and I used to wait for the time my hair would look like those advertised on the pack after putting the relaxer in… I was always disappointed.. Then I discovered weaves LOL.
    I have relaxed hair and I usually put in extensions to try out different styles and looks.
    I don’t think I would venture going without relaxing my hair because looking after it takes a lot of commitment (don’t sue me lol)..

    • Hiya Ayo!

      Thanks for the compliment on my 2001 hair! Right now it doesn’t look so great (it’s about necklength). I’ll be sharing the good, bad and ugly of it in my nex hair-related post.

      If I end up transitioning I think I owe it to myself to try extensions and see what else I can do, just so I can say I did it. And lol don’t worry: I certanly can’t sue you because I feel the same way about natural hair—though I find it beautiful what I’ve heard sounds like more work than I’m prepared to put in!

  3. I have natural hair, and I stopped relaxing in 2006 because the hair was cutting (I wasn’t taking care of it). You could say I transitioned unconsciously. When I finally went to get the relaxed ends trimmed off, the guy got scissor happy and gave me a BC *rolls eyes* Care-wise, since I started as a contributor on African Naturalistas, I’ve done a better job of taking care of it. I’m not perfect, I think there are a few issues with my hair that I need to tackle.

    As far as styles I’e always wanted to try, I’ve done weaves, wigs, braids, etc. But what I want now are faux locs and a long, wavy weave!

    • Berry! You’re definitely one of the first Nigerian bloggers I think of when I think of natural hair. I would have been furious with the guy who took matters into his own hands and did a big chop…sounds like you took it in stride!

      African Naturalistas would definitely be a go-to site if I go natural.

      Faux locs…I saw them on Adanna (of Youtube fame) and they looked great!

  4. Here’s what I’m stuck on – “I wanted hair that moved when I moved”….I wonder how much of our hair desires are caught up in those, for lack of a better term, white standards of beauty ? Probably most of it, given that the hair relaxer and hot comb were invented for those very same reasons, to help black women make their hair more like the hair of white women (documented facts from the inventors o. Not my opinion).
    Anyhoo. I’m natural and VERY low maintenance with it. Perming caused years of damage that I am still paying for. These days, A bun is my go to default style. Every now and then I’ll do braids or a weave.
    P.s. did you know Oprah was natural? She doesn’t perm her hair

    • Thanks for the thought provoking comment, Naijawife!

      I agree that our environment definitely influences our choices and desires. Aside from my mom who was natural most of the time (she stopped Jheri curls in the 1990s but wore braids up until recently), I had no natural hair influences in my life (still don’t). My laziness (aka “low maintenance” because that sounds better) made me desire hair that was wash and go without depending on my mom to do it, and relaxer was and is that for me. I’ve always loved curls though so I’m excited to experiment, whether I go natural or not.

      When did you stop relaxing your hair?

  5. I’ve been natural for 4 years now. I did a big chop, but I hadn’t relaxed in a couple of months and my natural hair was just about long enough to braid (using ‘kinky’ hair extensions) into protective styles. I honestly knew nothing about looking after natural hair back then. All I knew was that I was fed up with the chemicals in relaxers and that I wanted to embrace my hair in its natural state (I was working a lot on self-acceptance at the time). Plus my hair was starting to break and change colour (from dark to light brown!); it also seemed to have stopped growing!
    I’ve worn protective styles consistently over the four years and my hair is now armpit length. Would love to ditch the extensions altogether and try twist-outs, braid-outs etc..thank goodness for youtube hair tutorials :)

    • This may be silly of me but I feel like having natural hair and being a vegan go hand in hand! :)

      Oh my goodness—armpit length?! I can’t imagine having hair that long. Yes you must ditch the extensions and let that natural hair out!!!

