My Natural Hair Journey

There is not a curly/natural hair wearer out there that does not have a natural hair journey. Why is that?? Well, for me it boils down to one thing…Natural hair is freakin’ emotional!!

My Curly White HairIt is fair to say:

  • No 2 days are alike, curls have a mind of their own;
  • I am beholden to the weather – too much humidity or even dryness and my hair will look completely different;
  • It takes the precise product combinations to get somewhat desired results;
  • It takes hours to wash, condition, and diffuse my hair; and
  • Hair stylists charge wayyyyy more to cut naturally curly hair…rightfully so it is an art form!! But still, a salon trip has to be majorly budgeted for just a haircut.

So NOW do you understand why I say emotional…if any of these factors are thrown off that could mean a crappy hair day.

My Natural Hair Journey

After a lifetime of wearing my hair naturally I definitely have a hair journey. I’ll start my hair soap opera at the beginning. Little T had tons of hair, bigger than my body!! LOL!! I grew up in a very diverse suburb in the Napa Valley. My friends were like the UN, one for every spectrum of the world. Which I have to say was WONDERFUL because no one paid attention to race or even cared about how your hair looked. It was idyllic. I mention this because I had many many crazy hair days. I have been managing my hair since I was about 6…Washing, drying, and styling.

Baby Tennille

My parents worked and went to work very early, so yeah it was on me to do my hair. Can I also point out the 80’s did not yield a plethora of curl friendly products. We had afro products, jerry curl products, setting lotions and coconut oil. I used the latter. At the time I didn’t find my hair a challenge, it was my hair, I just dealt with it.

My curly hair journey

 Looking back on it, I think to myself…HOW DID LITTLE T DO THAT!?  My hair was long and fluffy, I remember thinking I had to be related to Diana Ross because my hair looked just like hers!!  I ALWAYS styled my hair, typically in a ponytail. My Dad even nicknamed me Pony Girl. I had major flyways, you know the fluff at the hairline that would NOT lay down.  But you know what, it did not bother me one bit!!

At 10 years old my we moved to Ventura, a predominantly white beach community. While living here, it was the first time in my life I can remember feeling unhappy and emotional about my hair.  My brother and I were 2 of 5 blacks kids in the entire school and I began to feel very insecure about my hair.  I remember going to sleep crying and praying for manageable “white” people hair like my Mom. I was approaching puberty and I swear my hair was a monster.  It was bigger than ever and getting curlier by the day. In my mind it was awful. I never told anyone how upset my hair was making me. It wasn’t the other kids teasing or anything like that, on the contrary I had loads of friends.  I just wanted to fit in is all. The only good thing was I had discovered GEL & AQUA NET!! I had finally found a way to keep my hairline & my ponytails and braids sleek and smooth.

Moving to LA when I was 12 was perhaps the MOST emotional I felt about my hair.  We lived initially in Venice which in many ways reminded me of my elementary years in Northern California.  Back to the no one cares how you look.  But at that time my parents split up and my Dad living in a 1 bedroom couldn’t afford a big enough place for us in Venice.  That brings us to my next move to the Crenshaw district, circa 1991. Think back – Rodney King, OJ trial, LA Riots, Boys in the Hood…that was where I lived.  Lordy the 90’s in the Crenshaw District was a major shocker for my UN-like upbringing. Going to school was an even greater slap in the face!! I had no idea that hair in my black community would literally get you beat up!!  The girls in my predominantly black middle school persecuted me because of my hair. Hair that I didn’t even really like. Hair that drove me crazy everyday to wrangle into a ponytail. That same hair represented “good hair’ according to them and I somehow thought “I was white and all that.”  The bullying was terrifying. I pretty much went to school everyday knowing that someone was going to threaten me because I had the audacity to have long curly hair. My entire 8th grade year I did not have any friends, ate lunch alone, and often ran home after school because the group of kids waiting across the street to kick my ass everyday scared the shit out of me….all because of HAIR.

Needless to say I left that school the following year.  That one year of middle school taught me a lot about myself:

    1. I have a lot of grit
    2. My hair must be pretty awesome if it was gonna cause so much uproar.
    3. I would never ever change one thing about myself to please anyone or to fit it.
    4. My hair deserves my love not my angst. 

