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Can Length Obsession Hurt Your Hair Journey?

• Apr 6, 2014


If you’re like me, you probably like setting a goal, creating a road map of accomplishment and measuring how well you’ve advanced towards that goal. This type of mindset is often necessary to attain any goal ranging from winning an Olympic medal to earning a degree. However, there are times when our fixation on certain goals can be counterproductive. Hair growth, for me at least, became a source of frustration. This was not because my hair wasn’t making progress but because I had less control than I initially wanted to believe. Has your hair journey been marked by practices born out of your impatience with your hair? If so, then I have advice that may go against conventional wisdom but it may also help keep you from giving up on your hair journey.

The Waiting Game

I’ve had friends with naturally straight hair cut off several inches and within what seems like a very short while, their hair returned to its previous length. If you compare your hair progress to those with other hair textures, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Hair progress isn’t only measured in terms of length retention. I think it’s worth repeating: HAIR PROGRESS ISN’T ONLY MEASURED BY LENGTH RETENTION!

Instead of measuring success based on the length of your braid out, how about using other metrics of hair progress. One of the ways I knew my hair was experiencing less breakage and retaining more length was the amount of time it took me to detangle my hair. It may not seem like something to be happy about initially; but I recall being excited that it took me an hour instead of 30 minutes to detangle my hair. I could see the change in my routine even if I couldn’t immediately see the change in my hair’s length. Your hair is unique and complicated. Why limit yourself in how you measure your progress? Results don’t have to be based solely on one standard of progress, but rather measures that make sense for your type of hair.

It’s Growing, Now What?

You’ve been diligent and consistent and finally you’re reaping the fruits of your labor. After successfully retaining length, I mistakenly thought that I could put my hair journey on cruise control and still see the same progress from year to year. For some women this may be true, but I was surprised to learn that the surge in hair retention that occurred during my first year of healthy hair care tapered off the following year. I began to wonder if that first year was a fluke or worse; I reached the feared “terminal length”. After one year of healthy hair care, I was about armpit length (I began the year at shoulder length) and satisfied. Still I wasn’t content enough to concede that my hair had reached its limit.

After another year and only 2 inches of retention my hair began to retain in the way it did that first year. What did that teach me? Hair retention can sometimes be idiosyncratic and I didn’t need to worry about the ebbs and flows of my hair’s retention pattern. That is my advice to you. Unless you notice significant changes like hair loss or scalp issues, don’t worry if you don’t seem to retain as much as you once did. Sometimes my hair didn’t seem to grow longer overall but some layers grew longer giving the appearance of only slightly longer hair but significantly thicker hair. While that may not be the progress you’re seeking, it is progress nonetheless. Just as you didn’t choose the shape of your curls or the texture of your hair, you can’t completely control the way your hair retains length.

So, do you ever completely get the hang of it? I’ve been natural for almost 10 years and have been on a healthy hair journey since 2009. I can assure you, that while managing my hair has become easier, I still can’t set concrete expectations for hair growth. This used to annoy me but not anymore. Focusing on what I can do to ensure healthy hair, rather than how my hair responds to those practices in terms of length is a much less stressful approach. To you newbies, your hair will retain length but don’t let that be the sole measure of your satisfaction with your hair.

Have you ever been length obsessed? What were the drawbacks to length retention obsession?

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8 years ago

This really resonates with me. I personally use to be obsessed with hair growth but now i measure progress not on in length, but as the writer stated, overall progress.
For instance, my hair no longer feels dry consistently, takes me 3 hours of frustration to detangle, and gives trouble to style. I have figured out a awesome routine that helping me retain not only length but also retain sanity and hair happiness

Grace L. Napoleon
8 years ago

I have to admit, I spent a long time watching the proverbial pot boil when it came to my hair growth. When I finally decided enough was enough, I hid it in Senegalese twists for 8 months and now, I find myself complaining about the extra hair I grew!! More detangling, the styles are falling differently, etc. LOL, I guess we are never satisfied! You’re right about “getting the hang of it” though. All I’m concerned about now is health. If being APL for another year means I maintain healthy hair and perfect a proper & simple regimen, that’s fine… Read more »

8 years ago

I don’t protective style or do any of the fancy things I see people do on the internet for growth/length retention. I’ve got about two hairstyles that I alternate and I’m not particularly interested in adding more to my repertoire. My focus is having moisturized, detangled hair. Hair grows. That’s what it does. Length retention is just a side effect of taking care of my hair in the most basic way.

8 years ago
Reply to  silkynaps

I completely agree…and to think it only took me 15 years to figure it out… For the second straight year, I’m deep into keeping my hair care as simple as possible. This means I only have two basic “modes” (stretched and semi-shrunken), one of which I’ll keep my hair in for at least a month if not longer. With stretched (closer to straight), it’s either in twists or, if it’s loose, it’s in an updo. With semi-shrunken (closer to fully coiled), it’s in a WNG ‘fro which I sometimes (not often) pull back into a puff. Each of these modes/styles has… Read more »

8 years ago
Reply to  silkynaps

I agree as well. partially because i’m lazy, partially because i enjoy the luxury of rocking/styling/washing/conditioning my own hair, esp since someone else has always been taking care of my hair till my teen years where my hair was always covered by a weave.


[…] Can Length Obsession Hurt Your Hair Journey? […]

Adeola @ TheManeCaptain

I decided to go on a length retention challenge last year and actively track my growth, unfortunately, i only retained half of what I did in the previous years that I didn’t “watch” my hair grow. Now my goal in 2014 is to go back to enjoying styling my hair in various ways.

6 years ago

I am definitely hair obsessed — there’s no denying it. I just want more, more, more. I’m at MBL now but it just isn’t long enough. I think REALLY long hair suits my face, body, and personality best so I imagine it would take another 5 years before I’m at a length that I like. It’s a disease really. I need help.

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