Hair Growth: It’s Within You

Here goes…*drumroll*…there is nothing you can put on your head/hair to make your hair grow. I know there are tons of products in the ethnic hair care market that implicitly or explicitly promise long locks if you use their product. I am sorry to report that those are merely enticing words. Your hair grows in cycles and there is a mixture of hormonal, genetic, and lifestyle factors that will ultimately determine the length of your hair.

Hair growth is a product of internal bodily functions. Similar to the way that your heart beats, your lungs inhale and exhale and your eyes blink without the assistance of outside factors, your hair has a growth cycle that results (on average) in about 6 inches of hair growth each year (breaks down to about ½” each month).

Therefore, the things that we do to ourselves internally can affect our hair growth cycles. For example, telogen effluvium, where more follicles than usual enter into the resting phase at one time, often happens when we go on extreme or crash diets for an extended period of time. This problem is usually reversed once we return to more balanced eating. In other words, the things we put (or do not put) into our bodies can affect the hair growth cycle. In situations where hair is lost due to illness or disease, it is still an internal process.

Other factors that can be problematic for our hair are the chemicals that seep in through the pores that are all over our body, including our scalp. Dyes and bleaches penetrate the cuticle layer which is there to protect the innermost layers of the hair structure. Perms and relaxers break the bonds of the hair and then re-form them in a different manner thereby making the hair weaker.

If you want to make sure that your scalp is conducive to hair growth, make sure that you are getting the nutrition you need. This should entail plenty of protein (as your hair is mostly protein), vitamins (studies suggest that vitamin D is important) and minerals, like iron. Healthy fats are also important, as several members of the Cute & Kinky team will attest to the fact that low-fat diets have often left their hair brittle and dull. Exercise is also important. It helps reduce stress (another hair enemy), helps carry blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout your body including your scalp, and nothing goes better with healthy hair than an energized and well-functioning physique.

You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Raising Proud Daughters

Recently, the world celebrated the victory of Lupita Nyong’o, the stunning actress that turned in the Oscar-winning performance of “Patsey” in the film 12 Years A Slave. That was only one of a variety of accolades she earned for her performance and not only the mainstream media took notice but smaller independent media and social media sources also sang her praises.

Shortly before the Oscars, a statement by Ms. Nyong’o was released where she spoke about the fact that she struggled for self-acceptance for several years in her youth. The deep beautiful hue that drapes her frame and that many of us fawn over was once the bane of her existence. She noted, amongst other things, that she petitioned God to allow her to wake up a few shades lighter, (you can read an article on it here). Many of us were touched by her honesty and courage in admitting a problem that plagues communities of color (in one way or another) and I’m certain that there are still many who can personally relate.

Cute & Kinky® is a brand that has always striven to drive home the importance of self-acceptance and in light of that, I decided to start a series wherein I interview parents about raising daughters in a time where historical, cultural and societal practices come with an interesting mix of stigmas, stereotypes and a scramble for appropriation.

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorrie Irby Jackson for an informal Q&A session on her life as a mother of daughters. You may recognize her, as she is a writer for several publications and you’ve likely read several of her music reviews of top artists’ projects. She is also the founder of Mother of Color, a blog that aims to tackle issues that affect the Black community from a Black mother’s point of view. Her take on raising her daughters is a mix between traditional values and a revolutionary perspective that is sure to raise eyebrows, positively or negatively. Whatever your attitude on the issues addressed may be, Mrs. Jackson’s thoughts are sure to provoke your own examination.

C&K: How many daughters do you have and how old are they?

LIJ: Our girls are 7 yrs old and 4 yrs old, respectively.

C&K: Your blog is called Mother of Color. What does it mean to you to be a mother of color?

LIJ: I am connected to the global group of women and mothers, but because of the unique burdens that befall those who happen to be non-white, especially in America, my experiences compels me to prepare my children for what to expect in the future and I have to keep in mind those perpetuated racial issues, systemic inequities and other pressing dilemmas in mind on a daily basis as we raise those kids.

Lorrie and CJ, her husband.

Lorrie and CJ, her husband.

C&K: What is your general parenting style and how does that tie into what you hope to pass down to your daughters about Black womanhood?

LIJ: I consider myself authoritative, with more than a few old school touches on how children should be raised, see themselves and navigate within the community and the world. Encouraging free thought and assertiveness in my kids, for example, doesn’t mean that they have free rein to flout authority, get overly-familiar with adults and not have basic manners with each other and the community they live in. I guard their innocence as much as I possibly can, within reason, but I don’t let that youthfulness serve as an excuse to fall short or half-step, or fail to contribute to the household and treat others with respect. As far as their burgeoning womanhood, my husband and I planted their minds early with reassurances that they are both loved, are both equally beautiful (in different ways) and come from generations of powerful women who survived horrific circumstances, so there is very little that they’re not capable of. As young as they are, they’ve both been endowed with a sense of history, purpose and standards when it comes to how they live and conduct themselves. Few girls their age, for example, know about the tragic tale of the ‘Hottentot Venus,’ the advantages of their brown skin and that their physical differences from their peers doesn’t permit the ignorance and trespass of others. They have been encouraged to speak up for themselves and to not accept ill treatment from anyone, of any age group, of any color.

