Tips For Growing Natural Hair.
Itale Watie is an independent Multimedia Artist. She has dabbled in many different aspects of the entertainment industry from performing Stand-Up in NYC to working in radio and film. Taking up special effects artistry at the age of 12 she loves to create many ghoulish faces during the halloween season. On top of that she spent some time on set as an extra in A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Crossroads.
After obtaining her Masters in Higher Education in 2019 her focus shifted from media relations to helping serve minority students in both high school and college. While she loves working in all things film she cannot help but be passionate and vocal about current social justice issues. She led her first march and voters registration rally in 2020 and continues to spread the word on justice. Her voice has inspired many and led over 200 people to the polls. She currently spends most of her free time running Monet Photography, a portrait company she hopes to develop into a full studio operation in her hometown of Bedford, TX.
Natural hair; A movement, a self reflection, a mood all within itself. My name is Itale Watie, and I am here to help those of us struggling with hair growth patience. In no way am I an expert on patience AT ALL but I do want to share my story in hopes to save you some time (and frustration) for when you decide to take the Natural Hair leap. This article isn't just my testimony but a guide to quickly help you identify the Do’s and Don'ts as a newly natural Sistah.
Why Go Natural?
Have you ever sat back and thought about how many things you miss out on because of hair? How many hours you spend shopping for hair, sitting in the chair, the scalp massages you have to turn down because you didn’t want anyone feeling how weird it is underneath the magic?
Seriously, how amazing would it be to not have to hide inside because your hair lady cancelled or miss a day at the beach because you just got your edges laid? If you ask me, learning to grow, maintain and style your natural hair is not only a way to free yourself from the confines of the Black-Hair Rules but it is one of the most important steps in defining your self-worth. Also, WEAVES ARE EXPENSIVE and what happens if we get put in quarantine prison again? You can't wear that hat forever honey.
And you dont have to start off with the Big Chop (which is when you cut all your unnatural or unhealthy hair off at once). You can transition into it, which means you wait to cut your damaged hair out when your hair is at a more suitable length that you are comfortable with. However you choose to start your journey is fine, just be ready. But who is truly ever ready to cut their hair.
Now, by all means, i’m not saying that choosing to not make the change to natural hair makes you less worthy of being who you are, you do you boo. Honestly, I have not always pushed the natural hair agenda. All my adolescent life I lived for a good weave! From sew-ins to hair glue, I was here for every bit of the Weavie Wonders of the world. And if it was installed just right you could possibly trick some people into believing it was all yours, and that foolery was always worth it. But since having switched to natural hair I embrace a good mixture of healthy natural hair and the occasional protective style (which includes a weave). Here are some of my fave Weave looks while being natural.
In 2012 I was in college rocking my handmade u-part wig filled with bundles of malaysian hair (glance below). That hair cost me $259 but it was ok because I had just received my refund check and decided I deserved to spoil myself (don't tell Sallie Mae). At the time, It was normal to drop at least $200 on a decent bundle of human hair and then another $200 just to get it installed.
Being the penny pincher I was I thrived on DIY hair tutorials from YouTube just to save myself that installation fee. As I walked across campus proudly slinging my 22 inches of malaysian body wave, I saw one of the most astonishing things; It was a black girl heading towards the library with an afro that was pushed up into a high puff. This young lady was so naturally gorgeous that my eyes could not divert. I was so drawn to her seemingly effortless essence, her style, HER HAIR (which was hers). That moment was all I needed to pursue the natural hair life.
This encounter occurred at the time when the world was starting to realize that not only is it powerful to be your wonderfully imperfect self but it was ok because you had a community to support you. Also Chris rock had just released the documentary Good Hair in 2009 which got the Natural hair conversation going. I also had the unique opportunity of being surrounded by a group of women and men who were very supportive of the transitional phase, I mean we were all doing it. It is already hard enough making the change alone but to have a true support system makes all the difference. If you are in need of a support group please do not hesitate to join any Facebook groups or talk to local natural stylists near you.
