Hey! Introduce yourself (or like my Nigerian folks like to say, let us meet you!)
Hello! I’m Vanessa, a 20-something year old Pilot, Amateur Chef, avid novel reader and Cat lover shuttling between Lagos, Jos and Port Harcourt
Have you always worn your natural hair?
Not really. Like most Nigerian girls of my generation, I wore unrelaxed hair until after Secondary School graduation, then I relaxed it. I didn’t relax because I had identity issues like some in the unrelaxed hair ‘community’ like to make relaxed girls believe, but because it was normal. Everyone did it. Frankly I liked unrelaxed hair and my Mom hasn’t relaxed hers in forever. But I did it because that’s what everyone was doing. And yes, I also like relaxed hair but caring for mine was herculean. I did take good care of it, but my hair never relaxed well and my scalp burned easily. It was always a perm, THEN a flat iron, then heavy maintenance in the dry climate of Northern Nigeria where I grew up. Then during my National service, I had a bad perm. My long, beautiful, silky hair became dull, lifeless, and started to break off and I got bald patches too! I told myself, ”I’m not really doing myself a favour. It’s not like natural hair is bad. Mom’s is beautiful. I could try it, the relax again later”. So, I cut it all off, and started afresh. I was going to wait for it to grow for a year or so, then try my hand at relaxing again.
Then it happened. I fell in love. I rocked my my shaved head, then my fro, wore my wigs, I easily did my hair by myself. I damaged it a billion times because I maltreated my poor tresses, but I was having fun. Then she grew longer and became impossible, So I had to get my relaxer. A few days before my appointment at the salon, with my relaxer in hand, I was browsing the web, searching for ways to care for the relaxed hair better, to prevent the same accident from happening again. I came across info on Unrelaxed Hair Care. I was intrigued. I was already into finding natural alternatives for everything else and I’m a health nut, and I love a good challenge. So I decided to give it a shot a second time.
Though I have a love-hate relationship with my temperamental Empress, years later, I’ve never looked back.
Has it been difficult maintaining it (e.g. people’s reactions, finding products, styling it, getting help with your hair).
When it comes to people’s reactions, it has been mixed. It was not until recently, with long natural hair, that I got compliments from Nigerians for its beauty. Nigerians will always appreciate long hair. But other races have always liked it. But is has never bothered me. I do things like these for myself, and most of my loved ones like it, and those that didn’t (but now do) didn’t even try to criticize me because I’m a bit eccentric, and they just felt it was me being me. I have even inspired lots of women to stop relaxing. But I do get lots of stares when I wear my hair BIG. I do have to wear it ‘small’ though at work because it will get in the way and be a hazard.
Products? I have always been a bit of a mixtress. Like I stated earlier, I’ve been looking for, and formulating natural alternatives for everything possible, from food to cosmetics of all kinds to drugs. I even concocted hair care products for myself and friends when relaxed. So even if I didn’t get what my sisters abroad were using, I would find a way to cook up mine. I actually found Natural Nigerian online when looking for a way to concoct the Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula’s natural ingredients. Since then I’ve been hooked. But that doesn’t mean that if I come across a wonderful product (especially those with wonderful hard-to-find ingredients) I won’t purchase it.
As for styling and getting help with my hair, only once did I let anyone else touch my unrelaxed hair. It was for a photo shoot at my modelling agency, and I was required to have an elaborate updo. Let’s just say, that was the end of my modelling career. I had to do another big chop. I resigned. I lost so much hair that I have never ever allowed anyone else style it again.
Apart from returning to Natural Hair, have you incorporated a more natural/healthy lifestyle?
No. I’ve always been health nut. I grew up in a family of health nuts. And everything we use has got to be natural, except in cases where an effective natural alternative cannot be found, and even then reluctantly. So nothing in that aspect has changed.
How do you manage to have natural hair and remain professional?
Aviation is all about safety. As long as a Pilot isn’t a hazard or doesn’t look unsafe, anything goes. If I have my twist-outs down my face, covering my eyes and obscuring my view, I won’t be allowed anywhere near the helicopter. But if it’s away from my eyes and ears and generally stays out of the way, nobody cares about how you wear your hair.
What is your current regimen?
My regimen is extremely dynamic. It changes with location, season, and availability of products. All I did was understand the Science of my hair, and I work with it. But the basics are the same- prepoo, shampoo, deep condition, style, and a once a month do a strong protein prepoo.
I do a strong protein prepoo once a month: both hydrolysed (to fortify the hair from the inside) and unhydrolyzed proteins (to protect it from the outside). For example, whole eggs, SAA, hydrolysed Wheat protein, other Amino Acids, Milk Protein, Molasses and regular mayonnaise are used. I do add avery little protein to my prepoo each week though to fortify my hair for the washing process.