C&K: Thinking about the imaging we see in the mass media about Black women and girls, what are your greatest concerns for your daughters as they mature?

LIJ: I fear that my generation of parents matured in the last true age of innocence. Yes, crimes and deviances existed, of course, but we were insulated by the likes of a close-knit community, music and other forms of media that encouraged creativity and uniqueness and left a lot to the imagination. The internet is a tool that we didn’t grow up with that they now have and it can expose them to so many disturbing ideas and realities, as well as their place in a world that encourages a ‘do you at any cost’ lifestyle but fails to mention the consequences of such a choice.

I hope that my husband and I can live long enough to guide all of the kids to maturity, independence and keep protecting them in a world that exploits and undermines them. We want them to be self-reliant, yet interdependent enough to welcome unity and companionship with men who share their history and cherish their hearts.

C&K: I’m certain that you, as have I, read about the fact that although natural hair is returning to its rightful place as the preferred grooming choice, there is still a stigma associated with it, not just amongst the AA community but society as a whole. With that in mind, what have you done or are you doing to engender self-love in your daughters?

LIJ: Since I was always an avid reader, I went out of my way to find books that explain, in ways they could understand, the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of what makes our hair our hair and why they don’t need to have anything but what they’re born with to be accepted and beautiful. Also, they have a mother who’s only worn natural hair since adulthood, so I’m comfortable with it and know a few styles they enjoy wearing. I also put major emphasis on them watching positive shows with African-American casts, playing with toys that reflect them and buying books by and about us that reaffirm their uniqueness.

C&K: Do you use your experiences being a natural hair wearer to teach your daughters lessons about life?

LIJ: Oh, most def: they learned early on that people are entitled to their opinions, but that not everyone will like everything about them, and there will be people who dislike them for no good reason. Our girls are comfortable with telling people that ‘God made me beautiful’ and telling people to not ‘pet’ their hair, skin or other body parts.

C&K: I know that you advocate natural hair and you keep your daughters’ hair natural. Has there ever been a time where they reported that someone gave them a hard time about their natural hair? If so, how did you handle it?

LIJ: Not yet, but what has recently happened is that my seven-year-old matter-of-factly told a classmate that her mother shouldn’t have put a relaxer in her hair because the ‘chemicals make your hair fall out.’ The classmate revealed to my daughter that her mother stuck it in there when she didn’t want one and actually wished that her hair had remained the way it was.

C&K: You have a son as well. Do you feel that the lessons you are teaching your daughters about Black womanhood and self-esteem have implications for him as well?

LIJ: I feel that since my oldest is so accustomed to natural hair and self-aware sisters, he’ll gravitate to them when it’s time for him to create a family of his own. I hope that he’ll also not have qualms with assertive women, since that is also commonplace with his upbringing.

C&K: What do you believe is the future of natural hair? What do you HOPE is the future of natural hair?

LIJ: I want more Black women to stop ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ about accepting the Eurocentric beauty standards as something to aspire to. Some of us need to make conscious choices about what we internalize and what we communicate to the children who look up to and love us.

As for what I hope, I really want those in our community with the capital and connections to start buying back our stake in the hair care industry that is making other groups so wealthy. We need to encourage more support of Black-owned beauty supplies and suppliers. As much money as we pour into the industry and into maintaining and styling OUR hair, WE need to be the main ones building communities that profit from it, not others.

 

 

 

He Doesn’t Like My Natural Hair!

First of all, I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I apologize for that more than brief hiatus. My blogging should become more regular now that I’m back in the swing of things and life is more settled.

Before I get into the meat of this blog, I want to say that I feel that as a Black woman, I am inextricably linked to what it means, both culturally and socially, to be Black and a woman in every aspect of life. I am not unaware of the socio-political weight that Blackness carries and therefore I didn’t want to shy away from this topic. I come from a place of honesty and a general concern for Black women, women of color, and people of color in general. I hope that in reading this, you’ll hear my heart and disallow your ego from interfering with the message.

Over the three years that this business has officially launched, I’ve gotten the opportunity to speak with women from all parts of the United States and various parts of the world. They are mostly very enthusiastic about their decision to return natural and eager to become educated and skilled at giving their hair the care that it deserves. They usually have strong support systems made up of spouses, family and close friends who are also natural or at the least embrace their loved one’s choice to return natural.

Unfortunately, there is also a segment that I’ve encountered too many times that expresses a sense of desperation, not because of anything related to actually managing their hair but because of the inane opinions and comments of those who would love them the most, also known as spouses/boyfriends.

