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?”
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