From Toxic Relationship to True Love: How I Learned to Embrace My Natural Hair

couple

Courtesy of Raven McMillan/ART BY CRISTINA CIANCI

As a bride-to-be, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about relationships—the one I have with my fiancé, of course; but also the ones I have with my family, with myself, and most recently with...my hair.

Like most relationships, there’s been a lot of ups and downs over time, but things got pretty serious in 2018 when I decided to go natural. I spent most of my life in conflict with my hair, forcing it to be something that it’s not, but once I decided to accept it as is, we finally found our happily ever after. 

Here, the love story between me and my tresses along with tips from a natural hair pro on wow-worthy wedding looks no matter where you and your hair stand.

Toxic Relationships 

For decades I kept my curls undercover behind a facade of chemically-processed, heat-scorched hair.

Growing up biracial, society showed me that there was such a thing as “good hair.” Good hair was soft, silky, and usually straight. Sometimes it was curly, of the bountiful bouncy variety, but it was never kinky, unruly, or “nappy” like the strands on my head. 

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Courtesy of Raven McMillan

When I was born, my mom made up sweet lullabies about my “soft black curls,” but when those baby curls turned into Type 4 coils, my mother (who is white) was at a loss. At the time, Google was non-existent, as was mainstream diversity in the beauty industry, but she did the best she could with the advice of Black friends and family. Ultimately though, it was decided that I needed a perm, a treatment used to chemically straighten hair in Black salons. So at four years old, I got my first relaxer and we never looked back. 

As I got older, I began to envy the “mixed girl curls” I’d see on social media, but I dared not go natural—too many unknowns. Enter: the triple barrel curling iron. The effect of this oversized crimper is what I imagined being mixed was supposed to look like and it earned endless compliments on what people thought was my natural hair. In reality, I only ended up compounding years of chemical destruction with layers of heat damage.

Between the heat, the chemicals, and the false sense of identity, things were getting unhealthy; I knew it was time to let go. 

The Breakup 

My decision to go natural was twofold: first, reconnect with my authentic self by unlearning beliefs that I never had “good hair.” Second, reset my hair health by detoxing from the years of chemically-based beauty routines

woman
Courtesy of Raven McMillan

I was ready to embrace change, but not enough to go for the big chop. Instead, I stopped getting a relaxer, started letting my natural texture grow, and decided to experiment with box braids (a first for me) to mask the mixed textures of my transitioning mane. It wasn’t until the take-down process that I found myself, literally, in a hairy situation. 

Not yet realizing the importance of proper detangling, I ended up shampooing my hybrid hair into a matted mess. It took three tearful days of unknotting before I accepted it was time for the Big Chop. 

Reuniting With an Old Flame

It was the first time I had seen that much of my natural texture in my entire life, and it was both terrifying and empowering to embrace this “new” texture after nearly 30 years of being estranged. 

Before going natural, I often felt disconnected from my Black heritage. On the surface, I embraced being biracial—welcoming compliments on my caramel skin and graciously playing the “Where are you from?!” game—but deep down I constantly struggled to balance the identity of my backgrounds. Obviously not white, but not quite Black enough to be Black. My sense of self was truly a grey area.

woman in Paris
Courtesy of Raven McMillan

Going natural unlocked a new level of authenticity in me. A new connection, a new sense of pride, a new understanding of who I am and where I came from. And while accepting my afro-textured hair came with a new set of challenges and lingo (porosity, co-washing, pineappling, TWA, baggying, etc.), being reunited felt good. 

Lifelong Commitment 

Moving on from my relaxed phase, I gave up a certain lifestyle to embrace a more complex relationship. One that takes care, and devotion, and patience. A lot of patience. For me, going natural has been an ongoing practice of unconditional self-love and long-term commitment. 

Sporting my natural hair on my wedding day is a symbol of my dedication to this journey—the ultimate opportunity to say, 'This is me, and this is who I commit to being,' as I commit to my husband-to-be.

I decided early on in my wedding planning process that I wouldn’t be wearing a veil. Partially because of personal style, and mainly because I want to give my hair a place to shine while walking down the aisle. Sporting my natural hair on my wedding day is a symbol of my dedication to this journey—the ultimate opportunity to say, “This is me, and this is who I commit to being,” as I commit to my husband-to-be.

I’m still learning about my hair every day, and there are days (definitely the wash days!) that I want to give up, but without a doubt, I’m seeing this through, for better or for worse. 

Tips for Transitioning Brides of All Stages 

If you're in the middle of a natural hair transition:

“When transitioning, finding the right style with the least amount of tension is key,” says expert Rashuna Durham. She suggests that brides who are transitioning back to their natural hair look for styles that accentuate their natural coils.

Meet the Expert

Rashuna Durham is an Amika Pro educator and owner of Shuna’s Hair Studio.

Styles that incorporate rod sets, Flexi-rods, twist-outs, or braid outs will give you the confidence to dance all night without the worry of your roots being sweated out. According to Durham, these looks allow for a more natural flow from the textured roots to the relaxed ends and look better as the night goes on which ensures perfect pictures from every angle. 

If you just did the big chop:

“A bride that has just done a big chop can start to panic about ‘what now' for the big day,” says Durham. But there’s no reason to fear because there are many options that allow the bride to dazzle in her natural strands while giving her that added oomph she may be looking for on her wedding day. “Match your texture with natural-hair-textured clip-in extensions to give hair added volume, length, or both!”

If you’re still seeking more length, companies like Mayvenn work with stylists all over the country to create handmade, custom wigs that are ideal for brides. Think of it as the hair equivalent of a couture gown!

If you've always been natural, but want more "wow" on the wedding day:

“A bride who has always been natural and wants to ensure that her hair turns heads on her big day should make sure her hair is doing what it does best—being natural,” Durham says. “Be creative and add anything from bling to flowers!”

Over the years, Durham has had several natural brides come in requesting straight hair for their wedding day, but she warns that once humidity, water, or some heart-pumping dancing get mixed in, the style isn’t what you started with. “Don’t fight against your curls (they will always win!) cooperate with them,” the stylist says. “Another option is to do a soft blowout before styling. This will give you an elongated look with still a natural feel.” Either way, her advice is to start with healthy, moisturized coils and style from there.

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