  6. Yay! Hair! One of my favorite topics. Of course my inner childhood tomboy just rolled over in its grave. Let me see should I answer your questions first or give you advise? Ok questions first because your last question leads into my advise. I wear my hair natural. Got my last official perm in 2008 but went through quite a few hair cuts because I tried the texturizer thing. I have been wanting to try coloring/dying my hair for two years now and have not had the liver because I have heard about how drying color can be and risks of causing hair breakage which I already struggle with. Yes, it is possible to transition without a big chop but it is often not feasible or practical. Think about how hard it is to deal with either permed or natural hair and then multiply that by 2 when trying to maneuver two textures! I think natural hair can be easy or hard depending on your personality and hair goals. What do I mean? I get bored with hair and love trying new products. At the very least I wash and baby my hair every 2 was and eager to experiment with styles, so for me, my hair maintenance pretty much takes a whole weekend. However, the longer I am natural the less elaborate my styles are and the shorter the time spent. Also once you pass the in between stage then your hair can go into a simple bun which is a life saver. However no matter how long or short the hair, perfecting a regimen of washing without tangles will be a thesis and will never be easier than washing permed hair. Okay so on the other hand, I have a coworker with natural hair and in the 3 yrs she has been natural she does the same style which is a puff. She says she doesn’t care about hair tangling or length, just hair that is not bothered. So for her being natural must be simple! Whenever I get tired of dealing with my hair I wear a wig, do crotchet braids. I am currently wearing a style called tree braids which is ok, and believe it or not I kinda miss my hair already. Wow this may be the longest comment ever.

    • Lol mpb! Hair is one of your favourite topics and you always have such good advice.

      Thanks for saying that washing natural hair will never be easier than relaxed hair. I think there are a lot of pros for going natural that we don’t need to downplay the reality of it to make a point, know what I mean?

      I would totally be your coworker, except I would care about length and tangling. Going natural means prioritizing hair health and I definitely want longer hair.

      Food for thought; thanks as always!

  7. Oh Jummy! This post is…so you. Haha :)

    I wear my hair in plaits. Then a wig cap. Then a wig. This has been my protective style for most of the winter. Sometimes I tie a scarf and end up looking matronly—which pits me against my mother because she hates the look. Lol

    Now. while there are many things you can do to/with your natural hair, there is enormous responsibility on you to nourish that hair. Natural/non-relaxed hair needs more moisture than oyinbos’ hair and you need to moisturize your ends religiously. (Again, Canada is cold)

    Be honest with yourself: can you wake up extra early to condition your hair and twist/unlock your strands; to wear a shower cap overnight with product in your hair? I can’t, really! I’m not saying it’s hard…but wash n’ gos aren’t just for me. Especially if you’re a 4c like me.

    Please don’t be discouraged. However, know that going natural isn’t going to immunize your hair from breakage.

    What grows hair is: nutrition, care/regimen consistency, and yes— faith, regardless of whether you’re relaxed or not.

    • Loved this comment, even though I don’t know what you’re getting at about the post being me—hmmph! I’m glad I’m me sha, Maggs! ;)

      Do you do your own plaits?

      What’s clear is there’s no easy way to get what I want for my hair—hair that is always moisturized and loooong!

  8. I know what you mean about having hair that moved with you! I honestly think that’s every African girl’s dream! I actually had quite good hair (or so I was told!), would grow quite well and relatively long for a Naija person but then I got sick of maintaining it living in the
    middle of nowhere with no African salon for miles! so I did a big chop back in 2012 and I’ve been on this since then. Sometimes I texturise it and colour it and sometimes I just leave it – awesome for my get up and go attitude too!
    My dream hair do is dreads!!! But people have scared me with the maintenance thing. My sister is currently on it so I’m waiting for feedback from her first before I go down that road!
    The hair journey never ends!

    • Thanks jare…let’s not fool ourselves about “the dream” we once had of flowing locks…happily we know better now about the reality.

      I like your hair, Tola—short hair really suits you and I love how adventurous you are with it by adding colour (hehe, saw this from scanning your Instagram pics!).

      Dreads! If you want to try the look without “going all the way” you could try Adanna’s faux dreadlocks tutorial.

      Your absolutely right that the hair journey never ends…I hadn’t thought about it because I’m hoping that I’ll happen upon the perfect hair for me but even if I do I’ll probably want to try different things occasionally.

  9. Weird question from an Asian girl: When black people straighten their hair, they call it a “perm.” However, when white people or Asians “perm” their hair, they mean some sort of permanent curling action. Why is that?

    • It’s a good question, Cynthia, one that I’ve wondered about but haven’t actually asked…the only thing I can think of is since perm is short for “permanent”, maybe it doesn’t matter what your hair’s original state is and instead a perm is the process that you have to go through to alter its state (which I hear is quite similar whether you’re adding a wave or curl to your hair or straightening it).

  10. Jumz! I love reading this. It bring me to the realization that women all over the world are alike. no matter what kind, texture, color of hair we have, we always want to have it another way. hahahaha!. I have asian hair but i have always wished to have very curly hair. hahahaha!

