yes, I know. I've been MIA so we're gonna do some retroactive blogging here...
Twas a lovely sunny weekend in November. I mean *really* sunny: birds are chirping, people are frolicking...and there I was, about to go sit for 12 hours and get another set of braids. 6 hours on Saturday, 6 on Sunday to be exact. No sunny outside time for me, just a full weekend of indoor hair time. I had planned to get a braided bob style so that I could "transition" getting used to having shorter hair for my Big Chop that I was planning in the spring. Because my hair was longer I knew I needed to cut some of the relaxed ends off...perfect idea. A transitional cut for a transitional set of braids for a transitional head.
My braids had been taken out a couple days before (experimenting with a braid mullet along the way) so that morning , I wash, I condition, and I begin cut off the relaxed ends. Annnnd I get a little scissor happy. Next thing I know the relaxer is pretty much gone AND my roommates are giving me compliments! They encouraging me to just leave it like that and ditch the braiding idea besides "did I really want to stay inside all weekend??". NOPE! I look in the mirror and look out at the sunshine beaming everywhere. Done deal. No more braids. Its natural time baby!
So I cancel my braids (sorry Ifeoma, I still owe you lunch!) and call Sassy Salon, a shop I knew worked with natural hair using Miss Jessie's products cause I mean...CassidyScissorHands wasn't looking TOO cute...I needed some help. They fit me in within 1 hour--it was meant to be!
After a deep conditioning treatment, they detangled and fully cut
off the relaxed ends, set me up with a head of two strand twists and I was out the door! (this took 4.5 hours...I have to
add...and the entire time I was thinking, I thought "going natural
was supposed to be easy! how am I going to do this at home??)
The next morning I take out the twists and I found myself with a head full of bouncy springy shiny curls!
So that was that! I went natural on a whim! (I mean as much of a whim as a year of active transitioning is) Lots more to say on how its been and I certainly plan on doing so---The Blog is back and it feels so good!
A term typically used to describe the seemingly stupid and senseless behavior of hares during the mating season that I would like to appropriate to describe my own strange behavior as of late.
Basically, I have a staring problem. I know. It's kind of an issue.
As I learn more about natural hair, continue to talk with people, and write this blog, I find myself stealing more than a glance at what people have perched on top of their heads. It's been dangerous, its been embarrassing, but most importantly, its been oh so fun. Yesterday I had to ask a sales woman to repeat herself after my eyes and mind wandered to her head and off to play the always-fun game of "Weave-or-Real?". Followed by nearly biking myself into a parked car when I saw a truly beautiful free-flowing bounty of natural curls.
I saw a gawky, but hip teenage couple walking down the street and wanted to run after them to tell her girl that I really liked her Side Hawk! (In this case, natural black hair pulled into probably 3 vertical pony tails on the right side of her head). I checked myself before appearing too creepy. This happens about 1-5 times a day. Eventually something's going to give. And I will have *quite* the story to tell on this blog.
I've even begun to apply things I've learned on this Natural Selection adventure. For example, thanks to the interweb, my eyes have been opened to hair typing: the controversial art categorizing curl patterns. I've learned that a #2 isn't a pencil, but resembles more the loose waves of J.Lo; that 3's come in different spiraled flavors: A, B, and C; and that some folks have z-shaped hair patterns which fall into the category of 4. (check out this LINK for a break down of all these types)
I don't like to judge or stereotype based on appearances and I won't either. I think hair typing should be used as a general guide to understanding the fact that there so many types of hair and curls exist out there, not for pigeonholing, besides, its not rare that one person will have 3 different "types" of hair.
That said, I WILL do a thorough check-out and analysis of your strands if you are anywhere within a 10-foot radius of me. And the rest of your posse too. I just can't help myself.
I guess that's what happens when I have braids: I have so little to worry about in terms of my own coif that my eyes and brain are completely free to be occupied with the hair of everyone else. (And How!). These braids of mine have about one month to go. Consider yourselves warned....