Everyone has their own experience struggling with self identity and I had done well in most categories of dealing with my black AF lips and hips, but my hair was always a sensitive topic. I had the luxury of having a hairdresser as a mom and she always kept my hair done (in extensions) since I was three. I always had friends in school question every style I had and ask if my hair was “real” or how did my hair grow so fast overnight (lol kids) but I would always tell them, “No honey this is a weave” and I did that all throughout elementary school.
Even in those moments of me being proud of my weave, deep down inside I had always wanted to be able to wear my natural hair out loud and proud. Unfortunately my mom was not, and still is not, about that natural hair life. She gave me my first perm when I was 2, which I know a lot of women use that initial perm as an excuse as to why their hair is so jacked up- but look at those puff I was rockin’ before I got on the creamy crack!
From that day on my mother always kept a perm on my head, which unbeknownst to us at the time caused a great deal of damage. Her and my grandmother both have yet to convert to the natural side, and still turn their noses up at my mini fro when I choose to wear it out. Personally, I feel there is a sense of enlightenment in owning who you naturally are. Especially in a world that glorifies accessorizing the body by making modifications to achieve the “perfect look”.
My natural hair journey has been very long and very frustrating. I have done the Big Chop three times in hopes that each time would allow for a smoother transition to the natural hair lifestyle. I have no idea why I thought starting from square one would expedite my hair growth experience but there I was with the clippers and pinterest for inspiration. And as much as I hated the thought of starting over I rather enjoyed the get up and go feeling with a taper fade. The official last time I cut my hair was back in 2015. Below you can see that this round showed some real promise in curl patterns. I told myself that this was the LAST time I was cutting my hair.
Like most newly naturals, my hair cut frenzy stemmed from wanting to be at stage 4 within a year of my journey because that is what other naturalistahs experienced (also that is what I felt was the most attractive hair length). If you are not familiar with the stages then let me catch you up:
Is the controversial female Taper fade to mini fro level, like the image above. This is the stage of finger waves, fohawks and a lot of Eco Styler Gel.
Is the awkward afro that can barely push into a ponytail or even a puff. I also like to call it the make or break stage because this was the stage that broke me the first 2 times I tried this whole natural thing. It is like you have too much hair to do short styles but not enough hair to pull off the longer styles. Also this is that stage where some stylists try to question if your hair is long enough to do certain braided styles (the photo below is actually the one I sent to a stylist proving to her that I have more hair than she is trying to play me for).
This is when the hair reaches the tape of the neck (while in its natural state) stage. I have plenty of wigs (like the one below) that gives off the illusion that I am at this stage, but that aint nobodys business lol.
This is the Angela Davis Afro of my dreams. This is the stage most Natural Hair models are at. This is the hair that looks like a lion's mane when let loose( reaches your back when silk pressed or stretched).
While stage 4 is my goal I know women who are beautiful throughout all stages. If you want to sly at stage 1 then do it. If you like the look of stage 2, then own that hairdo! Personally I have always liked how long hair framed my face so this stage 3 is where I would feel comfortable with 4 being the ultimate goal for me. Plus, it is absolutely mesmerizing looking at all these beautiful people and their gorgeous heads of hair on social media; that is what I want.
Nevertheless, placing such expectations on myself based off of someone else's life always sent me into a depressive state. Simultaneously I would get frustrated with my curl pattern, lack of consistent growth, unpleasant texture and lack of versatility. I would drive myself and my my bank account crazy trying multiple protective styles and buying all the ingredients to make natural hair care products. I always felt that even with all this effort I was still in last place and no step closer to passing the stage one length. But this time I was not going to let those negative thoughts win.
The one thing that I have learned over the past year and a half is that there is no shortcut. I have to remind myself that this process is new to the majority of our community and even in some parts of the world. So it is ok to not have everything figured out when it comes to managing your natural hair (I mean there are reasons why hair requires a licensed professional). I try not to take it to heart when I don’t have my head all the way together.
