The Transition to Natural Hair, 8 Months In
I'm standing in the haircare aisle at Target, grabbing any product that might possibly save me: Protein mask with coconut oil. Deep moisturizing treatment. Conditioner. Anything labeled for coarse hair. Bonus points if it's specially formulated for women growing out relaxers.
It's been eight months since I stopped chemically straightening my hair, and my two and a half inches of new, natural growth is insanely dry and brittle. I've been working out a lot, which makes things worse because sweating leaves my hairline bushy, a wildly different texture from my bone-straight ends. It often looks as if I don't even own a brush. I started this process because I was sick of relaxers (the cost, the time, the physical pain) and ready to get reacquainted with my real texture (which happens to be very trendy right now). But it's clear that the honeymoon phase of this process is over.
It doesn't help that I'm limiting myself to blow-outs every other week. The schedule is better for my hair (even with a deep conditioning treatment, the intense heat only puts more stress on my natural roots and fragile relaxed ends), but it isn't doing much for my appearance. Most days I just wear a bun and throw on a headband. Fortunately, I work from home; I can't imagine going into an office in my current state. From what I read in online support groups, this is when women give up.
I can relate. For most of my life, someone else has cared for my hair: first my mom, then a stylist. And because I've been getting relaxers since I was about 13, I don't even remember what my natural hair feels like. But I'm 32 years old—I should be able to handle it myself! I text an SOS to a friend who started transitioning eight months before I did. She offers a pep talk ("Keep going! You'll get the hang of it!") and tells me to mix olive oil with my conditioners. A lot of olive oil. So I do, and it leaves my hair more nourished than it's been in weeks. Taking the process into my own hands gives me the sense of accomplishment kids must feel when they learn to tie their shoes.
It's this sense of ownership that keeps me from throwing in the towel. I have to accept that my hair evolution will take time. It's like dieting—I need to stay focused on the big picture. Saying no to a pint of ice cream is a bummer, but it gets me closer to fitting into a bridesmaid dress. Right now, my greater goal is learning how to love my natural hair. When I go in for my next trim, my stylist tells me that everyone's texture varies; I'll have to figure out what my hair needs through trial and error. For someone who wishes everything in life could come with an owner's manual, this is a challenge.
She then suggests a "protective style"—a wig, a weave, braids, anything that will allow me to stop using heat entirely, which will make my hair healthier and styling easier. Without hesitation, I book an appointment for a weave. Later I wonder whether I'm taking the easy way out. Maybe so. But if it keeps me from quitting, what's the point of splitting hairs?
Will Jihan do the big chop? Stay tuned for our next installment.
Jihan Thompson is a writer, editor and cofounder of Swivel Beauty, an app that makes it easy for women of color to find the best stylists and salons.
Want more stories like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for the Oprah.com Style Newsletter!