Nana is one of the cooler people I know. Way cooler than me. Way cooler than you. I mean we're talking about top tier awesome here. For my entire life Nana has always epitomized the idea of unique style and individual expression. Whether it is one of her dozens of multi-colored, multi-patterned, multi-styled reading glasses or a pair of hot pink trousers paired with fabulously coordinated accoutrements, Nana is always rocking that which is hip, fresh, and impeccably groovin. And probably listening to music that falls into those same categories too.
Her hair is also one of her main mediums for externalizing her awesomeness for public viewing. Never afraid of being too out there, she has gone through every hairstyle in the book from relaxers + highlights to an asymmetrical ‘fro to her current set of locks which themselves have been spotted in s'ponies (side ponytails), intricate updo's, sometimes even bedazzled with garnish fresh from the garden.
The Nan', as she is sometimes referred to in the fam, has also been responsible for wrangling my hair as a little girl and spent hours upon hours doing so. She has not only been responsible for making me look presentable, but also her 4 children, 12 grandchildren and I'm sure some assorted characters along the way. So I thought I'd sit her down and pick her brain about her hairstories...read on for the transcript!
Me: So, nana, as you know we are here because I’ve started a blog about going natural and I would like to return to the source of, well return to my roots so to speak, and talk to the people who have had a lot of experience in doing my hair throughout my life. What do you think about my decision to go natural, Nana?
Nana: I think its probably a very good decision. Because, technically you have a very beautiful face (I’m a little biased), and I think you can support that look and also it’s a good experience.
Me: Are you saying that people who aren’t so good looking shouldn’t go natural?
Nana: No, I’m not saying that…I’m saying you’ve got a bonus going there.
Me: Now, what was it like for you to do my hair as a kid, when we went from situations likes this to a situation like this.
Nana: Well, quite honestly, Cass, it was a chore. It was a monumental chore because not only did I have to go through the whole time consuming physical part of it, you were very strong willed and did not want me to even touch your hair. So, you can see that would be a….challenge. Putting it mildly.
Me: And so what sort of techniques did you use on my hair and to get me to sit through getting my hair done?
Nana: Well the technique I went through on your hair, number one, was to get the tangle out of it, and to get you to sit: you loved drawing and writing stories and watching movies, it was a combination….bribery…anything that you would go for that I could think of.
Me: And what would you do to get the tangle out?
Nana: My method, you had to start at the end of the hair and I would slowly slowly….TOOLS! Yes, tools are importantly, lets go there. You had to have the right comb with the right tines, or teeth, in the comb, they had to be very far apart. So you would take a section of the hair, hold it around the bottom, around midway through you would hold it and start from the bottom, as you would tolerate it, and you never knew if your [reaction]was going to be extreme or ultimate extreme (there was nothing below that) then you move up the shaft of the billions of trillions of hair strands that you have upon your head.
Me: And after you combed it through, would you hot comb it?
Nana: Yea, the hot comb, I think was the best situation after a certain age, I mean when you’re young (a couple years old) you don’t want to do that for fear of you making a sudden move and me burning you, which I’m sure you think I did anyway….and I probably did…. It was the no-chemical way to deal with your hair when you’re 4 years old.
Me: And when do you think you started hot combing?
Nana: I would say, maybe 4? What do you remember?
Me: That it hurt a lot.
Nana: The hot comb shouldn’t have been painful, because by then I should have gotten all the snarls out because you cant use the hot comb to do that—it would leave the heat in the hair too long.
Me: I remember not wanting to sit for any of this happening.
Nana: I can understand that.
Me: I was disinterested in having my hair done.
Nana: It was probably a week process in which I would start just talking to you about the fact that ‘ok now on Friday [you’re going to have your hair done]’. So a week before I would start getting you ready, so that even if you didn’t want to, you knew it was going to happen.
Me: Now, Nana, in my lifetime, I have seen many different styles on your head and for the past 11 years, you’ve had locks. Now did you decide to go natural? And I cant remember, did you have natural hair before that?
Nana: Yes. You remember my “Bush”. My Angela Davis Bush.
Me: Was that the asymmetrical?
Nana: No that was the one in the picture…Heather has it…
Me: Right, but in between that time you had straightened hair to work at Dayton’s didn’t you?