What Is The Secret?
It is no secret that the true universal trick to natural hair growth is nonexistent. Each head of hair was made completely different from the next; from the type of hair texture you have to the type of moisturizer your head takes/needs. What I can say for sure is that my hair is a beautiful 4C texture sitting at a stage 2 length. My head needs to be moisturized almost twice a day and any type of heat destroys it quickly. Protective styles are a must for me during the winter and partially summer months to prevent too much manipulation and breakage (i'm ok with that because lowkey it gives me a break from dealing with it). So I might not have a cure all for steady hair growth or patience but there are a few things each person can do individually to find out what your crown needs to live its best life.
Find Out Your Hair Texture:
Texture is going to be the biggest factor as to how you should manage and treat your curls. When you discover which parts of your head are which textures, the better you can accommodate your curls accordingly (and yes, you can have multiple textures on your head). The following coincide with knowing your hair texture:
1. Know Your Curl Pattern:
If you need help identifying your curl type there are tons of resources online. My favorite breakdown comes from Naturallclub.com. I will try my best to summarize this process in my own words.
When it comes to curl patterns you have your main curl types:
1: Straight; 2: Wavy; 3: Curly; 4: Coily
Then you have your sub categories for each curl
A= Wide Wave Curl B= Medium Wave Curl C= Tight Wave Curl.
*I am a 4c so I have Coily Tight curls
2. Know Your Hair Porosity:
Knowing your hair porosity is vital for understanding your hair needs. Porosity in short is the ability with which your hair can hold and absorb moisture. You can have Low, Medium or High porosity. Low Porosity means your hair follicles are tight and your hair does not absorb water easily but it holds it really well. Medium Porosity means your hair takes a min to soak up all the moisture but also takes a min to let go. High Porosity means that your hair takes in water easily but also loses water easily. You can try one of these tests in order to figure out your hair porosity:
The Water Test: get a glass of water and throw in a strand of hair. If the hair floats it is low porosity; if the hair is sinking but not all the way to the bottom then the hair is medium porosity; if the hair sinks all the way to the bottom then the hair has high porosity.
Then you have The Slide Test: This is when you take a strand for your hair and slide your hair up the strand from the bottom towards the scalp to see if you feel any bumps. If it is smooth you have Low Porosity, if it is bumpy then you have High Porosity.
3. Scalp Sensitivity:
Scalps are the soil for the head. I did a lot of damage to mine without knowing (but I have been sober from the creamy crack for 7 years). It is just as important to take care of your scalp like you do your skin. This means you have to start paying attention to the certain products you use and how your scalp reacts (does it get dry?does it leave residue?). Once you start trying different shampoos and conditioners make sure you read the ingredients. If you want to be super cautious, follow the naturalist golden rule: If it cannot go in your body then it shall not go on your body (basically if you can't eat it then dont use it). But that is if you want to be whippin products up in the kitchen. Also be aware of certain synthetic hair which can cause scalp irritation. Braiding hair is a major skin irritant for me (which is why you may scratch a lot when you have braids).
4. Hair Thickness:
I believe knowing and understanding your hair thickness is imperative when trying different natural styles and communicating with your stylist. The last thing you want is to pull your hair out trying to grow it out. I know one style that everyone, natural or not, gets is braids.
YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE A HEADACHE AFTER GETTING YOUR HAIR BRAIDED! Tight braids are a terrible misconception. Some feel the tighter and more gripped the hair the better for the longevity of the style. NO MA’AM, NO HAM, NO TURKEY!
Make sure your stylists are protecting your edges and your scalp by making your braids comfortable. Now that the warning is out of the way, I LOVE braids and twists! They are amazing for the stage two life. If done right, they help your hair grow faster. I even learned how to do the senagalese/ marley twists which are the easiest to do as well as the cheapest style. I remember I saved that $200 every month my senior year of college and took weekend trips instead just from doing this style.
