Growing my Hair and Growing in Life
“Yeah, let’s cut it all off….. Hello, Leah…are you there?” There was dead silence on my end of the phone. My natural hair stylist, Carmen just suggested that I go through with the big chop. My jaw dropped. Did she really suggest that I just cut off all my hair?
Initially, I called Carmen, to discuss the difficulties with my transitioning hair. At first, it was easy to camouflage my relaxed and natural textures. There was little new growth, so I rocked bantu knots, slicked back buns, and twist outs. But as my hair grew out, it was knotty and much harder to detangle. Worse of all, the line of demarcation (the point where relaxed and natural textures meet) was incredibly weak. Long strands of hair were breaking off whenever I washed, combed, or tugged on my hair. Shedding, I could deal with but straight-up, full-on breakage was traumatic. I needed a solution.
“I’m still here… so just cut it all off?” I said in a skeptical voice. “Yeah, so you can show off your curls. I think you’re ready.” Carmen replied confidently. We scheduled the appointment for the big chop a week from our conversation over the phone. I walked into Carmen’s salon with a head full of relaxed hair, and I walked out as a beautiful dark-skinned queen donning my God-given crown of curls and kinks. I was carefree, authentic, and unapologetically Black. Not only did this decision give me a new sense of confidence, but it put extra money back into my pocket and freed up my Saturday mornings. I was happy all around!
Fast forward to today, I’ve been natural for almost 9 months. I’ve loved every minute, second, and hour of it. I love the versatility in styling my hair, the compliments that my coworkers give me (even when I think I’m having a bad hair day), and the sense of pride that I feel as a natural woman. The entire experience has been transformative. Ironically, it has mirrored a lot of life experiences that I’ve felt in my 20s.
Going through the Big Chop
The big chop was my quick short path to going natural and embracing my coils. Without the straggly, heat-damaged ends of my hair, my hair was a lot easier to style. Wearing a short, curly fade required very little maintenance. Also, I could exercise at the gym, swim in the community pool, and even get caught in the summer rainstorm (umbrella-free!). After almost twenty years of an adversarial relationship, water and I were real-life BFFLs.
The big chop is analogous to many stages in our lives where we have to go through big drastic, changes to reach our full potential. These bold changes may mean quitting that high-status consulting job that you’re not passionate about or the banker you’re dating who enjoys your company but doesn’t seem quite ready for a commitment. For me, it was letting go of the partying scene. My mid-twenties (24-26) were a super awkward time for me. Close friendships started to drift away, I was thinking about marriage, my parents were aging, and there was a lot of uncertainty in what I valued out of life. Going out to the local bar or club was a means to escape the challenges of my life. It wasn’t until I traded my drunk nights for sober mornings that I was able to process my emotions and come to terms life’s changes. Heat-damaged, straight ends represent the obstacles that hinder us from achieving greatness – negative self-talk, jobs that make us unhappy, friends who continually hurt us, harmful addictions to food or drugs – and it's always a good time for a big chop.
Nourishing with Deep Conditioner
Incorporating deep conditioning into my natural hair regime has been incredibly beneficial. Deep conditioning restores the elasticity in my hair and provides an extra boost of moisture vital to my dry ends. The priority that I place on deep conditioning my hair each week and sometimes twice a week is similar to my commitment to self-care and mental wellness. As a young consultant in the DC area, my schedule stays very packed. I’m shuffling from meeting to meeting, running an online business with my boyfriend, doing chores, cooking meals, paying bills, and making time for my friends. Somewhere in that equation, I fit in phone calls with my immediate family.
Life will continually be hectic, but the same way that I give special attention to my dry ends through deep conditioning, I feed and nourish my mental health. Working out is a huge stress relief. I spend a lot of time running on the treadmill and lifting weights. My favorite self-care day is cleaning my apartment, putting on an exfoliation mask, washing my hair, and indulging in my favorite TV shows (bonus points if I’m able to watch a show live with Black twitter commentary). It is a ton of unproductive time, but it is my time to recharge and repair my soul for the following week. In the recent months, the climate of the country has been particularly tense and stressful. To protect my mind and spirit, sometimes I disconnect from social media and electronics for a night or so. Deep conditioning represents the self-care measures that make us feel mentally whole – practicing in daily prayer, exercising at the gym, pursuing hobbies, or spending quality time with friends and family.
Trial & Error for the Perfect Fit
I remember when I started to transition and I googled best natural hair products. There was literally a thousand different links, blogs, videos, and articles to a variety of products. It was overwhelming especially since I wasn’t really familiar with my own hair texture. It was purely trial & error as I discovered which products and oils worked best for my dense 4a/4b/4c hair. Similarly, in life, we have to endure the pain of trial & error to figure out what’s best for us. We’ve all had these experiences – switching between majors in college or sifting through potential beaus on online dating apps.
For me, it took quite a while to find the right firm when I moved to DC two and half years ago. I was severely overqualified for my first position, and my second firm had an overly stressful, hypercompetitive environment. At my second firm, I found myself in the “I hate my job, but I’m scared to quit” conundrum. I had only been with the second company for 8 months, so I felt a sort of obligation to stick it out for a year. But each day, I grew more miserable and unhappy. I was committed to finding a job that utilized my skills with a group of supportive co-workers, and that meant leaving that dreadful company. I followed up with leads, sent my resume around my network, and eventually landed the job of my dreams. It was definitely a trial & error experience as I found the company that was best suited for me. I’m able to share my natural hair product successes (and yes, sometimes failures) with newbies or those who are all transitioning. What didn’t work for my hair, may work for someone else. Similarly, I am able to rely on my experiences with various DC healthcare firms with younger professionals.
As my natural hair grows, my styling techniques and regimens continue to evolve and change. There will be some bad hair days or moments of frustration in my career or with my family, but those moments are temporary. I’m looking forward to mastering my twist-out as well as the twist and turns that life throws at me!
Leah Brown is a health policy consultant living in Arlington, VA. Her natural hair has been an unexpected passion since she started her journey 9 months ago. Leah enjoys watching movies, exercising, cooking, running an online marketing business, and exploring the DC area. Admittedly, she spends way too much time tweeting and tagging her friends in internet memes.