You’re an African American woman who decided to go gray and natural. There’s nothing like feeling free from hair color and chemicals. But gray and natural hair fall into the category of needing a lot of TLC. Natural gray hair is prone to dryness and breakage, making proper hair care and using the right products super important.
Whether through the big chop, a bold decision to cut off all chemically processed hair at once, or the slow and gradual process of growing out the relaxed or straightened hair, more and more African American women are embracing their natural hair texture and proudly rocking their natural crowns.
For years, African American women have faced societal pressures and Eurocentric beauty standards that favor straight hair over natural textures. These standards have led many women to chemically process their hair, subjecting it to harsh relaxers and straightening treatments. The desire to conform to these ideals often damaged and compromised their hair’s health.
Making the decision to go natural is not merely a physical transformation but also an emotionally challenging journey. For African American women who have spent years altering their hair texture, it can be a profound shift in self-acceptance and self-love. Letting go of societal expectations and embracing one’s natural hair can liberate, empower, and affirm one’s authentic identity.
Transitioning from chemically processed hair to natural hair is different for every individual. Some opt for the big chop, where they cut off all the relaxed or straightened hair and start afresh with a shorter length. This can be a bold and transformative step, symbolizing a fresh start and embracing natural beauty.
Others choose a slower approach, allowing their natural hair to grow out gradually while trimming off the chemically treated ends over time. This method requires patience and careful hair care practices to nurture the transitioning hair and prevent breakage. It’s a testament to the dedication and commitment of these women to reclaim their natural beauty.
The decision to go natural is often met with mixed reactions from society. While many celebrate and support the embrace of natural hair, others may still hold onto outdated beauty standards and stigmatize those who defy them. However, the growing natural hair movement has created a vibrant community of African American women who provide support, encouragement, and inspiration to one another. Online platforms, haircare forums, and social media have become spaces where women share their stories and hair care tips and celebrate the beauty of natural hair.
The journey of going natural is not without its challenges. Learning to care for and style natural hair requires education, experimentation, and finding the right products for individual hair types. However, the rewards are immense. Embracing one’s natural hair can lead to healthier, stronger, and more resilient hair. It allows African American women to reclaim their cultural heritage, celebrate their unique beauty, and challenge societal norms that limit their self-expression.
Going natural represents a powerful and transformative journey for African American women. It is a journey towards self-acceptance, self-love, and embracing authentic beauty. I am one of those women.
My natural hair was a mystery
As a little girl, I vividly recall the gentle touch of my mother’s hands as she carefully styled my hair, delicately pressing and curling it into place. Those moments were filled with love, warmth, and the comforting scent of hair products. But as time went on, my hair grew longer, thicker, and seemingly too unruly to manage. My mother made the difficult decision to take me to a hairdresser, where my innocent tresses would undergo a transformation that would shape my hair journey for the next 41 years.
At just twelve years old, I found myself sitting in that salon chair, nerves tingling and excitement mingling with apprehension. The hairstylist applied the chemical straightener, altering the very essence of my curls. As I walked out of that salon, my hair no longer bore its natural texture but lay sleek and straight, conforming to the ideals of beauty that society deemed desirable. Little did I know that this seemingly innocent decision would begin a long and complicated relationship with my hair.
Over the years, I became accustomed to the routine of chemical straightening. The burning sensation on my scalp, the overpowering smell of chemicals permeating the air, and the temporary satisfaction of having straight hair that seemed to fit the mold of what was expected. But as the years passed, a yearning began to grow within me. It was a desire to uncover the hidden beauty beneath the surface, buried beneath layers of chemical alteration.
And so, at 53, I made the brave and life-altering decision to go natural. It was a choice fueled by a deep longing to rediscover my true self, to embrace the natural texture that had been suppressed for far too long. But I didn’t opt for the dramatic “big chop” some embark upon. Instead, I chose a path of patience, of slow transformation, where frequent trims and tender care became my allies.
Months turned into years as I embarked on this journey towards self-acceptance.
With each passing day, my anticipation grew, mingled with moments of doubt and uncertainty. But I pressed on, my determination fueled by the hope of witnessing something extraordinary. And finally, after two years and six months that felt like an eternity, my patience bore fruit.
The mirror reflected a sight that brought tears of joy to my eyes. For the first time, I saw my natural curls cascading gracefully, each strand whispering stories of resilience and authenticity. It was as if a hidden part of my identity had finally emerged from the shadows, embracing its rightful place in the spotlight. At that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of liberation, as if the weight of societal expectations had been lifted off my shoulders.
Today, as I marvel at my reflection, I cannot help but feel a deep admiration for my fellow sisters who have embraced their natural beauty, whether crowned with silver or the luscious coils that adorn their heads. We stand united, a sisterhood that defies conventions and celebrates the diverse tapestry of our hair journeys. My hair may not have yet embraced the graceful embrace of silver strands, but I hold deep respect and adoration for those who have. They serve as beacons of wisdom, defying the notion that aging should be hidden or disguised. Instead, they proudly wear their silver crowns, inspiring others to do the same.
A huge step and a long journey
Ultimately, my decision to go natural was not just a physical transformation but a profound journey of self-discovery and self-love. It taught me the importance of embracing my authentic self unapologetically and without hesitation. And as I continue to nurture and cherish my natural curls, I do so with the understanding that my hair is not just a reflection of my identity but a testament to the strength and beauty within.
