I don’t have this much time every week to do hair. I just don’t.
For those of you with the kinky, curly or coily hair gifted to you by your African ancestry, you most likely already know this struggle. I’m sure some of you who have curly hair for other reasons will relate to parts of this as well.
Doing. My. Hair. Is. A. Pain.
A little more than a year ago, I decided to go natural. This means I decided to abandon the relaxer that scared my hair straight with the power of mysterious chemicals that probably cause cancer — and definitely burned my scalp more than once — and cut off all of the dying, straight remnants from that chemical treatment to reveal my natural coily texture. My mother had decided to straighten my hair when I was about 5 years old, so this would be my first time as a sentient being understanding my hair as it grew out of my head. My mom always told me that she straightened my hair because it was too difficult to deal with, and I liked having it straightened growing up. I didn’t part with my straight hair because I grew to dislike it. It just became impossible to maintain at college since I couldn’t get a relaxer done every six weeks.
I didn’t take the decision to go natural lightly. Last fall, I started by tucking my hair into braids. I sat in a chair at my hairdresser for six hours while she pulled and tugged at my head and added what felt like ten pounds worth of extensions. The result was great; I loved my braids… until I had to wash them and they took a whole day to dry. It didn’t help that they were just always in the way. Once, they set off the body scanner at the airport, and I decided it was time to try something new. So I cut it all off.
At first, I was all for my tiny inch-long afro. It took barely 30 minutes to dry after I washed it, and it required almost no maintenance. I just let it do its little curly thing, slapped some moisturizing leave-in conditioner on it and went about my day. As it grew in length, however, it started to need maintenance, and that’s when the troubles started.
My hair is still short. It’s about five inches long when stretched to its full length (though it naturally shrinks to less than half of that). It’s at that perfectly infuriating length where I have to do something with it, but nothing I try looks good. These futile efforts are a multi-stage process, and after hours of laborious effort I emerge on the other side with cramped hands and who-knows-what on my head. This infamous process is often referred to as “Wash Day,” because it will take up your whole day, so don’t think you can get away with having other plans that day. The trials begin with the washing.
Kinky hair gets oily slower than straight hair because of the curly witchcraft it is imbued with, so I wash my hair about once a week. If I washed my hair more often than that, it would probably just break off from becoming as dry as some professors’ jokes because I had the audacity to do something to it that it didn’t want me to do. Yes, my hair is in fact sentient, and if I try to do something it doesn’t like, I will suffer for it. It doesn’t matter anyway, since washing and styling my hair takes so long that I wouldn’t have time to do it every day even if I wanted to. Just to wash, condition and detangle my hair takes about 45 minutes. That’s two shampoos, two rounds of conditioner and a valiant attempt at detangling. Then I get out of the shower, and it’s time to begin.
Prologue over, it’s time to attempt to convince my hair to do something I can leave my room with. Even after two rounds of conditioning, my hair still likes to pretend it’s never heard of moisture, which calls for a leave-in conditioner. The catch is, you have to apply this leave-in conditioner to your hair without undoing the meticulous (or not-so-meticulous, if it’s been a long week) detangling you did in the shower. Unsurprisingly, this is almost impossible since all my hair wants to do is curl around itself until it has formed a billion tiny knots, but by working in careful sections you can get this done with minimal carnage. Only now it’s been another half an hour. For a head of hair that isn’t even long enough to fall down under its own weight. At this stage, my hair is still 97.4 percent frizz. There might be a curl or two in there, but who knows. From here, at my hair length, I have two options: put some styling products in it in hopes that it’ll define everything with some coconut oil magic and leave me with actual time to do things that day, or attempt a style that will protect my precious fuzzball, but will take at least three hours.
If I opt for the first choice my hair will be a frizzy, dry cotton ball all week that attracts every piece of lint on campus. Every time I pull my hood up, lean against something, put on headphones or even sleep, part of it will flatten against my head and I’ll have to fix it (and make it frizzier in the process) or just walk around with a dent in my hair. It’ll look great for half a week if I’m careful, unless it rains. If it rains, it’s all over. A combination of the moisture in the air and the hood of my rain jacket means that any effort I put in to have defined curls are dissolved into nothingness. On top of this, my hair strands will also be more susceptible to breaking because they’ll be exposed and unprotected, and by the time a week has rolled around there will be So. Many. Knots. I won’t be able to fit a hat over it once it gets bad either. But, I am guaranteed a few days of good hair if it doesn’t rain, and I get to claim at least some of my Saturday as my own.
If I go for my second option and do a style that requires actual effort — for example, twists, braids or cornrows — my hair will be snug, protected, moisturized and as tangle-free as it can be for a week. However, it will also look crazy for a week. Part of this is because my hair has never heard of gravity. I can make as many cute little twists as I want, but as soon as I give them thirty seconds unsupervised, they decide to curl up on themselves, sticking up, out to the side or just curling up into a “u” shape because why stay put, right?. If Newton had met my hair he might have revised his theories on gravity. And then there’s frizz, which I’ve already complained about extensively, but it gets worse, believe it or not. My mom warned me about this. She said that anything she did to my hair as a kid was undone by frizz in a day. Some part of me was sure that that was just because it was the hair of a toddler. Of course now this hair that grew out of my adult head would behave better, for reasons that might not spring to mind instantly but surely exist. They have to.
They don’t. My mom was right. It only takes 24-48 hours after doing my hair for it to be surrounded by a halo of frizz. I can fit a hat on it though, which helps hide the unruly mess that I spent all afternoon on.
I’m realizing now that this is a long article. Fortunately, it still isn’t as long as the saga that is my hair care routine. I guess the end to all of this is the recognition that, while the natural hair movement is great for what it represents, it’s pretty terrible in terms of practicality, at least for a college student who already has no free time as it is.
So if you also spend all day doing your hair (and your friend’s, if you’re like me and really want to have a few more hours of this process), go ahead and complain about it all you want. The natural hair movement is impractical, because a random Grind writer said so.
Contact Kiara Harding at kiluha ‘at’ stanford.edu.