When Going Natural Goes Wrong


By Lurie Daniel Favors of Afro State of Mind

Sometimes, despite our intentions, our hair plans simply…fail. We get a great idea and maybe we jump in head first without really thinking about how to make that idea actually work.

That can happen when you make the initial decision to go natural too. A lot of women think that they can just grow their hair out and voila—a beautiful head of natural hair, twist outs and fierce Afros will follow. Little do these unsuspecting sisters know that transitioning from chemically straightened hair to natural hair is indeed a process.

This seems to be the road that one woman went down when she tried to go natural—and simply couldn’t make the transition. As reported over at Clutch Magazine, this sister wanted to go natural and began growing out her roots, but due to a variety of missteps, she was ultimately unsuccessful. She confessed:

I got the bright idea to go natural so I could run, practice yoga and take swimming lessons without scrambling to restyle my hair afterward. I grew obsessed with the wild, coiled, spiky look. Never mind I hadn’t shampooed, rolled or flat ironed my own hair in over 12 years or I only had a mere two inches of new growth attached to inches of bone straightness. I could still achieve a full ‘fro with the right product, Nikki Walton’s “Better Than Good Hair” and step-by-step instructions on a few YouTube videos, right? Wrong.

I was naïve about transitioning. Having been dependent on relaxers for nearly 25 years, I knew nothing about my natural hair other than it was coarse, itchy and lacked body when it was time for a touch-up. And despite the line of demarcation warnings, I still thought all that grease and water would prevent my thick strands from snapping.

Now when the article first posted the author took a lot of heat and some folks were super critical of her inability to transition. But I for one really appreciated her honesty.  Especially since as I describe here, after I Big Chopped, I too gave into my own insecurities and slapped a texturizer on my head. Le sigh…

Listen, for those of us who started combing our hair after our mothers let us get perms, there is simply no reason to think we will know what the heck we are doing without some serious help.

Don’t Fail to Plan

If you’re thinking about going natural I strongly encourage you to do your homework first. Don’t just get addicted to hair porn and watch youtube videos of women who have a certain “type” of natural. When you’re just starting out you may have no idea what kind of texture you have so you need to be open to a variety of possibilities.

You have to be willing to get to know your hair. Are your coils kinky? Are they a loose curl? What is your curl pattern? What are the uniquely awesome things that your hair can do? For women who have a history of completely turning their hair care over to someone else, this can be a scary process. But getting familiar with your own head of hair really is part of the “going natural” process.

That said, you should also locate a professional natural hair stylist—someone who is familiar with helping women transition from one type of hair to another. This is especially true if you are someone, like the woman in that article, who typically outsources your hair care.

If managing your chemically straightened hair was not something you took care of on your own, it can be a major shift to jump in and care for your hair through the transition process. There are a number of styles that are useful when you have two different types of hair on your head (i.e. natural roots and straight ends) and you need to know how to achieve looks that will let you be comfortable with your process. A professional can help you navigate this transition.

What is Your Natural Hair Motivation?

Finally, try to figure out why it is you want to go natural in the first place. Everyone doesn’t have a “going back to the Motherland” experience when they cut out their perm. But by choosing to embrace the hair that grows out of your head in this society you may find that you need to unlearn some of the values that you had while wearing straight hair.

For example—finding the beauty in natural hair can be a challenge when you’ve spent two or three decades lusting after long, flowing, straight hair. Learning how to appreciate the unique awesomeness of kinky hair can be a bit difficult when you were raised to avoid nappiness like the plague. Unless you challenge those beliefs, chances are you may find transitioning to be a much harder process to get through.

The good news is that if you prepare properly, tap into a support group (whether online or in real life), and most importantly, educateyourself, you greatly increase your chances of a successful transition.

Either way—it is important to remember that loving yourself is one of the first keys to success. How about you? What was your transitioning process like? Were there tips that worked for you or advice that was a waste of time? Sound off in the comments.

For more of Lurie’s writing, check out her book “Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...