I grew up when many women of color felt pressured to adhere to societal norms, which meant hiding our naturally textured hair and using hair straightening treatments to fit in or be accepted. Eurocentric beauty standards shaped my beliefs about my body and hair. Going natural allowed me to challenge these beliefs and truly embrace what was naturally mine.
Going gray and/or natural – a hard decision for many women
When will that glorious day arrive when our society rises above the shallow judgments and biases that have plagued women based solely on their appearance?
When will we finally bid farewell to the relentless pressure on women to conform, to color, or straighten their hair in a futile attempt to fit into narrow standards of youthfulness or diluted ethnicity?
For far too long, women have been entrapped in a ceaseless cycle of expectations, where our appearance is scrutinized and molded to fit an ever-changing set of societal norms. The relentless quest for eternal youth has forced countless women to subject themselves to the toxic embrace of hair dyes and chemical treatments, hoping to erase the passage of time and the natural beauty that comes with it.
We have the power to shape this future. It begins with challenging the prevailing narratives, promoting inclusivity, and celebrating beauty in all its forms. It requires us to uplift and support one another, to redefine the standards of beauty based on authenticity and inner radiance.
Race-based hairstyles and discrimination – still an issue
A study conducted by Dove in 2019 identified the magnitude of racial discrimination experienced by women in the workplace based on their natural hairstyle. The study included 1,017 Black women and 1,500 non-Black women ages 24-64. Here were some of the findings:
- Black women are made to be more aware of corporate grooming policies than White women.
- Black women are 8o% more likely to agree with the statement, “I have to change my hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.”
- Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair.
- Black women’s hair is 3-4 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional and consistently rated less ready for job performance.
Ageism is alive and well.
Hope on the horizon?
Even after more than 50 years since the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was passed, the harsh reality remains: older workers continue to face discrimination in various forms. What exacerbates the problem is a 2009 Supreme Court decision that placed a significantly higher burden of proof on individuals who become targets of ageism, making it even more challenging to combat.
Yet, amidst this disheartening situation, a ray of hope emerges—the passing of The CROWN Act. This transformative legislation, officially known as the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act, was signed into law in 2019. It stands as a beacon of progress, aiming to safeguard individuals against discrimination rooted in race-based hairstyles within the workplace and public schools, including braids, locks, twists, and knots.
The Crown Act reminds us that change is possible. It symbolizes a vital step forward in the fight against discrimination based on race, gender, and age. It signifies a collective recognition that all individuals, regardless of their natural hair textures or styles, deserve respect, equal treatment, and the freedom to express their cultural identities without fear of retribution.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial to unite in our efforts to end discrimination. We must stand shoulder to shoulder, advocating for a society that values diversity, inclusivity, and fairness. It is a call to action for individuals, communities, and institutions to work collaboratively, ensuring that our workplaces and schools become spaces where every person can thrive, irrespective of race, gender, or age.
Let us seize this opportunity to create lasting change. We can make a meaningful difference by challenging outdated norms, educating others about the detrimental impact of discrimination, and actively promoting equity. Together, we can foster a society that cherishes and celebrates the richness of our differences, recognizing that true progress lies in embracing every individual’s unique experiences and identities.
The journey toward eradicating discrimination may be arduous, but we possess the power to create a brighter future. So, let us join hands and commit ourselves to the cause. Let us amplify our voices, advocate for justice, and strive relentlessly until discrimination based on race, gender, and age becomes a relic of the past.
Together, we can shape a world where every person is valued for their contributions, talents, and character rather than judged or marginalized based on arbitrary factors. The time has come for us to forge a path toward a more inclusive and equitable society—a society that affirms the inherent worth of every human being.
It’s time to end discrimination against race, gender, and age. Let’s work together to make that happen.
So let’s talk about caring for your gray and natural hair
Why does hair go gray?
The hair on our heads is made up of a few parts.
The shaft is the colored part of your hair.
The root is the bottom part that keeps your hair attached to your scalp.
The cuticle surrounds each strand of hair.
The hair follicle capsulizes each strand of hair.
The hair follicle contains pigment cells that make melanin, the chemical that gives our hair color.
When we see gray, silver, and white hair, the pigment cells in our hair follicles have started to die. This gradual decline of pigment cells can be due to age, genetics, or other biological factors.
The fragility of gray, silver, white, and African American hair
When hair loses its natural color, the cuticle becomes thinner, and the sebaceous glands that produce oil become less productive. This can leave gray, silver, and white hair looking wiry, frizzy, dull, dry, and brittle. African American hair is prone to dryness and damage due to its curly structure, which makes it harder for the oil produced by hair follicles to penetrate entire strands of hair.
Proper care is critical if your hair is both gray and natural.
Moisture is vital when your hair is natural, gray, or both. Moisturizing treatments with enriching, natural ingredients can prevent dryness, frizziness, and breakage.
Deep conditioners do the trick.
I indulge in weekly deep conditioning to keep my natural hair moisturized. My routine:
- Wash my hair with a sulfate-free shampoo
- Apply a deep conditioner
- Place a plastic cap over my head
- Sit under a dryer for 45 minutes
- Rinse out
- Apply a leave-in conditioner and seal lightly with oil
- Style (usually a wash-and-go, as shown in the picture above)
I am a product junky and have tried dozens of deep conditioners. Below are a few that I like. My hair is low porosity and a mix of 3B and 4A/B curls, looser on the top and kinkier on the bottom and in the back. Every head of hair is different and responds differently to products. Experiment with a few products to see what works for you.
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