Posts Categorized: Shop Talk

March 28, 2011

When Going Natural Isn’t Enough

I’m not certain who’s been penning the invisible natural hair rule book these past few years, but it’s growing more and more apparent that it’s reaching a peak. Lately I’ve been coming across advice pieces, articles & forum rants devoted to tearing down instead of building up & supporting those who embark on this ‘journey’ and at the very least, it’s stifling.

Should I make penance for my past sins? It’s only fair. Granted, a few years ago I was an avid beauty salon go-er, frequenting my stylist at all hours on the weekend in order to get the hair primped proper for work, usually flat ironed and blow dried because at the time this is what suited my lifestyle. But alas, according to a certain populas, this made me ‘un-natural,’ because of the heat alterations & unfit to carry the ‘I’m Natural‘ badge of honor.

I might’ve missed the memo on who’s actually in charge of handing out such privileges, but I’m also  starting to believe that we truly limit ourselves, our growth potential each time we finger point, and dissect another natural woman’s reasoning for expressing themselves (including her desire to relax her strands, wear wigs…the list goes on). And at what cost? I’m a strong believer that our words, the way in which we communicate our best selves verbally, carries more weight & influence than any of us realize.

We are all enough. Whether we classify our hair as curls, waves, kinks, straight, pressed, dyed, loced up etc., at any given moment & during each of our respective journey’s in life, I’m certain that we are enough because the learning process never ceases, our lessons on life, love & hair are constantly evolving, dissolving and recreating themselves due in large part to our experiences. Why aren’t we willing to perpetuate the good from what we learn rather than focus on the negative & inconsequential?

I hardly considered my character flawed during the time I was relaxed, which makes it even harder to accept the increasing status quo surrounding what it means to be ‘natural’ today. We have rules now. Why? Ages ago I wore my hair relaxed because I wanted to. For years I walked through the doors of a mid-priced salon and laid down $40-60 of my hard saved monies & walked out 4 hours later happier than a peach.

That was then, this is now.

My going natural did not instantaneously make me any better than the woman sitting next to me on the train, nor did I instinctively place my mindset into another trapped box, limiting my expectations on what natural could be (or is?). If that isn’t the perfect example of counterproductive, I’m not sure what is.

When is ‘going natural’ enough?

If I’m not admonished for buying too many products during a given month, I’m criticized for wanting or liking the idea of straight hair, choosing to add color during the summer months to match my mood, or these days….even ‘not natural’ because of my propensity to wear twist-outs, bantu-knots, and any other style that uses ‘manipualtion’ or styling products to achieve the look.

Chile, I’m tired….

We all have the capacity to draw from inspiration, as well as create & add to the flow, and I’m certain this has been what’s fueled and sustained the still growing natural hair community. Let it be. Love & Respect are a good pair…let’s give them space to work. After going natural many years ago, I found my mind & heart clear….easy. Yes, I faced backlash and ignorance from close friends and loved ones, but at my core…I’d already found peace. I went natural for no other person than the one facing me in the mirror each day, the one person that mattered. Why draw anyone else’s reasoning & perceptions into my own journey?

All our journeys, as imperfect as they might seem, present an opportunity to learn & teach. Let’s do it right, with an open heart & mind. This goes most certainly for all who embark on this road, past… present & future. We are no one person, one ideal…one monolith trying to achieve the same goal & aspire towards a redudnant perception of what’s “perfect.”

Screw what’s comfortable, and choose to be enough. For yourself, & no one else.


March 18, 2011

How To Overcome a Curltastrophe

Is there a better word out there to describe what many natural haired curly femmes go through when hair tragedy strikes? The term Curltastrophe instantly brings me back to some of the worst experiences I’ve had over the years caring for my natural hair, the most curl altering one being my most recent heat damage fiasco.

Pantene along with are hosting a nifty giveaway asking ladies to spill their most embarrassing moments over the years. Prizes include a years supply of the Pantene Curly Hair Series along with a Flip Camera!

Thanks to an old PC crashing a few years ago, I lost many of those embarrassing pictures chronicling my ups and downs with frequent Curltastrophes, yet in hindsight what helped me to overcome those moments was this almost insatiable desire not to let my hair have the last word. I often pledged each time a roller set did not turn out the way I’d envisioned, or a flat twist bombed before it was properly unveiled, that I’d keep trying or learn enough to push forward. In this regard, I’d say the ol saying “Hair is Just Hair…” truly applies.