If I may, let me recount a story to you from someone who uses our product and is newly getting back into the swing of caring for her natural hair (pseudonym used). A very sweet lady in her late 50’s, we’ll call her Alice, has been natural for about 3 years but due to certain personal insecurities has always chosen to wear either a bandana, scarf or wig. We live in close proximity to each other and she had expressed appreciation for my hair and I gave her a bottle of the moisturizer to try for herself with brief instructions on how to do a standard twist-out. She thanked me and said she’d come by when she did it so I could see the results.

After about two weeks, she came by and said that she had done her hair but was too ashamed to come by and show me because her very long-term live-in fiancé (well over a decade), said she looked like….*drumroll*

a “pickaninny.”

Yes, you read that correctly but in case you didn’t, let me recount that.

Her long-term live-in fiancé said her natural hair made her look like a “pickaninny.”

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To this day, I have not seen her without a wig, scarf or bandanna.

For those of you too young to know what a “pickaninny” is, Google it and its history because my soul won’t let me post a picture of it here.

A man his age knows the definition of that word quite well and he knows not only the implications of that word but how using that word to describe someone can be devastating, hurtful and shameful; especially when it comes from the mouth of someone who is supposed to love you.

I immediately felt sad for her (as soon as I got over the urge to kick his ass) as I do every Black woman who tells us that their significant other or spouse (BTW, 100% of the time these men are Black men) carries such a seed of anti-Blackness within themselves that they can’t even entwine themselves in the natural beauty of the woman for whom they’ve professed their adoration.

Obligatory “I’m Caught In My Feelings” break: I’ll stop here for the people who’ll chime in with “just because he doesn’t like her hairstyle doesn’t mean he’s anti-Black,” or “everybody has a preference,” or the crowd who is going to swear before whichever deities will listen that I’m anti-Black man.

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Okay, let’s examine two of those responses (the third doesn’t merit one).

These women, by-and-large, aren’t saying that their spouses/significant others didn’t like the twist-out they did or the faux asymmetrical afro or frohawk they wore. These women’s spouses/significant others are plainly turned-off by afro-textured hair. There’s a difference. For those who just read that and wish to pretend that there’s not, I’ll offer up an example. My husband of almost 7 years is a minimalist. Outside of work, he’s a Pantera t-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I kind of like him in the older hipster style personally. I just think he looks cute in newsboy caps, bowties and suspenders. Notice, I said that I like his clothing a certain way. I did not, however, say that I don’t even like his body type nor am I sitting around wishing someone could turn his body into that of Terry Crews. See the difference?

Now, for this “preference” thing. I always say that one should ask themselves why they hold a certain preference to begin with because at the end of the day, preferences can be unconsciously racist, misogynoirist, and sexist. Those social ills are so insidious to begin with that we can adopt their problematic by-products and not even realize it. So, allow me to try to delineate. Liking my boiled eggs with just salt and pepper is a preference. It says nothing about how I feel about the eggs’ value, popular thought about eggs or any history I may have had with eggs.

Saying that afro-textured hair is a turn-off is a statement that when followed-up with “why” will almost always lead us down Internalized Racism Ave. A distaste for a trait that a group of people are born with is usually birthed out of negative feelings about that group. It would be no different than me saying that I want someone who can do construction work in my home but he mustn’t be Black because my home is filled with too many expensive items to let a Black man do the work. What exactly am I implying?

Recently, a friend of mine, in consideration for this blog sent me screenshots of various Black men on social media who were making disconcerting comments about Black women’s natural hair. They were vile but moreso doltish, unintelligent, and childish (I no longer use “ignorant” because in the Information Age, if you don’t know, it’s because you don’t want to). I’ve debated whether or not to post them and at the time of this writing, I still haven’t decided. God forbid these men be too foolish to be ashamed.

For now, I just want to make some general observations about this portion of Black men who are turned-off by women who wear their natural hair.

1) Denial. I’m not sure if these men know it, but as Black men, there’s a greater than 97% chance that they have the exact same hair growing out of their scalps. So, I’m perplexed about how their hair is just fine in any style they damn well please but a Black woman, who chooses to embrace her natural hair just as these men embrace theirs, has made a grave mistake. Did they think this Black woman was really a non-Black woman in blackface? Have they never seen even their own afro-textured hair? If so, what did they think their wife/significant other’s hair would look like?

I get that when you’re being boorish and infantile on social media, facts, logic and introspection aren’t the first things that start working when your fingers hit the keyboard but this also goes for men in real life who are giving their wife/significant other the blues over their choice to return natural. As we know, once someone experiences something negative, they will often turn that negativity inward and start to believe it themselves (see internalized racism). This is the most compassionate rationale I can offer to the men out there who buy into this absurdity.

For those who are still on the “preference” train, how does it work when your preference goes against the very thing you are or have?

2) Misogynoir. Men should not be policing how women wear their hair. Full stop. The only time my husband has ever said anything about my hair is when I’ve asked him about it. This need to constantly make statements about why you think Black women shouldn’t make their own hair choices when you get to make your own hair choices quite frankly reeks of misogyny.

Pray tell: what makes men so much more competent than women to self-direct?

