In 2001, when my book Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America hit store shelves, women rocking natural hair styles were considered brave and daring. They had to possess super-human levels of self-confidence and an arsenal of homemade hair care potions at the ready because there were few commercial products being marketed to them and even fewer salons offering them services.
Fast forward ten years and natural hair has gone from radical to respectable in many places. Indeed, it’s easier than ever to transition from relaxed hair to chemical-free curls. From online blogs to offline support groups, there now exists a wealth of information and resources for the black woman yearning to get back to her roots. What’s more, salons catering to “naturalistas” are cropping up in cities across the country, not just on the fashion-forward coasts.
It seems like every day a new product line, specifically formulated for natural kinks and curls, is introduced — products that can be purchased in mainstream retail stores like Target and Whole Foods, instead of from the guy on the street corner who also sells incense and bootleg DVDs. Even Sesame Street Muppets are singing the praises of natural hair.
So why are some women still struggling with the process — or even going back to the “creamy crack,” as some people dub the addictive nature of relaxers?
In her essay on MadameNoire.com, publishing professional Kendra Koger described the financial and time investments required of natural hair that drove her back to the crack. After becoming pregnant and having to plan for a child, “Whenever I looked in the mirror, I would see my hair and would begin to remember fondly of the times that all I had to do was to buy a $9 relaxer, some $4 olive oil for moisturizer, then just wrap my hair,” she wrote. “So to help myself deal, I began to simplify things.”
For Koger, indulgences like costly natural hair care products and the luxury of experimenting with her natural curls went out the window when the time came to care for her child.
Anu Prestonia, a natural hair care expert, is familiar with such misgivings when it comes to maintaining unprocessed locks. The owner of the famed New York City-based Khamit Kinks Natural Hair Salon and co-producer of the new documentary, In Our Heads About Our Hair, has been styling natural hair for over two decades. She has heard plenty of women express frustration over going natural.
“The most common complaint I hear,” Prestonia told theGrio, “is that natural hair is too difficult to deal with.” Prestonia attributes this complaint, however, to a lack of knowledge. “Most women who believe natural hair is harder to handle, really haven’t been taught how to properly care for, style and maintain natural styles,” she said. Whatever the reason, for some, the learning curve is just too steep.
Tesha Poe, 40, can relate. “I never mastered styling my natural look,” said the private school administrator based in California. “I was spending more time, money, and effort on my hair than I ever had in my life,” she said about her time living chemical free.