Fortunately, my new school was an accepting environment filled with creative ambitious young people that could care less about my hair.  I still wore my ponytails and long single braids, which by this time became kinda my signature style. Curl Friendly products were still non-existent, but I did find an Aveda gel that was very effective on my curls.

Most of my twenties I kept my hair in my “signature styles.”  Braids, ponytails, and buns. Tidy and predictable that was me…I was not trying to free the monster!!

Tennille - Age 19
Curls at Age 19

Enter: WHITE HAIR!! Imagine being 23 and white hair starts sprouting, popping up like crazy wires that would not lay down and were impossible to hide. Can we say EMOTIONAL!?  Yep, I had a few years in the beginning that I felt massively embarrassed and self conscious of my white hair.  I would see those gleaming white hairs and think WHHHYYYYEEEE!! My attempts at dying those stubborn white hairs was short lived.  I tried once or twice but the dye would not take, like they looked dingy and dirty and yellow which actually made me feel even more embarrassed!! Seriously, not only did I have big curly hair but NOW it appeared I was destined to have white hair too…like how could I be so unlucky!!??  I remember feeling like everyone could see them and would feel mortified if ever someone mentioned them to me, UGH.  The worst!!!! Somewhere around 28 I began to feel like Efff it, I’m about to have white curly hair, nothing I can do.  Time to free the monster that I kept locked up for these many years.  

At age 30, I finally started wearing my hair down on a regular basis.  After more than a decade I was still using the same Aveda flaxseed gel and started using their Blue Malva shampoo.  At some point during this time I began using a curling iron to curl the ends a bit to make my hair look more consistent.   Little did I know that I was damaging my curls with every curl of the wand. As a prolonged result, I began to see yellowing of my white hair. 

Heat damaged hair
Heat Damaged Hair

 

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To make my hair matters worse I began to rapidly lose my hair. In the aftermath of a leaving the girls father I found myself single, no home, no job and 2 kids to take care of.  Basically I wasn’t eating well or paying attention to my body. It took family and friends pointing out how thin my hair had become. The girl that always had the long fluffy hair was gone.  In her place was a depressed 31 year old woman with 50% less hair. Can we say it again EMOTIONAL!! My eyes tear up thinking about how sad I felt, the despair, the hopelessness. And now no hair.  If you have seen IGTV TeaTime Episode 1 then you know I had to fight everyday to get my life on track. Bit by bit, day by day, my hair began to grow back. Yes, it was growing, but it was not the same. My hair was finer and the curl pattern changed, more squiggles than curls.  Sigh, the epic hair saga continues.

In my mid 30’s I found the Curl Doctor, Shai Amiel.  Under his guidance I learned how to care for my curls properly.  His curl by curl dry cut was brilliant!! His whole approach to curly hair was utterly refreshing.  He taught me how to wash my hair, yes, there is a proper way. Shai also introduced me to DevaCurl products.  But most importantly he celebrated my choice not to dye my hair. He built up my hair confidence and reminded to be happy with the hair that grew out of my head.  It’s safe to say his “curl intervention” changed my journey.  

Natural Hair Journey

Today, at 41, Yes, my hair is still very EMOTIONAL for me, but I am also able to have a curl crush on my own hair!!  See I learned that all curls are beautiful…even my frizzy white hair. Loving my hair is as important as all the other self practices I live by.  

What’s your hair journey? I’d love for you to share in the comments below!

19 Comments
  1. Loved reading this – natural hair is a journey. I’ve been color treated for the last few years and decided this year to stop. My grays are sprouting up all over my head in random places, front hairline, crown, streak in the center, etc. and it’s very course. Like you said it’s hard to color. Not to mention my crown is the worst area where I struggle with definition and moisture. I often get frustrated with my hair and hate wash days because it’s a long process if I want to achieve good results. It takes me about 4 hours. I will embrace my grays like you have and learn to enjoy my hair.