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50 thoughts on “When Going Natural Goes Wrong

  1. I’m one of the women who didn’t plan. And I ended up with a hot mess on my head. I had breakage at the line of demarcation. I had straight ends in some parts, and no ends in the other(new hair grew after I stopped relaxing). Turned out I had two different hair textures: 4a and 4c. Those two textures prevented me from getting a decent hairstyle. I like the kinky-coily look of 4c. I like the wavy, curly look of 4a. My hair needed to pick one of them and stick to it. But that’s impossible, isn’t it? So my head looked like a before and before picture with straight ends.

    Now I’m texturized. Not perfect, but at least consistent.

    • We’re in a very different sseaon than most individuals our age (42 and soon to be 40). We joined our family of five with my parents due to my daddy’s health in 2005. In 06, his health declined so much that I stepped down from the staff position I had at another ministry in order to be his primary caregiver. Hubby was the night caregiver. He passed on in Nov 06 and in March of 07 – my mother decided to start dating. She’s 65. She has a steady boyfriend who is also a part of our church. I’m on staff – hubby is an intern while still finishing seminary. Our oldest son (16) is a part of the technology team. My parents were already heavily involved where we’re at. It was just a given we would be as well since we did and still do almost all the driving. Life is definitely an adventure!

  2. hello I’m really thinking about going natural but Im scared I have shoulder length thick hair even with a perm I actually dont perm my hair too often because I burn (I have really itchy scalp) but I dont want to do the big chop I love my long hair I hate to even get my ends trimmed only because the Dominicans cut more then they should..I just really would like to know the best way I can try and transition without doing a BC also I like having straight hair what about flat irons?

  3. I could not agree with this article more. I decided to go natural after getting a relaxer on a short cut and it fell out! The only hair I had left was new growth, so the transition was easy for me. However, learning about my own hair vs. trying to make mine look like everyone’s on youtube took about 2 years. Once I learned what my hair could do and embracing the beauty of kinky hair, it’s been smooth sailing after that. I think one huge part of having natural hair is that you can’t be lazy. Laziness has tripped me up a few times. Instead of taking great care of my hair, I would just keep it up for weeks at a time. So I would end up cutting my hair b/c it was so damaged. Have patience, don’t be lazy and do what works for you!

  4. Okay so your saying they dont know their natural hair but at the beginning they had it for years or did they perm it when they were 1? And i straightened my hair only i know my hair and yeah its not easy 2 handle but you can do it and my hair was 2 my hips before i cut it (because of the annoying brushing trough story) now its shoulder length in curly and i like it and yeah you shouldnt shampoo it that much and you cant brush it you should comb it blabla but why why should we destroy what god has given us? 2 feel pretty? Your pretty with what god has given you but okay go ahead try to be white straighten and perm your hair until it falls out and never grows back because it doesnt only hurt your hair it also hurts your scalp which makes the hair grow thanks for reading :)

    • Trying to be white by relaxing their hair may have been true in the past. Now, it’s about style and lifestyle. Many don’t have the physical ability to work with hair of a certain texture. You can’t compare the work required with 4a hair to 4c hair.

      As far as white and straight hair–many whites have curly hair, some similar to ours. Why not say trying to be Asian. They have straight hair too.

  5. This is my 3rd time attempting to transition and I can admit it’s a hell of a process! The first 2 times I gave in because I’ve never came in contact with the “real me” and honestly it just made me so uncomfortable I went and bought a relaxer. And that was the issue the reason I decided that my last perm was my last perm. I lossed so much hair due to relaxers I could cry. My hair was thin and lifeless & made me feel so ugly! But I noticed that once the relaxer began to fade I gained so much body and my little kinks, waves or whatever I have were beautiful. I can admit I’m not comfortable in my skin because I don’t believe I’ve found “Me” yet! Who knows the natural me just might be that girl! & if not I can always go back to relaxed!

