I hate to admit it, but I never really saw my natural hair during wash days growing up. By three-years-old, I had a relaxer and was committed to Sunday hot comb rituals, where my grandma warmed the sizzling tool on the stovetop to press out my roots. In middle school, extensions – haphazardly glued to my scalp—become my staple look to blend in with my predominantly white competitive cheer team. When I got to high school, lace front wigs were plastered across the front of my hairline twice a month, so I could always have the latest hairstyles.
Growing up in the South in a family of cosmetologists, weaves felt like a rite of passage. There was a pervasive internalized belief that Black natural hair was unmanageable, had no versatility, and couldn’t exist without being incessantly straightened. With every after-hours hair appointment in my family’s living room and 5 A.M. maintenance routine ahead of school, I wrestled with the concept that my natural hair was unworthy.
When I got to college three years ago, I experienced the reckoning many Black women face with their natural hair: The infamous big chop. In my boyfriend’s college apartment, we took a pair of clippers and buzzed my hair down to a close-cropped cut. My neglected strands and years of exhausting insecurities fell in piles across the floor.
Since then, my natural hair journey has come with its share of mental roadblocks. I relented from intimidating consumerism, which suggests that natural hair requires shelves of products. I realized how I’ve used protective styles to conceal rather than to protect, and had to shake my belief that my short 4C hair is the “ugly stage” of achieving a sky-scraping ‘fro. Wash days at the kitchen sink, often accompanied by my boyfriend’s reassuring assistance, have become a revolutionary act of self-love and a reminder that I can vault every challenge in this new phase of my life.
Below, the tried-and-true products that have helped me along the winding journey of loving my hair in its natural state.
I have low porosity hair, and learned that saturation and absorption of moisture is difficult along my hair shafts, which was paramount to understanding my wash day routine. The cleansing properties of most shampoos were often too harsh and left my hair feeling dry, even post-deep conditioning. Atop my stove, I melt an eyeballed mixture of shea butter and aloe vera gel fresh from my household plant. I apply the warm mixture to my hair and detangle it from tip to root with a Pattern Beauty’s wide-tooth comb. Overnight, the concoction lathers my strands to revitalize my natural oils and creates the perfect barrier to maintain luster and sheen for the next day’s wash.
I quickly discovered during shampoo sessions that I am, indeed, what my mother would call “tender-headed.” Years of unaddressed split ends mean my coils have been weakened and are susceptible to tangling into knots. This is where positive affirmations come in, since my knots trigger old emotions that make me feel that my hair is unnecessarily demanding. I’m often reminded of the common Southern saying “You wash clothes, you shampoo hair.” In essence, it means that hair is complex and requires its own method of care.
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