Below are my favorite braids and twist styles.
And the last few shots is of me with my clip-ins which is another favorite protective style of mine.
Check Your Vessels:
You know the term you are what you eat, well it is true and applies to your hair growth. Your hair is an extension of your healthy habits (exercising, water intake, low stress levels etc.). I am not suggesting you get your Terry Cruz life together but once you start making healthier life choices it shows everywhere including your hair. Start small like me with just drinking the right amount of water a day (this is also great for a quick facial glow-up). Then work your way up to substituting certain foods for healthier options. You don't have to crash diet so feel free to move at your own pace. But do not think junk and stress is going to get your hair anywhere.
Set Goals For Your Journey:
Now you can learn from my life story and instead of giving up after 6 months and cutting your hair off, set some short term and long term goals. This will ensure you are on track and being realistic with your process. This will decrease disappointment and eliminate unrealistic expectations. Ya never know you might surprise yourself. Also, TAKE PICTURES. I know it is awkward to take selfies when you don't feel fine like wine, but trust me when I say seeing your progress is motivating. Plus you might have to use those pictures in your testimony one day.
Try Everything! (eliminating chemicals if you can):
Once you know your texture you can start looking up what works for you, but keep in mind, every head is different. One person can have the same texture and use a certain product and it still does not work for you, but try it. Again, limit the amount of chemicals you put in your hair as you do not want any of your hair stripped of its natural essence. Depending on your hair type your body might make more of its own nutrients therefore you cannot afford to wash it everyday or it will be extremely dry. On the other side your hair might have a lot of buildup that you have to remove on a daily basis to avoid clogging your hair follicles. I know I wash my hair once a week if I can (I add a oil water mix to it daily for moisture) but I use a conditioner each week and shampoo probably once a month. Also, ask questions, most of my knowledge of hair care brands come from word of mouth. Joining a Facebook group or fallowing natural bloggers is a good resource as well.
Stick to what works for you:
Once you find something that works, LOCK IT DOWN, STOCK UP, WRITE DOWN EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID! I remember I was just in the kitchen whipping it up and my curls were popping! But little Itale made the mistake of not writing down the steps therefore she could never achieve that look again, she is still mad to this day. Don't be like little Itale, be better.
Also stick with a routine. You should invest in a hair care calendar (Siri will work). You need to schedule wash and deep conditioning days (because they take the whole day). Each night you should prep your hair for whatever style you plan to do the next day. I lead a very busy life so I always just moisturize and twist my head before bed and decide the style in the morning (which is usually a wig). But if you want to do the full Wash and go styles and twist outs, getting your hair on a regimen will be beneficial to you and provide steady growth.
Be patient, enjoy your journey:
This process will tone your arms up, get you closer to a religion, and test your relationships, but it is worth it. As much as my confidence was pleading in the beginning of my journey I have flourished in my self worth. I am now confident in whatever style I chose to wear my hair because I have embraced it. I am way more patient with myself when trying new things and have not one care in the world for what others think and have to say about my experiments (not even my mother and grandmother). I want you to feel the same freedom I feel when you reach that point.
Realistically by following all the steps above and being religious with your hair care routine should give you the results you’re aiming for. Personally ,I don’t follow the regime religiously; my hair sometimes misses a few days of moisturizer and I love versatile styles so I manipulate my hair more than I’d ever suggest anyone else to. I’m not where I would like to be with my hair growth but I am getting there slowly but surely. The important thing is that I know what I need to do to get there and now you do too.
Look, I got you! We will get to the stage of having hair down our backs and ponies with actual tails (if that's what you are going for) We shall not give up, but strive to the promise land. If you find that it is too much and you want to give up just remember where you started and how far you have come. Go as far as to write yourself a letter at the beginning so when you do get tired you can remind yourself of what you truly wanted (it gets that deep).You can do this, WE can do this. I truly hope this article helps in anyway, even if it gave you some laughs, and above everything else your hair gets to a healthy state.