Home My Journey Me and My Kinks: My 5-Year Natural Hair Journey in Pictures

Me and My Kinks: My 5-Year Natural Hair Journey in Pictures

by Erika Nicole Kendall
My 5-Year Natural Hair Journey, in Pictures

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had straight hair.

Me, at my 4th birthday, with a full press.

Me, with my daddy at my 4th birthday, with a full press.

My very first relaxer was at age four – my mother just knew I was going to be a model someday, and “models have straight hair,” so off to the salon I went. Just For Me wasn’t strong enough. It just wasn’t getting the job done.

So much of my life was spent getting nice and tanned from sitting in front of that stove, as my mother lovingly dragged a scalding hot comb across my hair, doing everything she could to get it straight. I’d wake up, get my hair straightened, go to school, play, come home, play some more, eat dinner, do my homework, go to bed, sweat out my press – because, duh – and begin the cycle all over again.

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Back in 2000, I’d gotten microbraids from a tech that charged far too much, only to use hair glue – yes, hair glue – to seal the braids, which resulted in me losing about seven inches of my own hair when it came time to take them out. Ever since then, I swore I’d learn to manage my own damn hair. I put in my own relaxer, I straightened my own hair, and I – eventually got good enough at it that I apprenticed at a now-defunct salon.

Me, trying to take note of how much my hair had grown

Me, trying to take note of how much my hair had grown

When I first started losing weight, years later, I was still relaxing my hair. Every month, I’d lather the stuff on the newly-grown kinky parts of my hair, leave it on for a couple of hours – that’s right, a couple of hours – and rinse it out, give it a blow dry, and then spend several hours straightening it all.

Me, age 25

And then, one day in November, about 100 pounds in, I ran out of my old faithful relaxer.

My last perm, November 2009

My last perm, November 2009. Didn’t even have enough stuff to do it right.

Living in my part of Miami, I could never find the hair care brand I was most accustomed to, so I had to place special orders, and my relaxer only came in big giant tubs. And, before I knew it, my tub ran empty… and I decided not to replace it. Besides – I’d been spending so much of my money on healthier food, that I didn’t really want to come up off of what it was going to cost me to place that big bulk order, anyway.

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My hair spent a lot of time tucked away. For the most part, I left it alone. I kept it braided back in big braids that wrapped around the sides of my head.

Me, in two big giant french braids

Me, in two big giant french braids

The two textures managed fine for me… I mean, sometimes.

Oh, back to the days when I was calling this an afro.

Oh, back to the days when I was calling this an afro. It totally wasn’t.

But the majority of the time, I got a lot of mileage out of twistouts and braidouts, which served as a way to mask the varying textures and blend them together with minimal heat and stress on the hair.

One of the things I was notorious for saying early on, was that I supported women who went natural, but I could never do it because I didn’t know how to maintain it. I would be sticking to my own hair (ha) because it was easier for me.

Learning to work with kinkier hair was difficult, but it was fun. I didn’t read any books or consult with anyone – I couldn’t afford to – in the beginning. I knew three key principles – 1) never work with “tangled” hair when it’s dry; 2) hair likes moisture and water; and 3) leave it alone as much as possible – and, with that, I was on my way to finding a pattern that worked for me.

I spent that next year and a half washing my hair with the same shampoo and conditioner I’d been using, tucking my hair away into big braids, unraveling them when I needed to be particularly stylish, and leaving it alone if I didn’t.

It wasn’t until a year and a half later, the summer of 2011, that I finally decided it might be time to cut off the relaxed ends of my hair… and so it was.

My big chop!

My big chop! Quick note: Most times when I write for another publication, they use this photo as my byline photo…it’s actually a selfie! LOL!

The day I decided to do it, I made it a ceremonious affair. I went to the grocery store, and purchased a brand new pair of cutting shears. I brought them back to my home, took my hair, parted it into seven sections – four in the back, and three in the front – and started snipping the relaxed ends off. My weight loss journey had me feeling particularly gutsy, and I just wanted to try something new. And, just like that, I kissed several inches of hair goodbye.

My post big-cop photo

My post big-cop photo

From then on, the challenge became finding ways to fall in love with this new hair. It was easy to fall in love with straight hair – for all I’d known at the time, I was born to have straight hair (ain’t that somethin’?) – it was all around me. It was everywhere I was. I could find endless photos of black women with straight hair at that time. Anything else was foreign, awkward, unfortunate. But, here I was — embracing something other than straight hair.