    Love and miss you! :)

    • Jabz! Can you imagine: you have oodles of dark wavy hair and I loooove it and wish I had it! But yup, we often wish we had what we don’t have naturally.

      I think of you often! We need to catch up soon.

      Love you too!

  11. My mother made me wear my natural hair for two years before applying relaxer. That was between 2006 – 2008. Qw q ‘quater cast’, I inherited my a tiny fraction of my grandma caucasian hair. It was difficult for one to tell if my natural hair was textalaxed (I know I got the spelling wrong) or not. Fastforward to when I finally applied relaxer and I was among the lucky few to have a hair texture looking better than those models in our relaxer packs. Unfortunately, I noticed my hair has been stunted since 2011 (hair is currently 15 inches I think). Though my hair still has volume and I still gets shouts of ‘OMG is this your hair?’, my Oliver Twist nature has made me considered transitioning to natural hair cos of my stunted hair length. My challenges are

    1. These natural hair maintenance videos on youtube makes me cringe. Is taking care of natural hair that expensive and time consuming? Currently, my hair routine is applying apple hair products once in a week, wash once in 5 weeks with an ‘unknown’ shampoo & conditioner . *sigh*

    2. I’m trying to get a decent job. Nigerian employer(s) may take one look at my hair and perceive me as homeless

    3. I have terrible dandruff issues. Going natural might make it more difficult to manage.

    4. Hairdressers overcharged me for braids and weave when I was natural.

    5. Is it possible my hair is destined to be 15inches?

  12. My mother made me wear my natural hair for two years before applying relaxer. That was between 2006 – 2008. Qw q ‘quater cast’, I inherited my a tiny fraction of my grandma caucasian hair. It was difficult for one to tell if my natural hair was textalaxed (I know I got the spelling wrong) or not. Fastforward to when I finally applied relaxer and I was among the lucky few to have a hair texture looking better than those models in our relaxer packs. Unfortunately, I noticed my hair has been stunted since 2011 (hair is currently 15 inches I think). Though my hair still has volume and I still gets shouts of ‘OMG is this your hair?’, my Oliver Twist nature has made me considered transitioning to natural hair cos of my stunted hair length. My challenges are

    1. These natural hair maintenance videos on youtube makes me cringe. Is taking care of natural hair that expensive and time consuming? Currently, my hair routine is applying apple hair products once in a week, wash once in 5 weeks with an ‘unknown’ shampoo & conditioner . *sigh*

    2. I’m trying to get a decent job. Nigerian employer(s) may take one look at my hair and perceive me as homeless

    3. I have terrible dandruff issues. Going natural might make it more difficult to manage.

    4. Hairdressers overcharged me for braids and weave when I was natural.

    5. Is it possible my hair is destined to be 15inches? I can’t bear the thought of doing the big chop for nothing

    • Thank you for sharing your hairstory, naijasinglegirl! Hair that’s currently 15 inches long, looks better than the pictures of relaxed hair, and people always wonder if it’s your hair? I’m drooling here! And you only wash once every five weeks? Tell me your secret: my hair itches to be washed after 5-6 days but I wait a couple more days and wash once a week.

      You’re right that some natural hair styles are considered unkempt and unprofessional, but it’s all in how you carry yourself—if you wear your hair confidently rather than letting it wear you, I would hope it wouldn’t affect your chances. And you can always put your natural hair into a bun which is always acceptable in a work environment. That being said you’d have to find a reasonably priced hairdresser for braids and weaves first (maybe they overcharged out of jealousy?) and sort out the dandruff issue. There are some shampoos here (Canada) that work well (Nizoral, Head and Shoulders)…and moisturizing your scalp could help too.

  13. So instead of working, i came here to read about your hair…haha
    You could say I’m transitioning right now as i’ve not had a perm or texturiser for months. I don’t want to do the big chop, so i’m covering it up a lot. For me it’s more of an ‘i’m tired of the relaxed look’. If i find it too demanding, i’m switching to waves lol

    • Lol I’m flattered that you thought of this blog when it comes to wasting time! ;)

      Unconscious transitioning—that’s fun! Have you been natural before?

      Would the waves you mention be from a weave? Help a sister out!

  14. Lol, the dream of a ”hair that moved when I moved” ended like the day I realized that santa claus was my dad’s friend in a costume :(

    I wear my hair natural(on protective styles or a wig); Transitioned for 8 months and just couldn’t stand the two textures and my relaxed ends on my comb, so I did a ”small chop” and was glad I did.

