The Frustrating Truth About Growing Out Your Natural Hair
I should have taken out my extensions three weeks ago. I've never left them in longer than eight weeks because the tension of the sewn-in hair can cause breakage. But I don't care. I'm avoiding my natural hair.
Since I started transitioning to natural hair after decades of relying on chemical relaxers to keep it straight, I've had to deal with new growth. But given how slowly hair grows, I was able to mask it. I hadn't really had to face my newly natural strands because I kept them tucked away, out of sight. Not only was this the easy way out (no big chop to get used to, no new styling to learn), but it's also been good for my hair. Without the stress of the high-heat blow-outs I would have needed to get a silky-straight style, my natural hair was left to come in damage-free. Brilliant, right? Confused friends would ask, "I thought you were going natural?" I'd say brightly, "I am! I just can't deal with it yet." They would nod. Change is hard.
Before. Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D
But my days of hiding are over. My coarse, kinky hair is now too long to blend nicely with the extensions—the two textures just aren't working together. I knew this day would come, yet I'm not ready. When I see my stylist, I confess that I'm considering throwing in the towel. Maybe this just isn't for me.
My stylist laughs. She's heard this all before. And just listening to her say that other women have felt as frustrated as I do is comforting. She tells me it's not uncommon to give up, go back to straightening, and try again later. Honestly, I'm almost at that place.
It's not that I want to quit— I don't. I just didn't realize how hard it would be to see this through, particularly given what's happening in my professional life. In 2016, I launched a haircare startup geared toward women of color. And I quickly discovered that when you run a beauty business, everyone—consumers, potential business partners—makes hair contact before eye contact. People expect your hair to look great, which means it's not an ideal time to experiment. That's why I'm afraid of taking out the extensions and managing my hair between appointments.
To be clear, no one is saying I look bad. These neuroses are of my own making. Not truly understanding how to style my hair makes me feel ill-equipped to wear it curly. Will everyone be able to tell I don't know what I'm doing? Do I even have the face for short hair? Why am I going natural when I haven't fully embraced the look?
I could give up and try again when my business is more stable and I have time to learn to work with what's on my head, but that would be a cop-out. There's really never a great time to make a big change. What I need more than a new hairstyle is a new mindset. I've been so focused on the end goal (healthier hair! big curls!) that I never bothered to make peace with this messy middle part. If I keep covering up my natural hair, I never will.
The in-between. Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D
When my stylist finally removes the extensions, I'm shocked by how long and thick my hair is. She does a two-strand twist, which involves twirling tiny sections and having me sit under the dryer for an hour to create a curlier effect. When the dryer finally stops, I'm on pins and needles. Will I like it? And, more important, will I keep it?
After removing Jihan’s extensions, stylist Vicki Chambers-Williams combed through her hair to loosen it up and create a textured style that will bring the relaxed ends and natural growth into harmony. Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D
She fluffs the twists to create a curly 'fro, parted on the side. I finally look like so many of the women in natural hair pics I had pinned and saved. I like it. I don't quite love it—yet. It's a lot of hair. I remind myself that I'm always just one blow-out away from straight hair. And I take heart from other people's reactions. Even though I'm on the fence, my friends and, to my surprise, my husband love it. That helps me keep going—so I can give my hair time to grow on me.
To read parts 1 and 2 of Jihan's hair journey, go to oprah.com/naturalhair.