Nana: It wasn’t necessarily where I worked, I wore it more according to what was the trend.
Me: Exactly why I was asking- what influences your decisions in how to wear your hair?
Nana: For me, when I was going through the transition from going from a natural – or an afro is what we called it- and I started from a very small natural and went to The Bush and after that came various and sundry hair styles. But ultimately, it was the very reason that you’re going natural now. The chemicals would leave my head full of sores and my hair wasn’t necessarily healthy. My hair is the healthiest it has ever been in my life.
Me: So 11 years of natural puts you at the healthiest it has ever been.
Nana. Ever been in my life.
Me: In all of the heads that you’ve done, do you feel as though your personal experiences have influenced how you’ve decided to do their hair? Namely, mine, your kids, your other grandkids?
Nana: Well, I guess it must have in one sense. But it was really a necessity as far as time is concerned. If you hot comb your hair or use any chemicals that will make it less tangled and then you keep with it and maintain it everyday so that when you only have a small window of time in the morning before school to spend on doing your hair, it was just a convenience then yes and it was so much better to be able to get a comb through your hair and make it neat to get you going and out of the house in the morning.
Me: So, doing nothing was never an option?
Nana: Oh no…oh no…it would have become one mass of matte, it wouldn’t have been practical.
Me: Is it practical to go natural now do you think?
Nana: Very much so, you will see that. And as far as having healthy hair, you want that. You want healthy every part of your body. It’s a mindset.
Me: Anything else you’d like to add about your hair experiences or experiences with my hair?
Nana: Well I think they were on par with my experiences in getting you to doing anything. There was a period you went through when you did not want to smile when you took a picture. Whatever it was, if you didn’t want to do it, it was always a task to get you to do it. There was certain clothing: “No no no” There were certain undergarments “no no no”. You were very strong willed: “I do not want to! I do not want to!”.
Me: So the hair was a large factor in that.
Nana: Yes and as far as I was concerned, it had to be done. That is how I was raised. I mean, I’m the youngest of 11 girls, from the oldest to the youngest, the oldest ones were in charge of doing the younger one’s hair. For us, it was a matter of neatness.
You know, a lot of people think that, and im certain aspect of this that is true for some women, that black women will straighten or process their hair because they want to look like white women. I don’t believe that. I think initially it always started out for the practical purpose of keeping the hair in a state where you can get a comb through it. I believe that being neat in presentation is important; its not true that people don’t judge you by the way you look.
Me: I agree.
Nana: Its true! If you’re walking around with some very unruly things going on about your face, people would never get to know how intelligent and beautiful and fun you really are. They’ll be afraid to get near you!
Me: So how did you wear your hair when you were younger?
Nana: I wore my hair in braids.
Me: What type of braids?
Nana: It depends on how your hair grows. If your hair grows evenly, then you can wear it in two braids. Part it along the middle and braid it down the sides. And then if you had breakage, then you braided it according to how many braids the hair needed. My sisters had their hair hot combed and rolled it by taking a brown paper bag and ripping the bag into strips and rolling their hair around it and tying the bag around the hair. You’ve seen me…did I ever do it to you? I probably did and you didn’t know it. That was the way so then the could have curly hair and they would do it after it was hot combed. But. For us, in our family, we were not allowed to wear our hair in curls until you were 12 years old, it was too sophisticated a look. If you were a young girl, you were supposed to have pig tails or braids. So that’s how we wore our hair. It was the same with a skirt, you weren’t allowed to wear a straight skirt or a pencil skirt until you went to high school. You know…its family, its tradition, its all about what your family would permit you to do.
Me: When did you let your kids do their own hair? And how does that evolve?
Nana: I think when you get to be about 10-years old, you start to feel like your mom’s making you look like a clown because when you look in the mirror you start to see yourself in a different way. And the child begins to dictate how their hair is done and why.
Me: Were there ever any moments when you ever had to tell your 10-year old or whatever age they were that ‘oh no, you cant leave the house like that’?
