I get quite a few e mails from new-on-the-scene afrobellas, or transitioning bellas, who are concerned about how to style natural hair. So many of the traditional straight hairstyles go out the window once you go natural, and in certain environments there’s a pressure to conform to silly style rules and regulations. Take for example, this comment exchange that I had with a 13 year old reader, Lola.
She says in part: “This might sound really silly but when you talk about curly hair do you mean kinky as well? Because there is a difference; donâ€™t get me wrong… My hair is alot thicker, to the point where i cannot leave it out if you know what i mean, or else it just gets very dry, brittle and matted, no matter how much hair moisturizer i use. would you suggest anything for my type of hair?” In a later comment, Lola recounted some of her past hair drama, and discussed the issues she was facing as a young afrobella.
“I first got my hair straightened for a wedding when I was 6 years old and it was never the same after that. I got split ends, my hair went limp and my mum decided to relax it. This carried on until the 6th grade when I finally decided enough was enough and went for The Big Chop. Iâ€™ve been natural for almost 2 years now, and my hair is almost up to my shoulders now, but the thing I find so frustrating about having natural hair is that styling it seems so limited. My mumâ€™s hair is relaxed and she keeps telling me that I might as well just do the same because all I can do to my hair is braid it and cornrow it, whilst she can just leave it out, tong it, curl it and do so much more. Do you have any natural hairstyle suggestions? Iâ€™ve also wanted to get highlights in my hair for quite some time now, but my mum says it will damage my hair. Iâ€™m so confused, and do not know where to begin with my hair! iâ€™m just sick and tired of having to have it in braids all the time so that it lasts throughout the school term. I would like something different for a change.”
Lola, you’ve been on my mind ever since. Small wonder our hair issues go so deep — look at how early our chemical processes begin! Like Lola, I started relaxing early. I must have been six or seven, and I used to give my family hell to comb my hair. And I imagine Lola’s attending a school like my alma mater, an all-girl institution where students wear a uniform and are expected to look neatly similar. Back then, I constantly got in trouble for wearing too much jewelry — I was proudly sporting seven holes in my ears and had a “lucky necklace” I needed to wear every day. And my hair was at its most damaged, because besides straightening it regularly, I was experimenting with hair color and basically frying my overprocessed tresses. Anything for self expression, right?
I think that going natural at a young age takes strength, particularly if you — like so many afrobellas — have parents or family members who don’t completely embrace or encourage the natural look. And that’s why you’ve got to own your fro! Here’s how in four easy steps.
1. Take the time to get to know your hair. We’ve all got issues — I have some schizophrenic curls towards the front that are just crazy and own-way. Dry scalp is a recurring problem for me, and if I’m not using enough product (or the right kind of product), my hair winds up looking, as my Cali friend Lauren might say, “hella frizzy.” You mentioned that your hair is extremely thick, and it gets very dry, brittle, and matted. no matter how much hair moisturizer you use. Lola, I suspect you’re using products that aren’t ideal for your hair texture. When you discover products that work with your texture, a whole new world will open up to you.
Before you start saving your shillings for small sizes of Garnier Fructis Curl and Shine, Curls Milkshake, Miss Jessie’s, and Kinky Curly Curling Custard, try experimenting with at-home hair recipes! I just spotted a jar of organic coconut oil at my grocery store, and I definitely plan to get some and whip up some at-home hair remedies. Since you live in England, you should most definitely hit up Anita Grant. She’s a natural hair superwoman with a line of fantastic products, and she’s just so sweet and friendly. Definitely look into her products, and e mail her if you’ve got specific hair questions. And your mom is right on one thing — don’t think about highlights until your hair is healthy and strong, and you’ve found the right products. Hair color really can be damaging. I speak from experience.
2. Once you’ve figured out what hair products work for you, then consider the ocean of hairstyles that stretches before you! If you’re bored with braids and cornrows, try playing with different styles over the weekend. Afro puffs (two little ponytails) can be adorable. So are two or three-strand twists, and then when you do a twist-out, your hair falls into fantastic spirals. I’m a big fan of the wash and go fro, that’s pretty much how I wear my hair every day. I’m also loving a little asymmetry — take a look at the photo of my amiga Katrina up there. Some of you might remember, I wrote about her a while back when we talked transitioning. Now she’s working the fro like there’s no tomorrow! She wore her hair like this for her birthday last month, and achieved the look with bobby pins. I love her “to the left, to the left” style, and the confidence she’s got in this photo. Now THAT is how you own your fro! Thanks for letting me share your fly foxiness, Tree!
3. Now you can start thinking of hair accessories. I’ve already expressed my love of headbands, and Jennifer Behr makes some exquisite (albeit pricey) ones. This stretch silk rosette headwrap costs $92!
But it gives you a great idea of the kinds of looks you can work with a headband. Glamour magazine has a great blog that featured some cool hair accessory sites, all wonderful sources for inspiration. If you’re an afrobella with big hair, you will probably need a much wider, stretchier, and bigger headband than your straight-haired friends. Comfort is a must, so I’d steer you clear of the tight plastic variety. Think cloth, think glam.
Accessories are a quick and easy way to switch up your hair style from day to day. You could find inspiration in Billie Holiday, and rock a flower in your fro for a cute, feminine look. Also check out Brunsli’s hair ties, they’re amazing, especially for rastabellas.
4. Most importantly, you gotta wear your fro with pride. The purest beauty comes from within, so the best advice I can give you is, love yourself and celebrate your beauty. We all have our insecurities and self consciousness, but if we allow those doubting voices in the back of our heads to get to us, we won’t get far. It can take years to get to the point where you don’t care if people talk about you because you look different, or you can walk into a crowded room and feel radiant and confident. It took me practically all of my teens and some of my early twenties, too! But after years of faking it, I finally made it to the point where I carry myself with genuine confidence. But it’s important to work on feeling that way, and the more you work on it, the stronger you’ll feel it. So before you go off to school, I suggest you look yourself in the mirror and give yourself a big, bright smile. And mean it! Believe it. Then throw your shoulders back, strut your stuff down the hallway, and know you’re a fierce, strong afrobella with a bright future ahead of you.
Hope that helps, Lola. Write back and let me know! Any other suggestions for owning your fro, bellas and fellas?