“One day, with my little mini-fro, I was riding the lightrail and this older black woman sits in front of me (she looked late 50’s-ish). She had the longest, thickest, black hair with threads of silver flowing throughout, going down her back in one single braid. I was breathless… This woman was so serene, solid, and just had this aura about her. From that day, I knew I would be that woman one day.”
BGLH: Where are you from?
Gem: Born, raised, living, permed, and natural in Houston, Texas!
BGLH: Why did you make the decision to go natural, and when did you do it?
Gem: I used to be the empress of hair color. I’ve been black-tressed, all shades of brown, auburn, highlights, whatever. I turned 21 in 2005 and was going through an identity/life crisis and rrreeeallly wanted to go blonde. So I said, aha! I’ll just stop perming and that way I can use bleach and then magic and unicorns will happen! Sooo, I had my mom cut my hair in a bob and she bleached it, and we put some Loreal Feria golden blonde on there. If that wasn’t enough, I then went white blonde just to see how blonde I could get. From some angles I looked absolutely insane, from others it was kinda hawt. I worked in a bookstore full of hippie, cool, arty people so I and my white hair were embraced.
I quickly came down from this bleach high and wanted to darken it quickly. I thought, hey I never achieved that perfect red that I always wanted, so I’ll do that! So here comes Loreal box of Perfect Red hair dye. Only…it turned out Perfect Red kool-aid. Mind you, all of this is within weeks of each other, ON TOP OF the relaxer. It’s at this point that my hair starts throwing all types of middle fingers at me and starts thinning and breaking off. I wear bandanas for a week and then decide to dye it a dark brown but with SEMI-permanent color. I do this and my hair actually turns a nice shade of auburn. Except that bald patch in my head. Yeah, can’t forget about that.
This last color was around the time Hurricane Rita hit, so I remember evacuating with bandanas and all types of messed up ponytails. L says~Hurricane Rita was the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico. Rita caused $11.3 billion in damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast in September 2005. More information here. Then I had a lighbulb moment. Why not just go natural…to just be natural? So I started doing my research, looked up motowngirl.com, fotki, nappturality, etc.
I decided to grow it out and to satisfy my hair color thirst, I would wear different cheap, fun wigs every month! Yay! This was in October 2005. I had my mom cut off the poor, sad, strips of permed hair I had left and then hid what remained under wigs and scarves. In December 2005 my then-boyfriend now-husband told me I was beautiful with my natural, short, Chia-hair and should get rid of the wigs. I was so crunk about this brown Tina-Knowles looking wig with red and blonde highlights too. But I ditched them and felt so free! And the growth was on!
BGLH: What products/ingredients do you use?
Gem: I eat vegan so I try to only use animal friendly products and I also lean toward all-natural products so the two often overlap. Before I went the natural/organic product route, I used Pantene Pro‑V Hydrating Curls which detangles like a DREAM! The natural/organic stuff can get pricey but it’s one of the only luxuries I have. I also save money by buying on Amazon in bulk, when available. Right now, I’m using Whole Foods 365 brand plain conditioner (the gigantic size) and Nature’s Gate Lemongrass and Clary Sage conditioner (smells heavenly). When my hair was shorter, I used Kinky-Curly’s Knot Today Leave-in and Curling Custard.
BGLH: Could you describe your regimen?
Gem: One day I stumbled upon Teri from tightlycurly.com. I began corresponding with her back and forth about her regimen and decided to try it. I had been in a hair rut because no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get my hair to “hang down” without looking lifeless, and it was getting too long for an effortless afro look. Then the heavens parted and sent Teri to me. I am EXTREMELY low maintenance as far as hair-styling goes, so I was looking for something easy that used minimal products, and let my hair just BE. So here is the routine (that I sing the praises to every natural woman I encounter);
I designated Sunday as my hair wash day. I wash my hair/scalp with the Whole Foods 365 plain, unscented conditioner and rinse it out. (I learned a long time ago that if I don’t use many products in my hair, conditioner has enough detergent to clean the hair/scalp and keeps it moisturized, so I gave up shampoo eons ago) I then lather my hair with the Nature’s Gate conditioner (taking care not to put much on the scalp because this will give you flat, helmet hair) and make sure the hair is nicely saturated and creamy. I detangle with a Denman brush (note: I used a wide-tooth comb at first, but I noticed a dramatic difference in frizz reduction, curl definition, and non-shrinkage with the Denman brush). Depending on how lazy I feel, I’ll smooth each curl and pin sections back after I detangle to reinforce the curls so they won’t clump together and form supercurls. I don’t rinse this conditioner out. I let the hair air dry. Leaving the conditioner in protects against the elements, and as it drys (DON’T TOUCH OR PLAY WITH IT. This is a message to myself as well as you, lol) the curls or kinks show their texture and there USUALLY isn’t too much shrinkage.