Nana: I still do that. With your mom and her sister. And now that Heather, my youngest, she’s wearing locks, she will come to me and ask me to style her hair or pin it up.
Me: I remember that, when we were at the Beautillion!
Nana: Yea, well she does that every time I go out [to California] to her house. Whereas your mom, no. Your mom had her own…… distinct look, I don’t think she ever, after doing her own hair, that she would allow me to do it. I think that there may have been a time when I would do it and she would say ‘Nope!’ and redo it. That’s just they way it is.
Me: Are you doing any of your grandkid’s hair these days at all?
Nana: Yes, I do Alex, who is 4 years old when I’m in Berkeley. I do that initial two little pom-pom thing. There’s a lot to be said about that style. Any of my children or grandchildren’s hair I’ve gotten ahold of, they’re going that direction.
Me: And the pom-poms turn into the antennas eventually.
Nana: You know, it’s a good way to keep you hair because from the roots to where you put the bad on, that stays straight and then the pom-pom usually get ratty and natty and whatever. But you’ve already got the hair contained, so you can kind of brush those. Do you remember the brush?
Me: Oh the blue brush?? Yea! I think we still have it!
Nana: I know! I’ve tried to confiscate it for your sisters hair! You cant find those anymore, and that was always a big part for me of doing the hair, was finding the right brush or comb.
Me: Can you describe [for our readers] The Brush?
Nana: It was a hard plastic, and each row of the The Brush separated when you were pulling the brush through your hair so that it was never fighting the hair and it made it easier to get through.
Me: Briliant design, really.
Nana: Oh, I love that brush. I love that brush to this day. Never let go of that brush. Actually there might be a market for that brush.
Me: To the rescue of millions of little girls everywhere!
Nana: I said a little prayer when I found that brush. I didn’t know if it would work when I found it, but it made things a little easier, for you and for me.
Me: Any sort of products that you would recommend to go along with that brush.
Nana: Well, now they have natural products with natural ingredients…
Me: Weren’t you a fan of cholesterol?
Nana: Yea, I was. Its too oily. But anything that doesn’t have a smell to it. Because we used to have to use a product called Sulfur-8. Do you remember that? Well Sulfur-8 smells like the first part of its name: Sulfur. It was great for your hair, but it smells so bad. And nobody wanted to use that, even though I did on my girls a couple times, but it was never a good situation. But I think it was Queen Helena who made that Cholesterol.
Me: But it wasn’t actually cholesterol?
Nana: I hope not! It probably looks like what cholesterol looks like clogging up your arteries.
Me: Any closing remarks as I embark on this journey?
Nana: Well I would just say that if in one of these years to come, if you ever happen to have a daughter,…just wait til you have to deal with their hair. I’m sure the experience will be unique.
The Beauty Supply store is a veritable Willy Wonka Factory of all things black hair. Like any niche supplier, a Beauty Supply store has a very specific consumer group, in this case, black folks, and anyone outside that group probably has no idea that these places exist.
When my several mentions to my non-black friends that I would be “going to the beauty supply to pick up a few bags of hair” elicited the good ol’ nod’n’smile, I realized that they most likely have no idea what a Beauty Supply is! How were they [somehow] living their lives without fully knowing the wonders of the hair-filled, product-playland of the Beauty Supply?! Well, THIS!, I decided has just got to change and because we here at the Natural Selection blog are all about cross-cultural experiences and building understandings, I decided a field trip was absolutely in order.
So before my last set of braids, I invited my roommate, Paloma, along with me to the beauty supply. Pal, I figured at the very least, might be mildly interested in where I scamper off to every time I’ve been in need of something for my hair. It was to be a quick trip, we agreed, after all we had a dinner party to attend and all I was doing was grabbing a couple items and we’d be out the door.
Well, an hour an a half later, we emerged from Discount Beauty Supply, located in the Fillmore district of San Francisco: I with my bags of hair and Paloma, proud as a peacock, with a newly established sense of reverence for her own hair. What happened in there? Why did we spend 18 times the amount we intended in there? Why was Pal all smiles and super jazzed? Well, it appears that the Beauty Supply offers something for everyone: bags of hair for some and epiphanies for others.
