I’m sure that by now, you’ve read so many pieces featuring references to shelter-in-place restrictions and the (hopefully) temporary shuttering of non-essential businesses due to the effects of COVID-19.
Much to the chagrin of many people including myself, hair salons and barbershops are non-essential in the government’s eyes.
Like many women of color, I’m using this time to forego my beloved braids, crochet twists and faux locs to let my natural hair (which I’ve affectionately named “Leona”) thrive during this time. If I can be entirely transparent, I do protective styles mostly because my natural hair scares tf out of me, and I’m incredibly impatient when it comes to learning how to do it. Like a black sheep relative, I will say hello to my natural hair every so often, but will never fully interact with it on some buddy-buddy type shit.
I had gotten a half-up-half-down sew-in about a week before everything shut down here in NYC, so of course, I had to learn not only how to remove a sew-in (which was easier than anticipated), but I then had to confront one of my biggest stressors, Leona.
I asked both my real-life sister and my good sis YouTube for advice and used the natural products I already had at my disposal in order to get to work. During the lockdown, I’ve made sure to wash and deep condition Leona once a week, and I’ve attempted twist-outs while she dries, since I’m trying not to use heat for the year. It’s levels (and layers) to this shit, resulting in something as subtle as gathering Leona into a bun requiring the “strent of di bleck pentha” (or two ponytail holders, rubber bands, bobby pins and gel…which is basically the same thing).
But all in all…it’s not as bad as I thought.
I really like my curl pattern, which features both loose waves and curls. The texture is––on its best days––manageable to work with (I’m somewhere between 3B and 3C). However, it’s the amount of hair on my head that’s always been the real struggle, and something that I’ve been conditioned to neglect ever since I was a child.
To give you some context, my hair was to my waist until I was 14 years old, and the last time I had it straightened in December 2019, it was in the middle of my back. So yes, she thicc. Because of this fact, my mother started relaxing my hair when I was just five years old. My mother is Jamaican, and if you know anything about Caribbean mamas, it’s that when it comes to working with thick, long, textured hair, they nuh have dat. It was bye-bye curls and hello “Just For Me.” My natural pattern? I didn’t know her *Mariah Carey voice.*
I truly believe that if my mother had just let Leona thrive, things would be very different. But during the quarantine, I’m working to foster a sense of understanding with my hair. Slowly and surely, I’m getting there, because it’s definitely going to take some getting used to for the time being.
Time alone with my hair is not only giving me a chance to experiment with different products, but has given me a chance to reflect on my hair journey and how I’ve gotten to this point. I’ve also had time to think about if I can call myself a naturalista. I know there are women who believe that if you’re natural, you have to be 100 percent natural at all times. Me, on the other hand? I think that being natural is a process, and everyone is on different journeys in their respective processes. To be honest, I don’t think I’m there yet. Leona and I are gaining an understanding of one another, but I know I’m getting a protective style installed as soon as I’m reunited with my hairstylist of 11 years (I think I’ve earned it, dammit).
But my preference of how I like to wear my natural hair shouldn’t negate my natural status. I believe that I can still enjoy the benefits of going natural and equally enjoy playing with various styles and lengths whenever, especially as someone who is recovering from 17 years of hair chemicals. I went natural in order to try something new and to get rid of damage. Not having to put my head through the effects of relaxers is already a win on my journey, if you ask me, so why should it matter how I wear my natural hair?
I went my entire childhood, adolescence and college life with a relaxed head of hair. I never considered changing things up until I was told sometime in 2015 by my stylist that I couldn’t dye my hair blonde. I saw a photo of Jourdan Dunn with a beautiful honey blonde bob, and she flat out said “nah. If you don’t know about how blonde hair on black women works, it takes a lot of lifting with powerful bleach, and in my case, a chemical relaxer plus bleach could have resulted in me looking like that Lisa Simpson meme. She wasn’t about to let me go out sad, especially since my hair was down my back again for the first time in a while. So that day, I told her, “This will be my last relaxer,” and by late 2016, I was entirely natural after opting to transition and not big chop.
We both never thought we’d see the day I would ditch the creamy crack, but if my relaxer was prohibiting me from being the hair chameleon I wanted to become, then what was the point?
I walked on the *wild side* a few times: added some highlights, cut it, and even got ghastly bangs when I started “wearing it out,” but never thought about changing up the straight texture. I admit I can be bold, but I can also be a punk bitch, so I had to make a decision: Do something drastic in order to have fun and save my strands, or keep the straight hair, keep damaging it, and never be able to do anything with it? The choice was clear, and thankfully, it was made during the time where naturally textured hair and protective styles were becoming even more visible, in large part due to stars like Lupita Nyong’o, Solange, and Zendaya.
While I’ve been fully natural for about four years now, more often than not I’ve opted for protective styles because of personal preference. My favorite thing about natural hair and black hair in general is our ability to change it up. I’ve never had the chance to really change up my hairstyles during my relaxed era, and being able to do it now is exactly what the doctor ordered. I still take care of my natural hair through deep conditioners, trims, and minimal heat, and it’s getting a helluva lot of love in quarantine, so it’s truly the best thing for me.
It doesn’t matter what you choose to do with your hair when you’re natural, as long as you’re doing what you believe is best for you on your journey. I’m happy that I don’t have to deal with chemical damage, and I’m thrilled that I now have the freedom to actually do things with my hair that I couldn’t do before. I’m able to be a true hair chameleon through protective styles and with my natural curls, instead of experimenting with damaging colors and cuts.
I also feel like I’m understanding myself more, and coming to terms with how special having my hair is as a black woman. It’s thick as hell and it hurts my arms every single time I have to work with it, but as someone who never thought she’d get to this point, I’m loving it and the story that it tells. (Plus, I never have to do arm day workouts now, thanks Leona!).
Through the hair lessons learned during this quarantine, I also don’t think I’ll be as reliant on my hairstylist as I was before we went on lockdown. I can wear my curls out and take care of it on my own a lot more often, so that the formerly distant cousin relationship with my hair can become a little better. All in all, I know that if we’re ever trapped in the house again like this, the two of us––my big hair and me––will be just fine.