Weekly, I prepoo with things like Ghee or unsalted butter, a humectant, my butter mix(Cocoa butter, Shea butter, EVOO, EVCO, Avocado oil, Ben Oil) for at least 3 hours (sometimes overnight if there’s time). I shampoo only with Black soap. Then deep condition with a mix of only penetrating ingredients; things like Agave nectar or Maple Syrup, EVOO, EVCO, Avocado Oil, Ben Oil, etc added to a deep conditioner. I rinse it out with ACV solution, Then I style with a mix of enriched leave-in conditioner, butter mix and gel/setting lotion.
I dust every three months, clarify monthly, massage my scalp with essential oils twice a week, wrap my hair at night in a satin scarf and sleep on a satin pillowcase. I try other products, and do not use all the aforementioned at once. It might sound like much, but I do enjoy grooming myself, lol.
Do you have a healthy goal (hair, nutrition, exercise?)
Honestly? Long beautiful hair. Really long. I want to stop at 36”, so I’m halfway there. I already take good care of her and keep her healthy.
As for my body, I really need to start working out once more. I used to work out 2 hours daily, now it’s less than an hour a week. Though I’ve put on a few pounds, that doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that I miss my ripped look.
Based on all you know now, what would you do for your children (male and female in terms of hair, nutrition, natural living as opposed to the way you were brought up e.t.c)?
I will bring them up the way I was. My mother made sure we all ate healthy and loved eating healthy (I see vegetables, even the bitter ones, as treats). I would choose spicy roasted broccoli over and fast food and sweets any day.
I’m not going to relax nor loc nor do nor let anything dramatic to be done to my children’s hair until they are old enough to decide what they want, the way I was allowed to decide mine. I will set an example for them but whatever they choose, I will support them.
Any words of wisdom or advice for others?
Be you. If you want to relax, shave your head, leave it as is, colour it, go crazy with it, just be you. Don’t let the Nazis, whether relaxed or not, bully you or affect you with their words. It’s your hair and we are all beautiful. Don’t let anybody say it’s because you have an identity issue that you choose to stay relaxed, or that you’re a revolutionary and choose to go unrelaxed. Unless they’re you, they cannot know your story. If it’s more than hair to them, it isn’t more than hair for you.
Be patient with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Be the best you can be. If you’re a size 0 or a size 20, it doesn’t matter, as long as you eat healthy and live right, you’ll be OK.
And remember to have fun with it. It’s not a do or die affair. It’s just hair. What’s the point of having it if you won’t enjoy it? Remember that even with all the hair typing and porosity and idontrememberallthestufftheysay, your hair is unique to you and there will be something out there that works for you, maybe in the most unexpected places.
Above all, don’t give up, stay motivated and LOVE YOURSELF!!!
I noticed that you refer to it as Unrelaxed hair rather than Natural Hair. Out of curiosity, is there any particular reason why?
I used to refer to it as natural hair too, until I attended a natural hair meet up in the US. Gosh, the venom against sisters that have chosen to relax their hair was ridiculous. The Nazis were trying to force their opinions on those with a different opinion. They’d go on and on about how it was more than hair, and how they’ve woken up, embraced themselves, and how the relaxed sisters were betraying the black cause and are living with an inferiority complex. I came to realize that the Nazis themselves are the ones with the inferiority complex, and are the ones dying to be accepted, or ”feel among” like we say in Nigeria. They’re now using this whole ”natural hair movement” thing to pull themselves up. IMHO, anyone that needs to put others down to pull themselves up has serious issues. We don’t need anybody from other races to belittle us, we are already doing the job ourselves. In trying to overcome an injustice, we have become the monsters we once feared.
So I changed my perception. As long as the hair on your head grew from your scalp, you are a natural. Weves aer artificaial (and when well done, are beautiful too). It’s funny that braids are considered a natural protective style, but wearing wigs isn’t. Relaxers alter the texture of our hair. But all our conditioners and oils and butters alter our hair in different ways. Maybe it makes it softer, or more supple, or less prone to breaking. The myriad of natural hair products are as artificial to the human body as relaxer is. Does the body produce EVOO? And as for locs, albeit beautiful, nobody’s hair grows out of their head looking like that. It has also been altered.
One could say it’s not a permanent change, but how would we really know? But henna IS permanent. So is indigo. Unless an experiment with a group using only water and human sebum (I wonder where one will find it in commercial quantity) as the control and others using our myriad of products as the test subjects, and at the end of the experiment, everything is washed out and the hair is analysed, how will we truly know that the products we use aren’t altering our tresses?
Okay, maybe the argument is in the use of naturally sourced products. Well, ACV is as artificial as lye. And so are hydrolysed proteins and black soap. And the oils and butters, while easily sourced from nature, do not in themselves, exist in nature on their own. Some processing had to be done to get them. Whether crude or in a lab, processing is processing.
My essay might seem like an extreme view of what natural really is. I’m not truly of that view (except for the part of the hair growing from your head being natural regardless of the state), but if the natural hair Nazis keep on cooking up rules about what it means to be natural, then NOTHING is truly natural.
Live and let’s live. We only live this short life once, so spending it focused on what others do with theirs is a waste of this precious opportunity the creator has given us.