Here’s a little roadmap to our educational and enlightening trip to the Beauty Suppy:
1st Stop: “Those Things” Growing up, I called them “pretties” and have heard others call them “knockers” or “thingamabobbers”. Whatever their name is, they adorn the hairstyles of all black girls from 2 - 9. When you're young, they were great! You get to choose the colors (but moms can ALWAYS veto questionable choices) and then walk around with something resembling skittles called “pretties” in your hair?! As a 5-year old: Awesome.
Left turn at the Heated Straightening Appliances Here, Paloma is able to check out her first hot comb. She is fascinated by the concept, by how small the teeth are, by how it is such a wide spread means of smoothing curls out. I am having flashbacks. Time to go.
Continue straight to the Weave I’ve never had a weave before, but I can explain the general concept: if you can’t achieve it, weave it! Either by sewing or gluing in tracks of human (way expensive) or fake (usually looks like it is) hair. We parked ourselves in front of the first weave aisle (home to the super expensive, imported, human hair in every color imaginable) to discuss the different styles, techniques, pros and cons of a weave. Soon, the store owner told us to take the chit chat (ahem! You mean LESSON!) elsewhere.
Left at the next aisle of bags of expensive human hair
Pass through the curly/textured human hair
Slow down at the extensive array of wigs
Red light at the synthetic straight hair
It was here, beneath the dangling bags of synthetic, silky, smooth, weave on the weft, that Pal really opened up about her personal hair experiences. Paloma has inherited a super thick head of curly hair. She revealed that because of its unique texture, she often had difficulty in managing it, thus relegating it to ponytails and subjecting it to quick trims for most of her life. Growing up, there were no celebrities with curly hair and as a result, she felt like it was something that she had to manage, an unruly feature that made her feel disheveled if left alone.
And then! An epiphany!
On the sojourn from the heat appliances, through the unbeWEAVEable amounts of bagged hair, to the synthetic department, Paloma had seen how hair, no matter what its texture, is a unique attribute of a person and that taking the time to style your hair is a way of celebrating it. To have a good looking head of hair on your shoulders(whether it is your or not), is something to be proud of! Then and there, Paloma decided that her own hair was TOO an asset and that she should maintain it as such!
It was truly a beautiful moment to see Pal go from processing all of these feelings and memories to deciding to take pride in her crowing glory! How was she going to do this exactly? Well, we were in a Beauty Supply, they surely had to have something to get her started!
Detour: Acquire hair for my braids
The Home Stretch We cruise the aisles of shampoos, conditioners, relaxers, moisturizers, and greases, looking for something for Pal. Along the way, we run into some old, and not-so-missed, friends:
For Paloma, we settle on a shea butter deep conditioner and a wide tooth comb, two essential ingredients in maintaining a beautiful set of curls.
Whatever you call it, this experience truly attests to my ever-increasing belief that our hair, and specifically our relationship to our hair has the ability to both hinder, heal, and exalt the expression of our personal identities. My advice? Next time you're in the throes of an existential crisis or struggling to figure out who you are, maybe check out the Beauty Supply...you never know what you'll find...it might just be yourself.
Bored one day, I decided to wet a few strands of hair that were sticking out of my coif to see what happened (a new and exciting experiment for me as I had spent so much of my life avoiding getting my hair wet). After saturating the strands, the most amazing thing happened: the hair transformed from a frizzy blob to almost perfect spirals resembling the double helix structure of DNA.
This got me thinking.
Not only is DNA the shape my hair resembles, but it is also the reason that it does (those narcissistic amino acids). So I thought I'd find out why curly, kinky, coiled, afro hair exists. After all, no other mammals have fur that resembles anything close to this (ok, fine maybe Alpacas and I think this is a whole other story, even though they can rock dreadlocks).
Michael Jackson (RIP) was wrong: you gotta blame this one on the sunshine! As pre-humans (Australopithecines and the like) were working their business out on the evolutionary treadmill so to speak, they were in Africa, right on the equator. Pretty much the hottest place in the world. Couple this blazing environment with being fully furred and beginning to take part in the athletic exertions of hunting, these little guys were really feeling the heat to adapt their bodies to this extreme climate.
