I started keeping natural hair out of pure spite. I was fresh out of the hellhole that was my secondary school and couldn't wait to relax it. School had made sure we all donned buzzcuts for the four years we were there because …reasons I guess, and I couldn't wait to grow my hair before making it bone straight and long like it had been when I was in primary.
However, the longer my awkward lil 'fro grew, the more unsolicited comments about how ugly and unkempt and "it's going to look so much better when it's relaxed" I got. Now if there's one thing about me, is that I hate being told what to do when it comes to my personal autonomy.
I got one comment too many and just went "screw it, I'll just keep natural hair 'cause everyone said I shouldn't." That's it. The roundabout irony that I didn't want people to influence what I should do with my hair is ultimately what influenced me on what I should do with my hair is not lost on me. It pisses me off a great deal but I have no regrets about the decision itself, because it led me on one of the most enriching experiences ever.
Here are seven life lessons I learnt from being a loose natural for six years.
1) Be gentle on yourself
For the first two years I combed my afro and manipulated it into place and wondered why my very breakable 4c coils weren't growing. I was yet to master softness - on my hair. On others. On myself.
I often found myself with a tender scalp and brittle wads of hair on the floor- frustrated and tired. When I realised this particular way of dealing with my hair (and my life in general) wasn't working, I switched to gentler methods and have since watched my mane thrive under the TLC I've been giving it.
Somewhere along the way, I adopted this same approach to life. I'm no longer as hard on myself as used to be, and although I can't really say I've been thriving, it's at least been easier to get through certain days.
2) Don't hang on to the bits you can't fix
When I first started getting split ends, I did all in my power to try and "fix" them. I moisturised and curled the tips thinking I could somehow recover the strands. Most of the internet said it wasn't possible, and deep down I knew it wasn't, but I still tried to push my luck.
Gawd, looking back at it, I spent so much time trying to reverse irrevocable damage, that was in turn ruining the rest of my healthy hair, when I should have just cut them off.
Some things cannot be fixed, no matter how hard we try. The best thing to do is let them go and concentrate on taking care of the the good bits.
3) There's no secret formula
As someone who has tried it all - from rice water to hanging upside down for two minutes so that there's a rush of blood to my scalp - I'll be the first to tell you there's no magic solution to achieving miraculous hair growth. In the same vein (ha see what I did there?) there's no secret formula to life. There's only trial and error, figuring out what works for you, some sort of consistency and dumb luck.
4) Growth takes time and patience.
A continuation to the above would be, results don't come in a day. Despite everyone generally telling me "I have good hair" that's predisposed to grow long, a lot of them weren't there when my hair didn't appear to be growing at all. (Wait, they were and they insisted I give up on it).
It took three years for my hair to start showing any retention of length. And in those three years, right before the big break, my hair was still in what a lot of people considered an "ugly phase."
I'm not the best when it comes to patience, so this part was very hard for me. I wanted my hair to be "influencer" length within five working days max. However, that wasn't an option and I just had to wait for the worthwhile results.
5) Society's standards are not absolute
Natural hair wasn't that big a deal in my circles in 2015. The comments that came with that particular period were all tied to some variation of how natural hair isn't very pretty, or how it doesn't grow or how it would look great once I relaxed it or some other backhanded statement.
A few years and an afro-revolution later, and there were so many thought pieces about how beautiful natural hair is in all shapes and sizes. My hair, full and long and luxurious by then, got so many compliments.
I have no qualms with this at all. But it's an important lesson on how society's standards on beauty (and a great deal a many things) are fickle yet ever escalating to fit the whims of the times. You, your body, the things you like will cascade on the ever changing waves of what's beautiful or acceptable and what's not. At each point, choose what works for you and do it.
6) Everybody's journey is different
Like many people before me, I fell into the trap of comparing my hair and its journey to many others. I admired lengths and textures that well, my hair simply could not achieve. I experimented and spent money on products that worked for people that simply did not work for me.
I was frustrated to say the least. But I guess, it did teach me a vital lesson of how everyone's (hair) journey is different. The moment I learnt that I had to figure what worked for me and that it wouldn't turn out like others who I admired, was the moment things became somewhat easier to manage.
7) Embrace change
For years, I swore up and down, left and right that I wouldn't loc my hair. At the time it just wasn't something I wanted. I wanted long loose hair that would one day reach my waist. However, around the fifth year, taking care of my afro became more tedious than fun. It took too much time, energy and money to maintain and I no longer enjoyed it. Initially I thought of cutting it and rocking some sort of pixie cut, but after a few rounds combing through Instagram (ha! see what I did there, yet again?I I settled on getting microlocs.
It was one of those well thought out decisions that is also simultaneously done on the whim, but its arguably the best hair decisions of my life so far. I didn't really consult anyone. I just went for it, and even now months later people don't actually know the frizzy twists on my head are actually starter locs. Those who do know have given a mixture of comments because no matter what, I guess people will always have an opinion on you and your choices, ey. Some downright think it is a bad decision especially having witnessed how long and full my afro grew. Others are questioning if I really want to commit to something so permanent. And some just really dig the new look.
Unlike six years ago, I'm not mad at what anyone has to say. This is my hair and well my life and I'll do whatever I want with it (within reason I suppose). Of course, amongst the comments I have gotten, some have pointed out how I was always against getting locs to begin with. To that I say, "well, I changed my mind."