There are countless triggers helping to form some of our worst hair memories, a lot linked back to those early days during transitioning, that first BIG CHOP experience or even outside influences brought on my friends/family members who often sling anything but praise for the ‘new look.’


Realistically, you can do any of the aforementioned in any order and still feel triumphant. Trust me, that when you smile in the face of an ignoramus trying to ruin your stride with a rude comment, it’s easier to breathe…take a few counts and access where you are. You’re a curly hair’ed natural femme who’s dared to be authentic, has defied societal standards and turned old tired conventions of beauty on their head. Under your belt is the freedom to set your own rules, inspire others to do the same and still be thankful. So many of us are gifted each day to try again…try a new style, cut off those fried damaged ends or stand up to an assholic who thinks it’s his business what they think about YOUR hair (this part’s often fun!)

Now, if none of this works I implore you to check out these 8 Simple Affirmations penned by Ev’Yan over at her new venture, Sex, Love & Liberation, or this wonderful salute to natural hair by PBG over at Dirty Pretty Thangs. If you have to…take notes. Then repeat…

March 9, 2011

Happy Black Girl Day | Those Awkward Moments…

Have you guys seen this web series? The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is only on it’s second episode, but it’s quickly becoming one of those internet viral vids that leave you laughing, cajoling and wanting more!

This past week I also found myself waning and feeling a bit out of sorts due to an aggravated shoulder injury, frustrated over my inability to perform even the simplest of tasks around my apartment (cooking, cleaning…) and finally understanding accepting a complicated relationship in my life for what it is. All this was done under the heavy influence of quality time with friends, laughter & crying. Ironic? Yes…

But this is me. I don’t schedule these moments of clarity or often enjoy them while in the midst, but I do nonetheless understand their purpose.

Hi, I’m Chai & I’m an Awkward Black Girl...

I will always be the one to wear the flat patent shoes in a room full of six-inchers, wear pigtails to an adult-themed party or laugh out loud in a crowded train while reading a page turner. You’ll typically find me reciting to myself in the corner of your local Borders Barnes & Noble or library (please don’t stare…) or blocking the snack aisle of your local Trader Joe’s (yeah…that’s me).

I day dream. A LOT, and most times awkwardly enough so that my boss/friends/coworkers/family members will tap me on the shoulder and initiate the *side eye.*

Ten years ago I ‘awkwardly’ walked into a Hair Salon with a crumpled up picture of a model and quietly tip toed out donning wisps of curls and half waves for hair, was lambasted with sneers from loved ones & friends after my first attempt at styling 3 inches of fluff… and lived. No..really.

Through all these moments of awkward, I was living and being the best me & breaking down these invisible walls that felt more like a cage.

Even today, as I struggle to figure out what to do to my hair with one arm in a sling and impending physical therapy to fix a broken mistake…I’m surprised at my ability to laugh at these moments and still keep some sense of balance.  I’ve never minded the label of ‘awkward’ or ‘different,’ or….misunderstood because at my best this is me….still trying, falling, laughing, crying, snipping, growing…


February 4, 2011

Myth of The Wash-n-Go…


I’m sure many of us have watched & digested the natural hair video that’s evidently gone viral since the 1st hour of it’s posting several days ago. A young woman in clear visual distress, takes to her video phone to record a myriad of tribulations associated with her ‘unmanageable’ natural hair. It’s a doozy….certainly entertaining well throughout, yet once you’ve reached the end mark of the video you’re left wondering if in fact she’s just spilled the beans on what many newly naturals have long been feeling, but are either too frustrated to speak on, or are still in search of that ‘miracle product.’

After first viewing the vid, I chuckled and empathized  as she guzzled her slurpie & hightailed it to the wig shop to cover up her TWA. I laughed but also felt a pang of sadness for something that has evidently ballooned into a clear unattainable idea of what it means to be natural today.

Can we talk about the Wash-n-Go for a sec? Mmmkkaaay.

A brief background on where I’m coming from first: As a woman who went natural a little over 10 yrs ago, I still feel there is a ton of lessons to learn as far as how to care for one’s hair. I doubt this will ever change, much like my skin, body and other aesthetics  change over time and require different needs, so goes my hair.

Looking back over the years, it’s clear to see what was lacking in my journey. I had very little to work on as far as product knowledge, proper methods to wash/detangle textured hair…the importance of moisturizing…etc. There were very little resources at my disposal 10 years ago, and in hindsight while this may seem disastrous to those just going natural today, it was a personal blessing.

