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What I Wish I Knew Before Going Natural

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    Illustrated by Tristan Offit.

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    I was 12 years old the first time I relaxed my hair. At the time, I was going to a majority Black school and I was one of the few girls who still had natural hair. Most days I came to class with my hair thrown into a haphazard ponytail or my 'little girl' pigtails and — you guessed it — I hated it. I was young, impressionable, and it was just one more thing that made me uncool, one more thing that made me different.

    I don't remember who brought it up first — me or my mom — but before I knew it, I was at the hair salon getting a relaxer. Two hours later I emerged a new girl: One with long, sleek, straight hair.

    If I'm being totally honest, having relaxed hair wasn't that awful: I didn't get burns, my hair didn't fall out, and it wasn't difficult to deal with. My stylist told me that because of my looser curl pattern, I only had to hit the salon once every six months for a touch up, compared to friends who went every few weeks. To this day, I think her professional advice is what saved my hair from serious damage — any more chemical treatments and it could have been a different story.

    I lived 10 long years with a relaxer. When I turned 22 I tried to free myself but it wasn't easy (more on that later). A year later, after a humid NYC summer and a burgeoning quarter-life crisis, I decided to get a pixie cut. But I also got a relaxer to make it "easier." It wasn't until I turned 24 that I was finally able to break free.

    In the five years that I've been natural, I've realized that my relaxed hair experience — while not as bad as some horror stories you may have heard — was a bit absurd. It was laziness at best, and at worst? An inability to accept my own natural beauty. Now, I don't admonish women who choose to relax their hair. Seriously, do you! Wear a weave, get braids, grow it, shave it, perm it, whatever. But for me, I did it because I wanted to fit in, then kept it because I was too lazy to learn about myself. In my defense, there wasn't a ton of information on natural hair when I was a teen, and there weren't many Black girls wearing their hair natural to draw inspiration from.

    Today, I love my natural hair. But that doesn't mean that going natural was easy. In fact, there are a few things that I wish I knew before going natural, which I am sharing ahead. Hopefully it can guide those who are trying to transition themselves — or even those just curious about the options. And for those who are already natural? Perhaps you can relate to my journey.

    Ahead, what I wish I knew before going natural.

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  2. Illustrated by Tristan Offit.

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