  6. Honestly I think the best thing (for me and maybe others who are transitioning) is to do a slow transition with out a such BIG chop. Two reasons, one is because if you are used to long hair that you can do all the bun styles you are used to… And two, you literally start to HATE your permed ends. When you start to feel your thick, healthy, softer, natural hair (and this may take like a year or so in transitioning) you start to curse your permed ends and get to the point where the thought of you going back to perming kinda sickens you a bit lol… (For me, the best way to get to a year for transitioning sew-ins, braids, and buns, strawsets, and wigs in between) now my reasons for going natural is not that glamorous as some (getting back to the roots, learning to love my natural hair)… The glamorous reasons do help the cause but, my real reason is… I’m lazy… And I am tired of the perming process… Look for about two weeks you have to prepare, take out your hair if it is in a style, find a style that you can keep your hands off your hair so that you doing irritate your scalp and for the love of god don’t scratch (unless you want to deal with scabs)… You have to remember the last time you permed your hair… Just too much for me… Once you learn how to deal with your hair it’s so much simpler that you wonder why you did not do this earlier… Not to say simple does not mean hard work is not required because it is hard work… It takes me about two days to do my hair for washing (working time is getting shorter), but to compare the two I love dealing with my natural hair more than getting perms… And it took me to feel how healthy my natural hair is, and hating my permed ends to realize I can never go back… And if I woke up one day and all my hair was permed and straight, I would kill the person who did it… Kill them…

  7. For me what worked was I never did the big chop. I know, I know how can I be a natural if I never did it? To be honest, one day I think maybe my senior year in high school I said, “I don’t need another perm” my mom and sister have been saying for years that I did need one, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, or so I thought. My mom put one in her hair, my sister’s hair and I didn’t want to be left out. But I’m neglecting the fact that they were and still are very tender-headed. So their decision was made out of not wanting to experience pain, which I understand. Back to the point, I just let my hair grow, until I noticed just the other day the only perm left in my hair are the thin ends, I need to trim any way. Just finally realizing, my hair is curly, no amount of perking, and flat Ironing will change it because when I sweat, which I do at work and at the gym, my curls start to show and I’m not per ming my hair everytime I perspire. The Maine reason I didn’t do the big chop, was because unlike my mom and sister my didn’t just grow at a rapid rate. My hair has always been shorter than theirs and as my mom put it, “a curly mess on my head” so for vanity I kept the hair just for length. While my roots were thick, and never laid down unless I hit with a blow dryer, every morning, the rest was poofy, frizzy with semi straightened curls. *sighs when I first decided it seemed there weren’t many products for my hair, let’s face it in Seattle, there aren’t many products in store for my straightend hair either. But online were home made recipies, for shampoo, conditioners and it was truly a blessing, other wise my hair would be a nasty, lop sided, curly afro, begging to be loved.

  8. Indeed, one’s natural hair journey can be a bumpy road. There are a lot of challenges but like we always say, weather the storm and the payoff will be huge. We’ve seen, heard, and read a lot of of feel-good stories about journeying naturalistas (http://www.naturalhaircarenews.com/category/readers-spotlight/) and most of them shared that the toughest of challenges are mostly met at the start. So for those who are about to embark on the journey, be patient for we are sure the payoff will be amazing.

  9. Growing up, worrying about my hair was not important. Ever since I was 4 years old my Mom used perms on my head and I was used to easily pulling my hair back in a neat ponytail or a bun or if I felt like it, wearing it down with a little curl. I am at an age now that I want my hair to look nice but now that I have my son and my husband, I don’t have time to do a lot to it & it is still not a huge priority. I have been perm-free for a year and three months with the hopes that my natural hair would have some kind of natural curl so that I could wash it, condition it and be done with it. However, my slightly wavy hair when dried, raises roughly two inches above my scalp and I don’t care for the look without some kind of head band in the front to keep it down.

    I am doing research currently on how to take care of my hair. I started reading The Science of Black Hair. So far, I am not done, but I have learned a lot. I have never planned or carried out any type of hair care regimen to have healthy hair- permed or natural. So, once I tend to my hair needs, I am hoping that I will be able to style it more easily- which is also another issue because, though I have practiced braiding my hair, I am not good at it and the curly or wavy patterns that I try to get in my hair never turn out. So, for now, I am still slicking my now voluminous puff of hair back into a bun everyday with Eco styling gel until I can figure something else out.

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