Black women are completely capable of deciding what works best for themselves in terms of their career, finances, health and beauty regimens. Male input is not required; especially when it comes with a side dose of internalized racism, slurs, and coded racist language and/or sentiment.

3) The veracity of the relationship. My husband and I were chatting about this blog. I asked him a simple question: “if a person dislikes an innate trait that their spouse/significant other has, up to the point of not even caring to see it, is it possible for that person to honestly say they love their spouse/significant other?” My husband gave a quick “no.” Now, my husband works in the medical industry. He is not a philosopher. But, he’s usually a man of few words and went on to opine that a situation like the one I described seems to him to be the perfect set-up for a failed relationship.

You’ll notice that earlier in this post, I used the word “adoration.” I was going to type “love” but again, I couldn’t. I’d never be so presumptuous as to tell you that if your spouse doesn’t like your afro-textured hair that they don’t love you. That’s something that you have to work out between the two of you. I’ll simply say that I think it’s worth examining and exploring his reasoning for this feeling because that’s the most important part.

However, if he is at the point where he uses your hair as the go-to for deprecating jokes, insults, or confrontations, I’d suggest that you can do better than verbal abuse.

If there are no papers involved (ie. just dating, engaged, boyfriend) yet, I’d take a minute or two to consider what a mindset like this could mean for your relationship and its future. Do you want to tether yourself to someone whose seeds of anti-Blackness are so deeply embedded that they can’t see that their beliefs about their own phenotype is problematic? Can you imagine if you have a daughter whose father hates afro-textured hair (one of the landmarks of Blackness)? Many of us returned to natural in order to cultivate a deeper appreciation of who we truly are. Imagine that journey if you’re trying to instill that same appreciation and self-acceptance into your own child and their other parent is so clearly and unapologetically anti-Black.

To Black women everywhere, married, coupled or single:

please know that if he can’t see your hair as the expression of God that it is, then there’s a problem and it’s not with you nor your hair.

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Until next time…..

Hair Loss FYI Pt. 2: Anagen Effluvium

A couple of weeks ago, I started a hair loss series and we addressed telogen effluvium. If you missed it, you can find it here.

This week’s topic is about another hair loss event called anagen effluvium. Anagen effluvium is a more widespread type of hair loss that can cause the sufferer to lose all of their hair. It usually occurs more rapidly than does the hair loss associated with the telogen type as well.

The anagen stage of the hair growth cycle is the part that is commonly known as the growth phase. At any given time, most of the hair on the head is in the anagen phase. In telogen effluvium, the hair has time to enter into the resting phase before shedding. In anagen effluvium, however, the follicles go into a suspension where the hair rapidly falls out because the factors that cause it pack such a powerful punch.

The way you can identify the difference between telogen and anagen are by looking at the hair after it has fallen. In telogen effluvium, you’ll be able to see the little white keratin bulb at the root end of the strand. However, with anagen effluvium, the hair may have a narrowed or broken appearance.

Causes

In general, anagen effluvium happens when something attacks the hair follicles at the cellular level. Someone who has been ingesting a poisonous substance (ie. arsenic) may experience anagen effluvium and until they have a full medical work-up will not understand why they are losing their hair (especially if they don’t know that they’ve been ingesting a toxic substance).

Another common source of anagen effluvium is prescription medication that has the goal of attacking cells that replicate at an accelerated speed. Those who are have taken medications for cancer (including chemotherapy) may have experienced anagen effluvium in the weeks following the start of their treatment. The cells of the hair follicles growth quickly and therefore these drugs will also attack the hair follicle cells and cause what can be a very harrowing event for the sufferer.

Autoimmune diseases and infections have also been known to cause anagen effluvium.

Cures

Similar to telogen effluvium, once the offending agent is removed, the fair will most likely grow back. In anagen effluivum, the hair follicles, though suspended, are not destroyed so hair regrowth is possible. However, it has been reported that the hair that grows back may be different in texture or color and those changes may be irreversible.

If you suspect that anagen effluvium may be what you are currently experiencing, please seek out a good physician and address your concerns with them.

Next time, I’ll being to talk about alopecia.

Until then, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Hair Loss FYI Pt. 1: Telogen Effluvium

First, I’d like to wish all of you a happy fall….into winter. If you’re in Texas, I’ll wish you a happy remainder of summer and winter twice a week! I’ve decided to start an informational blog series on hair loss which is major concern for many people of varying genders, ages and ethnicities. Because there are so many different causes of hair loss, I figured I’d take this little by little so as not to be overwhelming.

Photo courtesy of hairlosstreatment.com

I’ll start with a common hair loss issue, telogen effluvium.

Before I begin, it is extremely important to know that hair shedding is a normal event for all humans and the telogen phase is a normal part of the hair’s life cycle.

Telogen effluvium is when a large number of hair follicles go into the resting phase simultaneously. There are three types of telogen effluvium with the most common being the result of unusual stress that the body has gone through. Telogen effluvium can often be experienced by individuals who have crash dieted, undergone weight loss surgery, or gone through some other event that has caused their body stress like illness. Although not exactly sudden, the individual may notice that their hair is thinning a couple of months after the event while grooming their hair (washing, blow drying, combing, etc).

