Transitioning to Natural Hair: One Year In
There have been many moments when I've longed for the carefree days of silky-smooth roots and easy styling, but I'm committed to seeing this through. However, I'm not above taking some shortcuts. So when my stylist, Vikki Chambers-Williams, suggested I opt for temporary extensions, I didn't hesitate. They'd be sewn into my own hair, which would be braided tightly to my scalp. This protective style would save me from subjecting my fragile new strands to the heat of a flatiron, and they could grow longer and stronger without added stress or risk of breakage. Best of all, styling would be a breeze, just as it was when I was relaxing. Putting in the extensions took nearly five hours at the salon, but it was worth it for the two months of blissful convenience that followed.
In the meantime, I played the waiting game, looking forward to seeing how much new growth I'd have when I took them out.
Whenever I met a woman who'd already transitioned, I'd ask, "How long did it take?" For some it was only a year; for others, two. A few said three, and that's when I wished I'd started sooner. Still, I told myself, I'm on the path, and maybe this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.
For years, I was unyielding about my hair: always straight with a little curl on the ends, parted on the side. I freaked out over trims and wouldn't even go near a colorist. Yet here I am willing to try an entirely different look, and I feel fully at peace. Over the course of this experience, I've noticed a surprising shift: I not only care less about what other people think—I care less about what I think. It's just hair!
When it's time for Vikki to remove the extensions and give my own hair a nice deep clean, she tells me I have enough new growth to try a twist-out, a style in which the natural roots are twisted to create a curlier look. I'm game. While I'm curious—how long will it be? what will the curls look like?—I'm not nervous.
I spend nearly two hours under the dryer (it takes that long for the curls to set!), and then the moment finally arrives: I sit down, look in the mirror, and...I'm wowed. I have tight, springy coils, which I tease out later. Who knew my hair could look like this?! I like it, but honestly, I'm more in love with its potential: As the curls grow longer, I'll have more exciting new styling options.
For now, of course, my ends are still relaxed; until I cut them off, my hair will be an uneven mix of textures. And that's okay. There was a time when I would have been put off by having one strand out of place, but embracing my hair for what it is feels like the most natural step of all.
To read parts 1 and 2 of Jihan's hair adventure, go to oprah.com/naturalhair.
Jihan Thompson is a writer, editor and cofounder of Swivel Beauty, an app that helps women of color find stylists and salons.