I did not have to filter through what’s today become the prodigal language for most naturals (wash-n-go’s, hair typing, protective styling..etc.) I’ve adjusted my vocab over the years to stay inclusive on the natural hair scene, but a part of me  still continues to hold tight to what it was like not to have to worry about the debate & divisiveness that props up from the ironic misunderstandings.

Tami from What Tami Said makes an interesting point:

Drop in on a natural hair forum and you might think caring for natural hair is like nuclear physics. Gotta figure out your hair type…4c…4a…3c…To co-wash or not to co-wash?…Use this brush not that one…Buy this expensive product and that one, too…Let this thing sit on your hair for 30 minutes, followed by this thing and that thing for just the right curl…And a lot of this is done because we are supposed to look like the neatly curly women on the “after” side of that Miss Jessie’s page. Except most of us naturally don’t.

What she addresses here is the possible  Tyranny of Natural Hair, a new conformist ideal we’re all attempting to mold into each time we struggle to understand the directions to yet another hair pudding or custard.

I generalize this all as the ‘Myth of the Wash-n-Go’ because this was my wake-up call. I distinctly remember watching Youtube vid after Youtube tutorial, trolling through the often times overstaturated forum boards filled with advice…standing in front of my mirror and attempting to recreate an image that would never…or could never be an authentic representation of me.

Truthfully, while I dish on the proper maintenance and stylings of the ‘traditional’ wash-n-go, hardly ever do I clock in under 30 minutes when attempting this style. I haven’t met many naturals who have either (save for the TWA gals, heeeey!), & I think this is why it’s often kept in the confines of the warmer months.

Realistically, what ultimately goes down is a washing/light conditioning/styling/slight drying = end time of 1hr (if that) . Now, like it or not natural hair…no matter how you slice it or style it, takes not just time…but patience. You cannot cut corners 9 times  out of 10, and expect satisfied results. How often do many of us spend a minimum of 30 minutes in a Hair Salon & expect top notch results? Maintaining natural hair is all in what you know, how you use it…rather than what you use to achieve the perfect twist-out, braid-out. I don’t doubt there are many women who do get up in the a.m. brush their teeth, wash-no-go, and head out the door, coffee in hand to greet the day in less than an hour. Yet, for the majority of women living their own day-to day, whether with children or attached to a textbook…this is often not the case.

Today, I choose to take care of my natural hair because no one else will. I wash/style/condition because currently there are not enough hair stylists working their magic fingers on a woman with highly textured hair…I don’t trust that. I trust me, and what I’ve learned in the over 10 years that I’ve been on this journey. None of it was easy, nor did I expect it to be. I learned to manage the frustrations, overcome the inevitable obstacles and love that me & Fro are still here…taking compliments, biding time until the next lesson needs to be learned. Taking care of one’s natural hair can be easy…over time it certainly does, but much like other instances in life, you have to earn your place…follow your own path and demystify your own misconceptions of what going natural is really about. There is no singular ideal to having/wearing natural hair….no sameness to all of our looks & styles.  Forget what marketing brands & companies who are vying for your attention ( & $$$) have to say. Reject the mold & begin to cultivate your own version  of you.

January 31, 2011

Shop Talk | When The Kink Is Dead

A few years ago I’d often look forward to the dead of winter, and anticipate the luxury of finally booking a salon appointment with my favorite hair stylist just a few short blocks from my home. I’d discreetly wrap my 7 day old misshapen bushy fro with the nearest bandana, tie it securely & walk (often as late as 11 p.m.) the incognito route to the doors of said stylist, breathing weekly deeeeeep sighs of relief as she washed, blow dried, flat ironed & bumped my ends with curls. This was my winter hair routine for many years long before words such as, ‘heat protectant,’ ’porosity’ & ‘curl pattern’ ever entered my vernacular. I was the ‘veteran’ natural girl with limited knowledge, who thought she knew it all…but ended up discovering  the hard way that taking care of one’s natural hair meant more than simply ‘dealing’ with it.

With 8+ years of being natural under my belt, evidently I still knew very little on how to care for my kinks & curls; and my yearly droves during winter to get them straightened reflected this lack of knowledge. For some naturals, the rite of passage in learning the wants and needs of your hair varies from a few years to right out of the gate. Mine came after experiencing the fraught filled moment known as irreversible heat damage. There was a lot. Too much in fact to casually ignore & hope a heavy duty $40 deep conditioner treatment could fix.