Me, on the way to the Sade concert

Me, on the way to the Sade concert

This was an easy adventure. During the time I decided to go natural – to be fair, I didn’t even know that was what it was called at the time – I was celibate and not dating, so I didn’t have a partner who could influence me in one way or the other. This was something I was doing and exploring for me, something that was not only cheaper – whooo, was it cheaper – and less time-consuming, but more exciting, too. I literally felt free to explore different ways to frame my face, how to accentuate my outfits with better hair and makeup, and – because this felt so right for me, I felt like I’d been given incentive to make more daring moves with my appearance, since this one had worked out so well for me.

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Yep. Like fro-hawks. I felt pretty bad ass in this photo.

Me. Hair. Holy moly.

Me. Hair. Holy moly.

Before long, I had, well, enough hair. My natural hair had simply become a part of me. I met a man who “didn’t really care about hair at all,” who secretly loved seeing me with my hair “all out, everywhere.” When you wear your hair all over the place in a big puff, it’s easy to collect stares and looks of confusion, sometimes disgust. (Some day, I’ll tell the story of how, after driving at 100mph to go see my mother in the hospital, lopsided afro and all, I was met with the most rude, disgraceful, and disrespectful family ever who openly and outwardly pointed and laughed at my hair as I ran through the halls looking for my mother.) It chips away at your ego, and you have to spend a little time nursing your metaphorical wounds to make yourself feel better about it. Having a partner who loved it, loved touching it, loved to wash it…it makes it a bit easier to rebuild that ego.

Me and my braidout.

Me and my braidout, 2013.

After a while, you start to learn some hard, frustrating truths about the public: that many of them are just as brainwashed as I was into believing that there’s only one way to be beautiful, many of them are fighting to adhere to standards that don’t embrace them just as much as I was, and those of us who decide to exit that rat race should expect to receive pushback – if everything women are taught has to do with being “beautiful” in order to curry favor in society, why would we do something that would make us less beautiful to society?

Me, 2014

Me, 2014

At some point in time, you just have to explore what could possibly change the way you look at you for the rest of your life, and decide to give society the middle finger in the process.

Me and those curls

Me and those curls

Me, personally? I’ve been doing exactly that ever since.

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16 comments

marie March 19, 2015 - 6:45 PM

OK. totally unrelated to the article title. but this 3rd picture with Mini-You on the toilet is just TOO cute! haha

You are absolutely gorgeous really. And I agree with giving society the middle finger. As far as I’m concerned, the family members and some (black) friends are the most negative about my hair being in its natural state. Any hairstyle is never pretty enough, “tidy” enough (got that one quite often). For the other people, I always get compliments… See which community has been brainwashed on this topic.

Anyway, for anything you do about yourself, you always have to stand strong in front of society, it’s a perpetual fight I feel sometimes…

Great post! 🙂

Erika Nicole Kendall March 19, 2015 - 7:18 PM

LMAOOOOOOOO I had to crop that out. My poor baby LMAOOOOOO

And thank you for the kind words!

I will tell you, though, that I think everyone’s been brainwashed on this topic, but in different ways and for different reasons. It’s another topic for another day, but it’s most certainly everyone on this matter. May we all run into people who are working through it just the same as we are, and avoid the scumbags, though. <3

Rosie March 20, 2015 - 10:20 AM

I love this post! I haven’t read this blog in a while but now I remembered why i love it.

Annette March 20, 2015 - 1:20 PM

I love this story! I’ve been natural since 2010 and I love it! I was brainwashed, always looking for that long silky hair and now I love my own hair. I have a little girl who I am teaching to love her hair in all of its glory! Thanks for all you do!

LadyBane March 20, 2015 - 8:29 PM

You and your hair are both stunning: bold and beautiful!

Erika Nicole Kendall March 21, 2015 - 10:34 AM

<333

LaDonna March 21, 2015 - 4:10 PM

I enjoyed learning more about your hair journey. I’ve been natural since 2008 so it is weird to see old photos of me with straight hair. I kind of did things the opposite of you, first I went natural with my hair and now I’m trying to go natural with my food and exercise.

Dayouse March 22, 2015 - 3:06 PM

Love the natural on you!! if you dont mind sharing, what hair products do u use? im natural under my protective styles but my hair is extremely coarse and i dont know how to tame it and make it more manageable for me to keep it natural, so every cople of months i relax it to keep it manageable for me. thanks.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 23, 2015 - 4:32 PM

My comment is going to come across like I’m chastizing you – I can assure you, I’m not.

I must say, I’m confused – if you’re relaxing your hair with any regularity, you’re not natural, right?