    Before I went natural,I’ve always wanted to do the tiny ”million braids” but just the thought of it gave me goose pimples, because of the time it took to have it done and the damage it’ll do on my very fine edges. So I was stuck with admiring the style on others.
    Now that I’m 2yrs+ natural, I wish I could do a free flying wash and go, the type we see on youtube, but humidity says no-no .
    Sometimes, hair is just more than hair :)

    • Lol! You mean Santa Claus doesn’t exist?!?

      Oh I hear you on the million braids concept but I too would fear for my edges! My mom had tiny braids and her hairline suffered for it (and is still suffering for it)—never again!

      Maybe if you find the right humidity-control product, wash and go can be a reality for you once again…this is my challenge for you!

      Thanks for commenting, Nky, and welcome! :)

  15. I’ve been natural for about 10 years. I transitioned for about 6 months which means I stopped getting relaxers and let my hair grow out. The two textures [relaxed and natural] did not work well with my hair so at the end of 6 months I cut off all my straight hair. There are many sites now to look up natural hair information (Nappturality.com, facebook groups, youtube) that were not as prevalent when I started. The main reason I decide to go natural was because I was sick of going to the hairdresser for hours on end and then the style only lasting for a week. My hair is very thick and tightly coiled and even the few times I’ve gone to get it straightened it takes upwards of 5 hours. I wear my hair in an afro, twists, braids, anyway I want. I haven’t encountered much opposition to my hair and I’ve always had corporate jobs. Take as much time as you want before you make a decision because it is vastly different. When I had relaxed hair rain and water used to be my enemy and now I purposely wet my hair.

    • Wow; 10 years of going natural! I think that’s a record among those who’ve commented. I wish i had so much hair that it would take 5 hours to straighten—I can’t imagine!

      I’d love to know where you live, Jessica; it seems those who live outside of Nigeria are less concerned about their natural hair being seen as not appropriate for a corporate job. I’ve gotten requests from non-African colleagues to wear my hair natural because they want to see what it would be like.

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Jessica!

      • Hi! Sorry it took me a while to get back to you. I live in the States, Atlanta to be exact, my parents are from Guyana.

        Previously to me going natural my only influences were some members in my family, in particular my sister who went and shaved her whole head about a year before I went natural. I had an aunt and one cousin who were natural before but one kept their hair always short and the other had a wavy texture (Some members of my family are mixed with Indian or American Indian).

        I don’t see many Nigerian counterparts with natural hair. About half of the few Nigerians in my extended family are natural as well .

        Before more women went natural I was inundated with requests or comments about how I need to fix my hair from my mother as well as my Nigerian ex. Black co-workers/mentors would consistently compliment me on how professional my hair was so I was assured and confident that my stylings were never an issue.

        My non-black friends think my hair is interesting as do the black ones. I think that most people aren’t used seeing women with natural hair.

        • Hi Jessica!

          So interesting, thanks for sharing more about your journey.

          Hair can be such a charged topic! I wonder how your sister dealt with all the comments she must have gotten upon shaving her head!

          When you first went natural you said there weren’t many women who are; now you can be a source of information and inspiration for women who want to go natural.

  16. I’m #teamwearwhateverrocksyourboat!
    Found myself going natural when I got tired of relaxing my hair and then having to cover it up with weave or braids! It just wasn’t werking so we parted ways.
    Caring for natural hair is hardwork but I’m pretty sure, your hair will grow if you stay consistent (I hope :D)

    • lol “I hope”…you’re right! I hear you on being tired of relaxing though…just need to figure out the best solution for me.

  17. I love natural hair. You can check out my feature on mane matters.

    http://www.africanaturalistas.com/2014/07/i-do-not-regret-decision-to-go-natural.html

    I transitioned to natural hair while keeping braids to make the process easier. I used to be so scared of all the natural hair regimens on YouTube but I managed to come up with something that worked for me after years of trial. My decision to go natural was more of an ethical one. I was not comfortable forcing my hair to be not what God made it to be and I used to get terrible relaxer burns. I just had enough and I love the freedom now.
    Natural hair is definitely harder to maintain than relaxed hair but my reasons for going natural compensates for any kind of pain I may feel with my kinkyness

    Don’t rule out going natural Jummy.

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