While this head-to-toe fur blocked out UV rays (nature's SPF 80!), it also made physical activity in the direct, midday, sunlight less than pleasant. For us humans today, it would be like running a marathon, wearing an Ewok costume , in Cancun. But beneath that fur, these pre-humans had pale skin. So over time, they evolved darker skin, to protect them from damaging sun rays while being able to more efficiently sweat and cool their bodies, and on their heads curled, kinky hair.
Why this type of hair and not straight hair? Well, hair on our heads is kind of like a fiber optic cable: straight hair is the most efficient way to transmit UV rays to the scalp, whereas hair with a tightly wound S-shaped pattern will not. At all. So S-shaped hair it was for these pre-humans! This texture highly effective in keeping sun away from the scalp; they were not trying to fry their brains, they were trying to protect it so that they could evolve into a highly successful species that would eventually invent the internet so that I could share all of this with you!
If this equatorial oven really is the origin of ALL peoples' ancestry, shouldn't everyone technically have coarse, kinky, swirly, curly hair? Well, once upon a time their peoples probably did, but the reason not every one today has: once again, blame it on the sunshine! Vitamin D , created by our bodies in the absorption of UV rays is crucial for human health, so when groups of humans migrated north, out of Africa, where the sun is much weaker and less bountiful, to say, Scandinavia, humans needed to once again adapt their bodies, but this time to absorb as much UV as possible. How? With pale skin (no SPF 80 needed) and straight hair (highly effective fiber optic cable).
Today for persons of African descent living in not the sunniest or hottest places, in places like Minnesota or Northern California, kinky hair is more of a vestigial trait, or a remnant of what once was an survival necessity.
We are now lucky enough to be able to live in societies in which we can see the evolutionary grab bag that our species has become. The stuff that sits, hangs, and catapults from our heads is a real-time reminder of the science of evolution and, as I see it, a cause for celebration of our own ancestries. No longer isolated by geographic barriers, we are in the midst of the re-convergence of a multitude of diverse populations, where a person of Scandinavian descent may have set up shop in Ecuador or a Ghanian found home in Moscow. We are hopping right back on that evolutionary treadmill and it is and will continue to be fascinating to see how future generations adapt.
A feast for your scalp! This fool-proof recipe will provide you with a bountiful, braided head of hair!
Yield: about 150 braids Approximate braiding time: 10 hours
1 confused/transitioning head of hair 1 Ifeoma, the master braidista, natural supporter, and friend 5 bags of RastAfri hair (color selection will to be determined by mood of shopper, availability, and what she had last set of braids) 8 combs of various sizes 2 pillows to sit on 8 movements of a hip hop symphony 4 different styles of animation woven into one amazing film 8 pages transcribed for "Interview with Nana" blog posting (coming soon!) 2 Men in Black (plus accompanying music video) 40 powers of ten 19 minutes of hearing how schools kill creativity 6 bathroom breaks 8 gallons of patience Witty Conversation throughout to taste
Before getting started, make sure hair is clean, dry, and well-conditioned. With Ifeoma sitting in chair, have Cassidy sit on the floor in front of her. Begin at the back of the head and make small parts through the hair in about 1" squares. Braid each square by adding in a piece of synthetic hair to achieve desired length. Continue in this fashion until all hair is neatly woven into tight little braids.
Presentation Braid the braids into 6 larger braids and dip into boiling water. This will give finished style a wavy/curly effect.
***I also want to give a massive shout out to Ifeoma. Without her none of this would be happening. As an all-natural woman herself, she has been one of the most supportive in my quest to go natural: from fielding my anxiety-ridden phone calls/text messages at all hours of the day, to spending precious hours taming my head of hair while listening to everything from my dorky musings to my mediocre Pandora stations. Thaaaank you!***
it is a personal philosophy that curiosity could never kill, will certainly only make you stronger, and, at the very least, will inspire some good writing.
the result: me, a quirky urban adventurer fueled by a lifelong love of learning and the desire to share it with the world.