2017 was the year of trying again.
It was precipitated by two words my therapist kept repeating: self care. I was already in the middle of what they call a “quarter life crisis,” which I think is just a fancy way of explaining the series of epiphanies and meltdowns that the reckoning of 30 brings, particularly if you’re a single, childless woman. I needed some part of myself to care for, to baby.
After a patch of hair broke off at the demarcation line between natural and relaxed hair, my question to the universe about where to start with the self care thing seemed clear. I knew I could no longer sacrifice the health of my hair for convenience. It was time to begin the trek toward healthy hair which, for me, meant no more relaxers. Ever. For a girl who had gotten her first relaxer at age 9 and returned to them over and over again — despite the toxic repercussions — it felt like a mammoth undertaking.
In the quest to attain healthy, manageable hair, I scoured the internet for weeks in hopes of discovering the best products, methods, and guides to help me on my journey. After hours of Youtube videos curly, kinky hair tutorials, various conditioners, shampoos, and milks, I finally unearthed the ambrosia of deep conditioners: NaturAll Club’s Hydrating Avocado Conditioner.
NaturAll Club is the brainchild of Muhga Eltigani, a Black woman who began making hair care products in her dorm room at Princeton after commercial haircare products repeatedly wreaked havoc on her own kinky, curly mane. NaturaAllClub.com is not just a typical website: it’s an educational enclave for natural hair care, complete with a quiz to determine which product formula works for you, a forum for natural coif concerns, and a dutiful FAQs section that provides a description of each ingredient used in the product line and answers virtually any question you may have about the product itself. Then there’s my favorite part, The Ultimate Curl Pattern Guide, an extensive chart to assist the reader in discovering their natural hair type.
It was the testimonials that ultimately convinced me to make the purchase. They came from Black women like me who had taken a chance on NaturAll and were discovering the best and highest versions of their hair — a feeling I badly wanted to share with them. I decided to try again. I was stunned after using the Hydrating Avocado conditioner and stepping into the mirror to see perfectly moisturized, detangled curls, my natural curl pattern, for the very first time in my life. Well, not quite.
During a visit to my grandmother’s house the same year, I found a photo of six-month-old me. In the photo, I had a full head of perfectly wound spirals, an unfamiliar sight. Looking at the picture, I realized that there are no other photos of my hair in its natural form from my childhood years.
In those years, my hair was kept in a state of straightness, constantly abused by relaxers and hot combs and blow dryers — the result of my mother’s untenable anxiety about having a girl child whose hair was not the 2c texture of her own, my hair was not nearly as easy to keep straight and therefore “less presentable.” The single photo staring back at me felt like the only picture I’d ever seen of my real self.
When feminist Carol Hanisch wrote, “the personal is political,” she probably didn’t have my hair in mind, but that quote has never been more true than when it comes to the physical appearance of Black women. Erasure of our struggle against cultural impositions is commonplace, too. You can find almost anything on the internet these days, scholarly or otherwise, except, it seems, a cohesive, satisfying treatise of what participants have dubbed “the natural hair movement.” The movement itself can be traced back directly to the Black Power Movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s; a political break from the press-n-curl portmanteau, the donning of natural hair in those days was a tangible form of resistance.
The modern natural hair movement expands on the Black Power movement’s tradition by centering the care of Afro hair as resistance. Eltigani’s personal hair story epitomizes the importance of this resistance — and it was her impetus for founding NaturAll Club. Fed up with the hair damage imposed by commercial products made without a care for ethnic hair, she cut off her processed, damaged tresses and embarked on a “six month all-natural product challenge” that resulted in an uncanny four inches of hair growth.
What made that kind of uncanny growth possible is also what makes NaturAll Club conditioners different from virtually any other on the market. Unlike the majority oil-based products available for curly/kinky hair, NaturAll conditioners are fruit-based. While oils are important for sealing moisture into hair and preventing it from drying out, oil itself sits on the hair cuticle without penetrating the hair shaft. In other words, oil-based products fail to actually provide moisture. By comparison, NaturAll’s fruit base (such as avocado, the primary ingredient in their Deep Conditioners) penetrates deep into the hair shaft, able to provide both the moisture and nutrients naturally contained in fruit. Using NaturAll products is literally extreme self care for your hair.
I am no natural hair guru but I have now learned — largely by trial and error — what my hair needs to be happy on a day-to-day basis. Some days, it’s as simple as water and olive oil; on wash day, caring for it can be an hours-long ritual I’ve come to cherish. And I’ll be honest, the idea of self care is still intimidating as hell to me. So is the idea of healing. But when I look at my hair now, after two years of “babying” it, I see those curls from my baby picture all grown up. I feel like all is not lost, that childhood trauma did not, in fact, consume my entire original self.
I feel a sense of triumph when I find the missing patch that began my journey is no longer there. I’m in awe that a piece of me could heal in such a way, that there could be such a tangible victory in the middle of a life crisis — or that it could manifest through something as simple as trying again. After losing them over and over, my curls are still intact.