At night, I put the hair into 1 single braid and scarf that bad boy down (because I sleep like a wildebeest). L says~lol! In the morning I de-braid (sounds more important than un-braid), smooth a dime-to-quarter sized amount of conditioner mixed with water over my hair, smoothing any flyaways. I then shake my head out like an Herbal Essence commercial (this step is optional). I repeat until the next Sunday.
BGLH: What mistakes have you made in your natural journey that you’ve learned from?
Gem: I can’t really say I’ve made mistakes, per se. Every month, in the first 2 years or so especially, brings new growth and new issues so you constantly have to adapt. You may need more or less of what you were doing a month ago and you have to learn from EVERYTHING.
Oh! I colored my hair the first couple of months of 2006 (subtle color). I’ve since given up hair color cold turkey and don’t even want it or miss it anymore. I like seeing my unaltered hair grow and the colors the sun changes it.
One quirk I have noticed is that my hair is two different textures for some reason. On the right, it is super curly and on the left, the curls are looser and tends to get frizzy more easily. I wondered if it was due to flat-ironing. Since I went natural, I flat-ironed 3 or 4 times. Once when I got married, once when I graduated college, and 2 other random times. I have not flat-ironed since 2007 and do not intend to. Too time consuming and hot for my personal taste, and I don’t think the potential damage is worth it. If I want a length check, I’ll just stretch a curl out with my fingers.
BGLH: Where do you get style inspiration from?
Gem: I must say, Fotki was my biggest resource going natural. There weren’t as many blogs pertaining to everyday naturals back then, so Fotki was a gold mine. Everyone is so friendly and helpful and I have found as my hair has grown, I am where I once wanted to be, so I pay it forward to newer naturals who have questions.
BGLH: How does your hair work for your life?
Gem: The routine I use now is SO simple for my life. I am a full-time graduate student and I work full time. I never have any problems with my hair (unless I messed up with the amount of conditioner or didn’t let my hair dry all the way. Ponytails then). Everyone thinks my hair is the bees knees (I know I’m not alone with that one, fellow naturals!). I work at a university in a laid-back Art department so I don’t have to change or disguise my hair at all…even when I had the in-yo-face afro, I never had any problems professionally.
BGLH: Did it take long for your hair to grow out?
Gem: Looking back, I would say no. It seems it takes FOREVER when your hair is at a certain length (not quite ponytail, not quite fro) but there was something new to look forward to all the time with my hair. This is why I recommend documenting through pics (or setting up a Fotki) so you can SEE the progress month-to-month. You’d be surprised. Patience really is the virtue to master when growing out (ESPECIALLY that first year). I am 3 1/2 years in and my hair reaches mid-back when stretched. Craziness.
BGLH: What’s the best thing about being natural?
Gem: So many things! Having people of all ages and cultures walk up to you and compliment you on your hair. Having other naturals give you that “natural” smile and stopping to chat about stuff. Looking unique. Having a full head of healthy, kinky, spirally hair.
I just think women who have never known their natural texture outside of babyhood should consider this. It really is an amazing feeling that you can’t quite understand until you go through it. One day, with my little mini-fro, I was riding the lightrail and this older black woman sits in front of me (she looked late 50’s-ish). She had the longest, thickest, black hair with threads of silver flowing throughout, going down her back in one single braid. I was breathless. I thought to myself, wow I can think of many black women over 40 who either have thin, breaking permed hair, extremely short or moderately short permed hair, or straight up Patti Labelle wigs. It awed me to think of the roots behind perming hair in our culture. This woman was so serene, solid, and just had this aura about her. From that day, I knew I would be that woman one day. L says~This is such a beautiful thought! I would let my hair grow to it’s heart content, unchemically altered, and I didn’t desire to color my hair after that day. I wished I could have gotten a picture from my phone but I will never forget her. I would add to the patient thing, find inspiration someday. It’s amazing, the little things that give us a little more fuel to keep trying. It will pay off, if full, healthy, natural hair is your goal.