The good news is that telogen effluvium does not affect the follicles and the condition will eventually reverse itself once the stressor is removed.

Another form of telogen effluvium is when the hair follicles don’t remain in the resting phase but the cyclical growth phase is so short that the individual will see shedding and the hairs that are shed will be shorter than usual (indicating an interrupted growth cycle).

A last form of telogen effluvium occurs more slowly and is characterized by follicles that enter into the resting phase in a standard manner but not re-enter the growth phase for an extended period of time. Therefore, although the individual may not notice constant shedding as in the stress-induced type, but thinning.

Causes

There are several causes of telogen effluvium. Besides the dietary deficiencies I mentioned earlier, life events like delivering a baby (post-partum shedding), trauma, and medications (both oral and intravenous) can cause the hair to go into the telogen phase. One possible offender that some may not realize is exposure to toxic chemicals. Even chronic conditions can trigger this (often disheartening) event.

Cures

I am commonly asked what can be done about this type of telogen effluvium. In general, the way to treat telogen effluvium is to treat the cause. Be patient and allow the body to return to its equilibrium by removing the offending stressor. For example, if crash dieting is the cause, a healthier diet that integrates more iron and other vitamins and minerals will help end telogen effluvium. If you recently gave birth, the hormonal shift will eventually return to its normal status and the hair should start to re-enter the growth phase. If medication is the culprit, get with your healthcare provider to seek options that do not have the same side effects.

If you cannot determine the cause of your hair loss, see a doctor (usually a dermatologist) and see if they can point to a cause. If they can’t, they may be able to prescribe something that can at stimulate hair growth however if the underlying cause is not removed, you’ll likely need to continue with the prescription in order to prevent the problem from recurring.

Next time, I’ll be blogging about anagen effluvium.

Until then, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

 

*Photo courtesy of hairlosstreatment.com

 

“What’s Wrong With Short Hair?”

I remember being in Kindergarten and having, what I thought then, a serious debate with a friend about whether or not braids made one’s hair grow. Then, by 4th grade, the schoolyard debate was whether or not a Jheri Curl would make one’s hair grow. We used both public figures and personal friends and family as examples to try to prove our point. In the end, we walked away still friends and still totally misinformed about hair growth. These days, it’s vaginal yeast infection creams, sulfur concoctions (not new but making a comeback), and exotic oil and herb formulations that are touted to give you the long flowing locks you crave in record time. This got me to thinking (as my mom would say), have we (those of us in the natural community) become obsessed with having long hair? Have we given up education and proper care in favor of tricks and gimmicks to be able to have long hair?

About three months ago, a couple of us were at a community event and had the opportunity to meet several people. As usual, we talked with people about their hair goals, needs, and the product. A group of girlfriends approached the table and most were newly natural. In the midst of fielding the normal questions, one asked how long I’d been natural and how long it had taken to get my hair to its current length. She expressed that although she was comfortable with her choice to do the BC (big chop), what she missed the most was the length of her hair as it was before. At that point, one of her friends interjected with, “what’s wrong with short hair?”

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This blog isn’t about what does and doesn’t make your hair grow. In a previous blog, I think I made the case in an empirical way about the process of hair growth. This blog questions the desire for long hair and whether or not it can be destructive in our individual hair journey. At some point we all fantasized about having long hair, especially if we didn’t have long hair ourselves. Even various religious text extol and may even require that hair be kept long. Long hair has been one of the ultimate measures of beauty and femininity across various social structures and cultures and perhaps is why so many of us will do almost anything to get it.

There is nothing wrong with fantasizing. There is nothing wrong with having goals for your hair in terms of the length you prefer. What I find troubling is a) the common expectation that returning to nature = long hair and b) the willingness to abandon what we KNOW about hair health and maintenance for long hair.

The first point is pretty self-explanatory. Somewhere, somehow returning to natural came to be interpreted as a promise of having long hair. I think it comes from the extended access to various forms of media that people have. People can showcase their own journeys and coincidentally, those who have achieved (what is considered) a desirable hair length are more predominantly displayed, by choice or otherwise. The problem with this is that it skews the reality for the newbies. I’ve spoken to many newly-natural women who were discouraged and ready to return to relaxing due to their disillusionment. They are unable to enjoy the journey, and worse, they are unable to learn during the journey.

This leads to my second concern. I’ve had individuals either admit to neglecting their hair care altogether, using wigs and scarves to cover their hair, or overusing heat because they didn’t go from their BC length to a lush afro or long enough for a shoulder-length twist-out overnight like they think they should have. They were led to believe that once they returned to natural their hair would begin to grow at an astounding rate. While returning to natural may arguably make for a less hostile environment for hair growth, you still have to take care of your hair and scalp health regardless of what your styling choice is.