Your hair isn’t “unmanageable” – and I know, this is something I used to say, too – it just isn’t what you’re used to. I know that relaxer makes hair feel “smooth” and “silky,” but to be honest with you, when my hair is wet (and well-moisturized), it feels soft and silky, too. When my hair is dry, it’s like a cloud or a pillow. Seriously, I’m always comfy. LOL

You learn how to “tame” your hair through long-term relationships with it – not by relaxing it “every couple of months.” You learn the best way to rake your fingers through it (when it’s wet), the best way to detangle it (with something creamy slathered on it), how certain hairstyles work with it (does it tangle up if you sleep on it? do you need to do something to it at night so it looks decent in the morning?) and how it behaves with different kinds of products smeared on it (does it frizz? does the product just drip off your hair? does it moisturize? does it make your scalp flake?)

I could suggest all of the products in the world, but none of them would make sense because the majority of what you’re doing to your hair runs counter to what you’d need in order to use them. Do you actually want to GO natural, as in no more relaxer at all, but the maintenance part makes it hard? I mean, THAT…I can help you with. Otherwise, I don’t know what good it’d do.

Dayouse March 24, 2015 - 2:19 AM

Wow, thats like someone saying, im not trying to be mean but then is mean, lol. Anyway, no need for confusion or chastising, im asking for help/feedback cause what I’m doing obviously isn’t working for me and I’m interested in learning about other women journey w/natural and to figure out what works for me, thats all. Thanks for taking the time though…

Erika Nicole Kendall March 24, 2015 - 10:44 AM

But that was exactly my point – I know that what I was going to say was harsh. The point was letting you know that I was aware of that – it was going to come across harsh regardless of how neatly I couched it in loving phrases – and to emphasize that it wasn’t coming from a place of meanness.

I think the first thing you need to do, honestly, is to stop relaxing – give it a good year of healthy eating and regular hair care – with braids, if you can manage it for your career, and give it some time so that you have enough air to play with, and then start to learn what works for your hair. Natural hair recommendations aren’t going to work with you, when what you have is two months of new growth and a lot of relaxed ends, you know? In the beginning, so much of what you need is centered around technique instead of product – anything cleansing, creamy, and mousse-like, regardless of the brand, will do the same thing in the beginning. Like I said in my post, I used the same stuff that worked on my relaxed hair when I first went natural. You’ve got to spend some time working on your technique before you can go past that, sis. That’s all.

Dayouse March 24, 2015 - 6:12 PM

No need to be harsh though, we are all grown women, learning at different levels. Anyway thanks for the feedback, i will definitely take heed to the info.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 24, 2015 - 6:16 PM

But…okay. Best to you, sis.

Anika March 24, 2015 - 10:00 PM

Hi Dayouse,

I agree that if you want to go natural, you should stop relaxing your hair all together. I think once you give your natural hair a chance, you will be very surprised about how easy it is to manage it.

I was in a similar situation up until a year ago when I kept resorting to texturizers to “manage” my hair but it only made my hair stringy, damaged, and with multiple textures on one strand or hair.

Here’s what I did to remedy the situation. I cut off all of the chemically processed damaged hair and I began using Shea Moisture products. I basically follow the method of Anthony Dickey of Hair Rules. He has a few videos on youtube that are very informative. But I don’t use his products as they are very expensive. I use Shea Moisture which you can often get on sale at Walgreens. I use their conditioning co-wash with the pink label, the detangling leave-in with the brown label, and the curling cream in the pink label. And I use Eco Styler gel when I need some hold.

My hair is so soft and moisturized and in the best condition I’ve ever seen it. I only detangle in the shower when my hair has the detangler in it. I don’t have split ends and I mostly just wear my hair in wash n’ go styles.

I am really surprised at how easy my hair has been to style and it is getting really thick and long.

Also, I was really confused about all of the different methods that I’ve read about here and there, so I just started following the Hair Rules method from youtube and the other thing I do is I follow the LOC method. So after cleansing with the co-wash, I leave a little of the leave-in detangler in, put a tiny bit of oil (coconut, olive oil, grapeseed, or castor oil) in, and then put a little curling cream on top of that.

It’s very simple and works. The main thing is to cut off the damaged ends and then find a simple method and good products that work for you. If you give your self permission, you’ll fall in love with your natural hair.

Dayouse March 24, 2015 - 6:32 PM

Thank you, you as well!!

Dayouse March 25, 2015 - 7:26 PM

Anika…

thank you so much for that feedback!!! i will try those products you suggested and see if its a fit for me, ive heard of the Shea Moisture brand. I decided to cut my hair this weekend and actually make a real effort towards this natural journey. My main issue is being tender headed and dealing with my extremely coarse hair. so i will start from scratch and start taming it as i go.
thanks again!!!

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