Melanie Burke once told me that she gets goosebumps whenever she believes something needs to happen. That’s exactly what happened when Amy-Rae Rispel commented on a picture I posted on the South African Naturals Facebook page
I made contact with her in the hopes that she would be interested in doing a feature on the blog – she agreed.
How long have you been natural?
I’m a natural hair newbie; my all-natural hair will be two in October. But despite my relatively short experience with natural hair, I think I’ve done it all. I shaved all my hair off in October 2012 to start from scratch. Grew a fro (and rocked Bantu knots, twist-outs, corn-rows, braids in between) for just over a year until it started getting unmanageable for me as a young mom. I then decided to get dreadlocks in November/December last year. I tried the free-from way but the crochet method worked much better for me.
Maybe in some weird way I was trying to make up for lost time? Here I was 23 (I’m 25 now) with no idea on how to handle/maintain/nurture the hair I was born with. My hair had been relaxed since I was 6. That is more than two thirds of my life.
I had to learn to love the hair I was born with
It takes courage to go natural. It’s not just about cutting your hair – that is easy. It’s about accepting yourself and your curl pattern when you’ve been told for years it isn’t good enough/pretty/acceptable. No wonder women (including myself) shy away from it all. Relaxer is the comfort zone and safe place. To go natural is so risky and different – and we know change is scary. Then there is the question, of what will my hair look like? What type of curl pattern will I have? Will my hair still look acceptable? (Curl pattern and hair type – there is judgment there too but I won’t go into all of that now.) You don’t really know what to expect.
But once I took the plunge my natural hair journey was scary and fun and weird all in one. I had glorious moments and made many mistakes. There were good hair days and absolutely awful ‘hide my hair under a turban’ days. In fact I bought relaxer twice, ready to give up on it all. But somehow I managed to persevere. And at this point in my life, I’m so glad I did. It was worth it in the end. I love my hair!
Why did you decide to go natural?
Essentially I had two reasons for going natural: 1) The birth of my daughter and not wanting to relax her hair (if she got my hair) and 2) I got tired of the cycle of relax, wash, condition, rinse, set, blow-dry, flat-iron, repeat.
Regardless of how well I took care of my hair, it never looked the same as the result from the hairdresser. If it wasn’t sweat from a run, it was the steam from a shower or my tresses feeling dry because of a k*k product (excuse my language), regardless of price. Everyone would swear; eg: ‘oh my hat (place popular hair brand here) is fabulous and makes your hair feel super soft you really should try it’ but that wasn’t the case for me, and it was depressing.
For some reason I think I was looking for the ‘holy grail’ of products that would make my crunchy hair feel sleek, slinky and super-soft, just like girls with straight hair- but there isn’t any. There never was. Well named hair brands know this, but they don’t care because it’s about money, not the health of our hair. Curly girls can’t be using products meant for straight hair. We are so adamant about using washing powder for washing and ammonia for the bath (and we wouldn’t dare mix the two so why do we do the same with our bodies?) Our hair has unique and wonderful traits (just like straighter hair) but it needs specific things like water – which relaxing doesn’t aid in – and a specific low maintenance routine.
Curly girls shouldn’t hate the rain
I started hating my hair (and by default myself) and the rain and the beach and the shower because of how my ‘geshooshed’ hair would ‘mince’. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I used (place name of ‘cheaper’ relaxer brand here) two weeks in a row and my hair started falling out in clumps with a bald patch to boot. Losing my hair was the catalyst for change. (Oh the irony: Lose hair to gain hair) Sometimes you have to sink to swim.
What has the reception been like?
I’ve received more compliments from complete strangers or acquaintances than from my dear friends and family. In fact I’ve heard some of the most ignorant and racist sh*t from ‘well-meaning’ people I know.
For example: “How often do you wash your dreads”.Sigh. Just because I have a new hairstyle does not suddenly mean I will become an unhygienic slob and neglect my hair! Or they say ‘Natural hair doesn’t suit everybody’/’Some people need relaxer’ Er… no. God gave you that hair for a reason and it is beautiful just the way it is.
The bad comments: “You look better with relaxed hair, when you going to get a relaxer again?” “You looked so pretty before!” “Are you going through a crisis”? “You look like a man, its ugly”. “How often do you wash your hair?” “But dreads are so unprofessional and scruffy”. “Once this phase is over are you going to go back to relaxers”?
The good comments: “You so bad-ass”,” I love your hair”, “it suits you”, “I love your dreads – where can I do mine”? I have had random people stop me in the street, mall, train and say ” wow I love your hair.”
It really makes your day and makes you want to push through the ugly. The other day this rasta with very long dreads selling herbs on the train stopped in front of me and said I like your hair girl. It felt like a boss – I won’t lie.
But through it all you have to remember you doing this for yourself and not for the approval of others.
What products do you use on your locs?
Right now I’m trying to use more natural products but it’s a work in progress. I shampoo and condition with whatever we can afford that month. Then I take some extra virgin olive oil sometimes coconut oil and massage it into my damp locs to seal in some moisture. Thereafter I usually air-dry (if it’s a good day and I’m busy with the washing) or sit under the hood-dryer that we fortunate to have to dry. And that’s about it. I also sleep with a satin bonnet to prevent lint build-up (but it still happens because- life).
In future I hope to try the Afrobotanics range – I hear they are good. I also want to try shea butter and other all-natural oils/creams etc.
What you put in is important
One thing that I know for sure is the importance of drinking enough water and eating well. My locs feel insufficiently hydrated if I’m guzzling too much coffee. Also the elements can wreak havoc on your hair – so don’t dismiss wind/hot sun etc.
What advice do you have for other naturalistas?
Trust yourself. Deep down you know what is and isn’t good for your hair. You really don’t have to ‘suffer for beauty’. You know that yanking a comb vigorously through your hair isn’t good but we get frustrated and tired and irritated. You know that perhaps one wash a week is enough to keep your hair nice and clean or steaming your hair makes it feel soft – well dear girl, continue to do so. Your hair will love you for it.
I will also say learn to love you – regardless of what others think. As Dita Von Teese says;
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” There will also be people that will tell you how to take care of YOUR OWN hair with horrible advice and judgment. Ignore and move on. I promise you, you are still beautiful with that kroes kop – this word doesn’t hurt me anymore 🙂
In the greater scheme of things, hair means nothing. There are people out in the world dying for their race/religion/gender and the last thing there are worrying about is what their hair looks like. Your character and your value is not determined by the type of hair you have.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Amy-Rae.