So what’s the solution? Take it one step at a time and appreciate the journey. Focus more on what you can and should be doing in the present to get your hair where you want it to be than an enviable image of what you hope your hair will be in the future. Study and learn your hair. Learn what works and doesn’t work for your hair. Eat well. Exercise. Take care of your hair. Question. Stay well-informed. Most importantly, know that the length of your hair has nothing to do with who you are as a person. These components will fit together like a puzzle and you will arrive at your destination.

Until next time…

*Picture courtesy of aceshowbiz.com

What’s Your Motivation?

A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog post in which the writer asserted her opinion that a weave is not a protective style. That article is here. 

At one point, the writer makes a comment about the motives behind regularly wearing weaves as a protective style and it made me think (or rather continue thinking) about why people do the things they do. This blog is going to be very short and could probably be described as non-committal considering the article that sparked this blog. However, the purpose of it is to make people think further about their own stance in reference to their hair.

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People argue back and forth about natural hair, “going natural,” choosing to relax or texturize, protective styling, weaves, wigs, “heat training,” flat ironing,  and everything in between. At the end of the day, I feel that it’s important that everyone ask themselves: “what’s my motivation?”

Why are you returning to your natural hair? Why are are choosing to relax? Why are you “heat training?” Why are you choosing to grow locs? Is it concern for your hair health? Is it beauty? Is it to fit-in? Is it to stop getting grief from one side or the other? Is it to “stick it” to one side or the other? These are rhetorical questions, of course. These are questions to ask yourself as you walk along your hair journey (or really any journey in your life).

I call it “the why behind the why.” I’ve found surface reasons for our choices are rarely our deeper motivations. I’ve moved away from “because I want to” because I’ve realized that’s often only the first part of the sentence. For example, one could argue that the writer of the aforementioned article has a valid point. Why return to natural only to cover it up with things that mimic their former straightened look? After all, there are protective styles that can be done with one’s own hair. On the other hand, there are many valid considerations for using weaves or wigs as protective styles like time, convenience, skill, variety, etc. Everyone is entitled to their own reasons.

All too often, I speak to individuals who are not seeing the hair progress they desire and are upset about it. Once the discussion deepens, it becomes clear that they never really wanted to return to their natural hair in the first place and their problems are a direct result of the fact that they are doing something that they never really wanted to do. It was a novel idea to which they weren’t wholeheartedly ready to commit. Keep in mind, I realize that this does not describe all naturals; not even a portion great enough to generalize.

I think most of us can agree that when we undertake something that we really don’t want to do, we don’t get the best results from it. This is usually because our attitude about it isn’t right and that affects everything we do….or don’t do to reach the goal we never wanted in the first place. Eventually, we either give up or continue in ambivalence but can never really get any joy out of the process even if we reach the goal.

Checking our motivations can also keep us from prematurely giving up on our journeys towards whatever it is we want in life. What you really want to do, you’ll work towards making happen.

So, no matter what you choose to do with your hair, make sure it’s really your choice. Figure out what you want out of your hair journey, set that goal and use what motivates you to commit to that goal every single day.

 

Until next time,…

In The Chair: Choosing The Right Hairstylist For You

I know I’ve been away for a while but I was on vacation. I’m back and don’t anticipate anymore hiatuses for a while this year. Let’s get started!

In The Chair: Choosing The Right Hairstylist For You

One of the things that I quickly developed after returning to natural hair almost 12 years ago was a phobia towards professional hairstylists. Back then, the concept of natural hair was so foreign to many people that trying to find someone who wasn’t immediately trying to get me to relax, “texlax”, hot comb, or get extensions was hard. Admittedly, to this day, the only hairstylists that have done my hair have been my dear sweet grandmother and a local stylist with a small home set-up.

Let’s face it, finding a hairstylist that you can trust with your particular hair needs can be hard when you’re a natural. This is especially so when the past 3 decades of Black hair have centered around either straightening methods or hair installments and frankly working from a base of inappropriate and/or inadequate information about the nature and needs of ethnic hair.

So, in this blog, I am going to offer my musings on what one should look for in a stylist.

1) Education. Quick story: I went to a high school that offered clusters and one of those clusters was cosmetology. The students in the cosmetology cluster had the opportunity to learn for four years and at the end of the senior year, sit for the licensing exam. What I noticed was that when the students in the cosmetology cluster would bring their heads (dolls that they would work on) into other classes with them, they all had straight Barbie-ish hair. Even though I never asked, it perplexed me because most of the students in that cluster were Black and I didn’t understand how they could have a true knowledge of working with Black hair if their training didn’t involve using dolls with ethnic hair.
Am I saying that you need to do a background check on the school they graduated from? Not necessarily. But, I would advise that caution be exercised before you sit down in front of a friend of a friend’s cousin’s step-sibling whose claim to fame is that they do everyone in the community’s hair but has yet to get any formal education or training.

2) Experience. Experience differs from education because it separates the learners from the doers. Even in my permed days, the stylists that I chose had at least ten years of experience and had worked with all types of hair. They were able to offer consultations and evaluations based on their years of experience and didn’t immediately default to the popular styles of the time. They were multidimensional so every client didn’t walk out of the salon looking the same and could give advice on between-appointment maintenance.