    1. Hi Marnette❤️ I can totally relate!It took me years to get the texture of my white hair under control. The key is definitely lots of moisture and using curl friendly products (no silicones, sulfates, parabens, etc). I also do a weekly hair mask and that helps tremendously.

    1. Thank you so much darling! Self acceptance is one of the hardest things for us women to conquer but I’ve found that once I started to accept all the things that make me unique, it has made me so much happier in so many areas of my life. I only wish I could have gotten to this place earlier in life LOL. For the record, your hair is STUNNING. Sending you lots of love ❤️

  2. Lol, we will have to have tea one day. So many similarities in our lives growing up.

    I was forced into my hair journey after one of two people put Nair in my shampoo…I had waist length hair at the time. Hmm…jealous much..smh. I let it grow out to mid back length and then decided to get a relaxer prior to going to Sweden to meet the ex’s family…bad idea, my hair started to crumble in the salon..they used SUPER…ughh mild would’ve sufficed. I have been natural for 10 yrs, I’m in the process of deciding how to cutting my hair…I have anemia and a year ago my hair just started shedding and hasn’t stopped…needless to say my thick hair is no longer…long and thin…time to see the Curl Doctor.

    1. Oh no!!! Nair in your shampoo?!! That is awful and heart breaking. People can be so cruel. I’m so sorry that happened to you. You are such a strong person! Losing my hair was absolutely terrifying so I understand what you’re feeling. One thing I did learn from my experience was that it forced me to take better care of myself both physically and emotionally. I’m grateful for this lesson because it started me on my wellness journey to eat properly and inspired me to care for my hair from the inside out. I’m also so grateful for The Curl Doctor. You will love him! Shai has taught me so much — I am eternally grateful! Best to you ❤️❤️

  3. I feel like we have probably run into each other at some point. I spent 92-93 in the Crenshaw district as well and currently live in the valley too….I recently found you on IG. If I see you around, I will say hello.

  4. My whole life I have always felt the need to straighten my hair and NEVER would wear my hair curly to work. Thanks to YOU, I finally feel inspired to wear my hair natural and l haven’t straightened my hair all year! I’ve also taken your recommendations for clean hair products and my curls have never looked healthier and I get compliments every day from friends and even random strangers. Thanks so much for inspiring me to embrace my curls!

  5. Curly hair really is an emotional journey. I grew up in the 70’s when Marcia Brady hair was in. I would cry every time my mother said it was time to wash my hair. She would put my hair in rollers and sit under a hood dryer for hours! And god forbid I wanted to get in the pool! I finally accepted my hair in the late 90’s when I went to the Ouidad salon and then Devachan in NY. I am so grateful for these salons. They changed my life. I am 53 now and still wear my hair curly every day. I receive compliments every where I go and I am so happy I embraced my hair and I have taught my son an daughter the same.

    1. All of that sounds all too familiar Lillian. I mean who wants to get in the pool after spending hours under the hood dryer… LOL I’m so happy for you and your decision to embrace your curls! Your children are so lucky to have such a good role model.

  6. OMG Tennille! My bestie, my sister my twin! I can so relate to your hair story just like other aspect in our lives. I too was the girl with the long hair and all of the other girls always wanted to fight! I felt the same way you did sister. I love you so much! Thanks for sharing . I am embracing my curly hair and the sexy silvers growing out of my head! You always make my day beautiful.

    1. Thank you so much Makia-Kiné! It’s so great to be able to relate to so many of you and know that we aren’t alone in these types of experiences. So happy for you and your hair journey 🖤😘

  7. I love your descriptions of your hair experience but I am older than you and there were absolutely no curl hair products- my mom used to take me to Ollies in Brooklyn to have my hair straightened with lye!!! it wasnt until my early 20’s that i went natural and then my early 30’s when the white hairs came shuffling in! I tried everything then one day I said no more coloring I have been a curly white haired woman for over 30 years! I am always trying new products and a I grow my hair to cut it! – I like making a cocktail of a few tried and true products! and I especially love following you! please share your latest hair routine!

    1. Wow, Over 30 years! I’d love to see your hair…you’ll have to dm me a photo in IG. 😍😍😍😍 Thanks so much for sharing your journey with me and for following along!

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