For several weeks I was in denial, threw a few pity parties and invited no one I knew because of the embarrassment. My hair looked wretched! With 90% heat damage overtaking my once pristine head of natural hair, I was at a loss as to how or what went wrong. I became worried that’d I’d been played the fool by my friend/stylist each week after shelling out $60+ dollars, and accepting the then much appreciated compliments while hair was blown straight, fancy & flowing.

Today, it’s a familiar woeful tale & one I’ve seen played out continually on many blogs, forums & even YouTube… though back then I lacked the necessary tools to manage my own negligence.

Inevitably a decision was made though, rather than place blame on the person who took hot comb to kink and obliterated years of growing from a TWA to Fro-ish glory…instead I took charge by investing more than just $$ into my hair…I slowly began to trade in ignorance for knowledge.

It’s been a two year long journey of snipping, trimming, deep conditioning and learning how to properly care for my hair, but this was my turning point. After 8 years of thinking one had to ‘deal’ with natural hair, I unknowingly graduated to the proper place of appreciating my new texture & slowly slid into the driver’s seat of my natural hair journey. This was always my proper place, though it took setbacks, misinformation and lack of confidence to fully come to this understanding.

I was finally able to understand that even the most effortless of hair styles…whether it’s worn out & free formed or laid down in micro two-strand twists…requires a special care & more than blind visits to the hair salon. Over coming heat damage was my gateway to accepting what it is I had to do, to not only love my hair for what it is, but care for in a way that enables it to thrive…and also, have fun experimenting with different styles!

Today I have a much greater appreciation for hair stylists who do engage their clients on the basics of maintaining a healthy head of naturally textured hair. At this point in the game, it’s essential. It’s a partnership when you walk into a salon. Make sure they listen to what it is you want & please don’t let them sway you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable. It only took 8 years…8 years & 1 crucial setback which forced me to hide under hats and slicked back buns…but thankfully it also unveiled the now important practical, everyday lessons that have helped me to appreciate my kinks, curls and new compliments laced with…How’d you get your Fro so big?”

January 22, 2011

How Far Have You Come In Your Natural Journey…

Here’s to kicking off this chilly weekend on a positive note! My recent Guest Post from BGLH:

{how GORGEOUS is this}

Do you ever give yourself a pat on the back in light of how far you’ve come in your natural journey? Truthfully, some may sneer and balk at the idea of a natural femme spending several hours dotting on her tresses, taking the extra care to detangle, twist & style…but this simple act, over time adds up to such a greater accomplishment. Thinking back to when I was younger, growing up with a mother who brushed, combed and greased my hair regularly…I rarely if ever saw a grown woman care for her natural hair. This perhaps wasn’t the norm back in the early 80’s, but it was such a rarity that another person had to convince me it was true.

The dolls I carried around as a child were similar to me in likeness…but to a fault. Thanks to PJ sparkles I understood that in order to be/feel pretty, I had to dress in pink, rock a pink bow cocked to one side and grow long silky black hair.

And I did. Until I dared for something more and sought change where even my own mum felt uncomfortable in exploring. It starts off slow…and progressively, the anticipation grows when you realize that natural hair does not have to be banned from anyone’s life. It does not have to be shammed for what it is, what it can nurture and grow into as we get older. There is in fact life after pigtails and ribbons adorned in perfect symmetry.

And while I sometimes wish these lessons were taught to me at an earlier age…it’s more than fine to explore and learn these lessons today. I’m thankful, grateful and encouraged each day that the natural hair community gets stronger, bolder and thrives! This is not about showing pride per say…but more so acknowledging a job well done. I started from bare bones…no support system. A mother and father who, rather than understand, relegated my decisions to fits of crazy. Close friends nicknamed me Chia Pet, laughed behind my back and often to my face saying…”you’re too old to be wearing your hair that way.”

When you’ve come to hear it all, ironically you don’t care at all…anymore. Perseverance is a strong alliance in this journey and without it I’d be lost. When I mention to other newly naturals that my first Big Chop was over 10 years ago, rarely do I mention the void that existed back then. It’s where I was…how it all started. And yet, often this is how the most inspiring, sustainable journeys begin. From nothing but inspiration & determination we’re able to witness a growing movement so strong, I’m often taken aback at how far we’ve all come in this journey. As a collective, it’s humbling to see how much we’re willing to learn daily, weekly in order to care for our tresses…to help persevere that knowledge for our now future generations.

Of course this is more than just about hair. It’s about respect, and saying I acknowledge all that you do in order to persist in this journey each day. It’s also, more than anything…encouragement, so rather than look at how far you’ve yet to go, instead be thankful and appreciate all that you’ve already accomplished.