If you notice that a stylist has a disproportionate reaction to you hair (uncertainty, anxiety, grimacing, or spends more time picking at it with curiosity than actually working on it), you may want to re-evaluate if that stylist is right for you. If you notice that almost every client they have has an almost identical hair type or walks out of the salon with virtually the same hairstyle, perhaps more research is needed before you settle on him/her. I would add that even if the common style is attractive, you have to question why everyone walks out with the same style.

3) Humility. Although referred to as a client, you are a customer and should be treated as such. I recall the last salon visit I had before I had the BC (big chop). I went in for a retouch after several months of not having had one and asked for a very specific style. The stylist, whom I had never been to but was recommended, popped her gum, looked at my hair in a ponytail and said my hair wouldn’t be long enough to pull off that style. After washing out the relaxer, her statement was, “Oh, it didn’t look that long when you first came in here.” She than began to “trim my ends” and I left with a mushroom-style haircut with bangs that went back 2 inches farther on my left side than on my right.

I don’t know why she did it but if I had to guess, I think that she was embarrassed by her rushed judgment of my hair and to keep her ego intact, she had to make my hair “not long enough” for the style I requested. Another theory is that she had no idea how to do the style I requested and used a default style that she thought would suffice. Your hairstlyist has to realize that they are there to serve you to the best of their ability. They should be humble enough to listen to you and admit it when what you want or need is outside of their scope of knowledge or ability.

4) Professionalism. So, okay, I know we’ve all been there. We had a 2:00 appointment and at 4:00, we’re still in the waiting area. Sometimes the stylist was late. Sometimes the stylist “worked in” a friend or relative who didn’t have an appointment and we got pushed further down the roster. Sometimes the stylist took an extra long lunch break.
I have to postulate that the reason this practice has happened so long in Black salons is simply because clients quietly acquiesce. The willingness to wait an inordinate amount of time past the appointment time has served as a sort of “pass” to stylists who have a hard time honoring their clients’ appointment times. We can call it many things but I choose to call it a lack of professionalism based on a lack of respect.

These days, if I were to find myself in that situation, I would leave at 30 minutes past the appointment time and likely never return to that stylist. However, the decision to wait is a personal one that each client has to make for themselves. With that said, make sure that your client-stylist relationship is one under-girded by mutual respect. If you have entrusted them with the health of your hair and been responsible enough to show up on time, they should at least be respectful of your time.

Beyond their actions, professionalism can also be seen in how they interact with fellow stylists, how they keep their salon, equipment sanitation practices and even their own appearance and hygiene (I know what it’s like to silently suffer with the person shampooing me having forgotten to deodorize themselves).

Hopefully, those of you who need a stylist will be able to find one that suits you well. Whether you are looking for regular maintenance or only need someone you can call on for special occasions, it is imperative that you see evidence of these four traits in your stylist. Lastly, please remember that you should never be too afraid to switch stylists in a timely manner for any reason you choose. It’s your hair and you don’t have to explain your decision to leave to anyone. Your hair could depend on it.

Until next time, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

Protein: Short and Sweet

200908311113035246My hair is protein sensitive. While I occasionally use a protein treatment (about every 12 weeks), I have to be very conscientious about what type it is, how long to leave it on, and immediate aftercare. Many times, people will use protein when they are experiencing serious hair troubles (ie. breakage). When I use protein, I use it because of the stress of my active lifestyle (daily workouts, chlorine exposure, and the styling demands of travel).

Although many people decry the use of any type of protein treatment for natural hair, the truth is that our hair, a protein itself, needs the reinforcement of other proteins. The key is the aftercare of the hair once a protein treatment has been applied.

Protein is a fortifier; that is, it is used to make the hair stronger. On my hair, after a protein treatment, I notice significantly more shrinkage and dryness (in the minutes following the treatment) and combing through it, even with fingers or a wide-tooth comb is not really feasible. The antidote is….MOISTURE! I follow with a moisturizing deep conditioner and use Cute & Kinky Hair Moisturizer for styling.

In order to get positive results from protein treatments, the proper ratio or balance of moisture must be present. After using a stronger protein treatment, you must redeposit moisture into your locks or you will not get the results you want and may even end up with more breakage than you had before the treatment.

Types of Protein

The type of protein you use in your hair depends on what your purpose. Here’s a quick general guideline:

Wheat protein is known for strengthening and helping to retain moisture. I have found that my hair is less crunchy after using a treatment that is based on wheat protein. Although wheat is known for helping to retain moisture, you do not want to neglect moisturizing the hair after using it.

Plant-based proteins (ie. soy) are also known for their moisture-enhancing properties.
The product I have used that includes both of these ingredients (wheat protein and plant polysaccharides) is Elucence Extended Moisture Repair Treatment.

Keratin protein is probably the most popular when it comes to protein hair treatments. It is known for strengthening to the point where some treatments advise its use only by professionals. However, there are plenty of keratin-based protein treatments that one can use at home. I prefer Spiral Solutions Repairing Protein Treatment because it has a mix of both keratin and plant-based proteins that allows me to avoid the dryness and crunchiness that protein treatments that use only keratin temporarily cause me immediately after rinsing.

Silk protein is often used for softening. I have never knowingly used it and cannot attest to the results.

Collagen protein, common in anti-aging skin cosmetics, is known for its ability to increase elasticity.

As a bonus, I recommend that the proteins in your treatment be hydrolyzed. This allows them to better penetrate the hair and therefore more efficiently achieve their purpose.

Moderation Is Key

I started this entry off saying that my hair is protein sensitive and it is. However, this does not mean that my hair cannot benefit from occasional protein treatments. Many times, naturals will use protein-sensitive strands to avoid protein altogether. The problem is that your hair will eventually need protein. A protein treatment every 8-12 weeks, followed by a moisture-infusing regimen, will not hurt you. However, a protein treatment every day or week, I do not recommend.

Final Thoughts

Several blogs back, I talked about diet and getting enough protein in the diet. That affects your hair so if you find that regardless of how solid your regimen is and that even protein treatments/protein conditioners are not helping your hair, you may want to introduce more protein into your diet.

*Photo of protein sequence by Markus Buehler from Massachusetts Institute of Technology found at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/atomistic-tt1107.html

Unintentional Hair Enemies

Living the textured life has its perks. Your hair has personality and is resilient. However, because of this, special consideration must be taken when doing what many people take for granted or perform by rote. So, this week, I’ll talk about some natural hair enemies that we unconsciously face and the need to take account of them in our daily life.

warning-sign

Caps & Scarves
Although it is now spring and many of us don’t have to worry about this part of our wardrobe right now, autumn and winter will eventually cycle back around. Many of the fabrics that caps, hats, and scarves are made of have proven to be drying to the hair. When I was growing up, wool ribbons were popular and my beautician grandmother forbade them asserting that “wool will make your hair come out.” What happens is that certain fabrics can leech the moisture out of our hair making it more vulnerable to breakage. Further, the cling can pull on the hair and lend itself to splits. Be aware that cotton can also negatively affect the hair in the same manner.

The workaround: opt for satin-lined caps and hats and satin and silk scarves.

Overstyling
You may remember the blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago about giving your hair a break. Kinky, curly, and coily hair is fun! It can do things that straight hair simply cannot do. This can get us in trouble. Between blow dryers, flat irons, curling irons, braids, brushes (generally a natural hair no-no), twists, bows, bands, clips, and rubber bands (amongst others), our hair can become overtaxed.

The workaround: Give your hair a rest. Know when to take down your protective style. Use simple tools like a wide-tooth comb or your hands.

Long nails
Speaking of using hands as a styling tool, I want to make note of nails. Our nails are pretty and can often accent our look. However, when our nails are long, whether real or acrylic, we risk snagging our strands and causing breakage by simply running our fingers through it or absentmindedly “playing” in our hair. This is also a concern while attempting to perform general hair maintenance. I can attest to having pulled out a strand or two in the process of shampooing, raking conditioner through my hair and twisting. The possibility of damage increases when nails are unkempt (hangnails, too sharp, etc…).

The workaround: Make sure nails are at a manageable length. If you have trouble performing everyday tasks at your current length, consider trimming them and making sure that they are well-maintained. If you can, avoid the impulse to “play” in your hair.

Jewelry
This one is pretty straightforward. I cannot count how many times I’ve had my hair caught in necklaces, on earrings, in watches, bracelets and my wedding rings (ironically while “playing” in my hair). Even embracing someone wearing elaborate earrings can cause unintentional snags.

The workaround: As a fan of jewelry, I cannot and do not advise shunning jewelry. But, I do advise being conscious about the fact that you are wearing jewelry and plan ahead. For example, wear an updo on the days you opt to wear a necklace. If you have a habit of running your fingers through your hair, make sure it’s not the hand with the ring or other jewelry on it.

Furniture
We all work hard and every now and then, we get to lounge around and watch Netflix and do absolutely nothing. Even at work or in the doctor’s office we lean back on cloth covered chairs and couches. As relaxing as this may be, our hair may be baring the brunt of our leisure. In the midst of our lounging, leaning and resting, our hair is rubbing against these surfaces and…(you guessed it)…the moisture is again being leeched from our strands. I’ve personally experienced this issue with wicker furniture as well while wearing my hair down.

The workaround: If you’re lounging on a lazy day at home, go ahead and throw your satin or silk scarf on for extra protection. If you are out in public, be aware of the type of seat in which your are sitting. Personally, I always carry a clip so that in situations I cannot control, I can keep my hair out of harm’s way. If you don’t have a clip with you, or if clipping is not feasible, sit in a way that allows you to keep your head away from the furniture’s cloth but still be comfortable.

Next week, we’ll talk about protein. Until then, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.