Hair Purgatory: Between the Big Chop and the "Hang"

A www.naturallycurly.com member started a topic about Hair Purgatory. For hypertextured 4a’s, 4b’s and beyond, that means when that pretty teeny weeny Afro (TWA) is no longer teeny enough to highlight your head shape, but not long enough to hang even partially south. It’s still too short for that but it may be flopping out in other more crazy ways. It may naturally coil. But it also may have different textures. The sides may be tighter like coffee stirrer coils. The crown may have looser coils. The front may grow more slowly than the back. One part may be coarser than another. Or one part may be shrinkier than another.

This is the time when many curlies are focused on gaining length but are still learning what products and routines work best for their hair. It is when we aspire to all those shoulder length and beyond natural looks whose photo albums we so eagerly stalk. We get so focused on our hair future because that is way easier than our hair present. And of course these SL gals never had to go through this awkward period, they just woke up one morning and were SL, right? Let’s call this Beyond the Big Chop (BC) Purgatory. It’s a tough time because depending on what you do, you can inhibit your hair’s development.

Beyond the BC hair purgatory happened to me several times over many years. It was a tough time for me — too long for the cute shape anchored by my scalp. Too short for the hang. Doing the north, east and west, but definitely no south. WTF was it doing?

  • not long enough to hang but not short enough to behave.
  • not long enough to pull back into a bun.

I was in this stage several times in my life and each time it felt like I was unanchored and could not see the far shore. No matter how much I patted it down it refused to behave like a TWA. It also refused to behave like it wanted to drop and hang. I went through several cycles of growing it to a certain length, losing hope, and BC’ing again. And it all happened before the curly hair product revolution I saw happen after Y2K.

The first time I entered purgatory, I got it relaxed. My hair relaxed is limp and I really don’t know how to care for it. So I BC’d again.

The second time in purgatory, I got braid extensions. After I took them down I got my hair regularly trimmed, rollerset, hood dried and lightly blow dried/combed out at a neighborhood Hispanic hair salon. My hair was mid-short, thick, healthy and growing wonderfully, and I loved it when it was cared for this way. But I couldn’t afford frequent salon visits and didn’t have the attention span or skills to do it myself. And I was going through some emotional changes, so — BC.

The third time in purgatory, my hair got the Jhericurl. Dry, breaking, always damp with curl activator….BC!

Next time my post-BC hair became unmanageable, I got more braid extensions. After they came out, I went to a top stylist in my new town and he gave me a texlax and a shaping cut. It was a spot texlax, brushed on just like you brush on color in a technique called baliage. My hair looked very nice. I could wash and go in a short “natural” do–with curl activator. I got some growth, not much. I had to switch stylists and shops because he was so much in demand in the New York fashion industry.

My new stylist continued to texlax. I achieved a little more growth and the chemically induced, curl activator “hang”, but it never hit shoulder length. Then I started two-process blonde highlights over the texlax. Seven years later I had the damaged part cut off. It wasn’t a BC but very close. Still I continued to get the new growth texlaxed.

I texlaxed for 4 more years still trying for the artificial hang. I got it with curl activators, along with with very dry, dry, dry, dry hair. Every time I entered a hair salon it was “girl you need a deep treatment!” Enter Naturally Curly and my gradual (14 month) transition to natural.

My obstacles:

  • I did not trust my hair.
  • I kept comparing my hair to those other, better looking heads and coming up short.
  • I kept seeing my hair for what it should be, not what it was and could do in the here and now.
  • I kept wanting to tame it — work against it rather than with it.
  • At medium-short I tended to over-use styling products to get my hair to “behave”.

I kept wanting this:

When I could have had this with my natural hair:

And I would have loved it, had I known how to style for it.

But what has been done to the short 4a/4b here (let’s call her Miss Spikey High Clumps) is counter-intuitive to what we length transitioners want to do with our hair. We want it to lay down at medium-short. We want it to “curl” — boing-boing curls we can measure with implements of various widths such as pencils, straws, large markers, small flashlights. We want “swang”. Miss Spikey High Clumps’ hair does none of that. But it sure looks good, at least to me.

How did Miss Spikey High Clumps get her hair that way, anyway? My best guess:

– She got it continually trimmed and cut in places for shape – note the short sides and back and the longer top.

– She had product put into it and then dried in a hood dryer and then the stylist used pomade or texture paste to finger pick it and twirl it for height and clump. Or maybe they did large twists, dried, untwisted and finger picked and texture pasted.

Here is what finally helped me; maybe it can help you.

Constant photo taking;
There’s a psychological reason I have a photographic hair journal. It really helps me to see my hair for what it is not what I think it is or should be. I definitely had/have some mental/visual hair distortion going on.

Shape corrections;
Trimming seems to be a no-no to length transitioners because –hey you are growing it and need every single centimeter, right? Wrong! Don’t rely on product to shape your hair if you want to wear it out. Get it regularly trimmed and shaped. Regular for me is 2 or 3 times a year. Last March of 2008, I was in a hair growth challenge and was almost shoulder length. I ended it by getting a cut because my ends were jacked and my hair was draggy, straggly and shapeless. After the cut, my hair was no longer close to shoulder length but the shape was fabulous. I’ve had 2 conservative trims since then, the last one in March. My next small trim? Probably end of June/July.

A good haircut by a professional who knows curly hair will take all your various textures and shrinkage into account. I am not a fan of amateur or self-cutting and don’t recommend it. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great heads out there who cut their own hair. But if someone cannot see their hair as it truly is and appreciate it, how are they going to effectively trim and shape it?

Love and exploit your crown height now;
Hair purgatory dwellers, this is one advantage you have over longer haired sisters, but only as long as you don’t grow a mullet and wide sides. You will lose it as your hair gets longer. I see so many length transitioners trying to flatten down their hair by their face, forehead and crown or “lay down their edges”. If you have the right shape your crown height will give you an elegant, fashionable look like Miss Spikey High Clumps up there. And her edges aren’t laying down for anyone. The longer hair gets, the tougher crown height is to achieve.

You want hang?
Twist, braid, twist and curl, rod set, roller set, or shingle. If you wash and go, rake product through your wet hair and sit under a hood dryer to dry. When it’s completely dry, scrunch it and stretch it out by pulling your hair back for a couple of minutes, then fluffing. Don’t be afraid of losing the texture. C’mon! It’s 4a hair.

Look at how long haired 4b’s care for their hair rather than what 3’s do.
Have you noticed how many 3b’s and below are using products formerly only used by we tighter-textured curlies? This approach works!

At first I looked at conventionally curly heads, 3b Botticellis and 3c’s with their tighter but still silky curls. My curls are not and never will be silky. My hair is cottony. I started to look at those long haired 4a’s and 4b’s because long hair of that texture is a true achievement and is incredibly versatile, not to mention gorgeous. I also looked at all 3c’s and above who had successfully length transitioned.

Never, ever measure hair when “stretched.”
My hair is shoulder length when wet, but when dry still shrinks to my chin. Goes with the territory. Why on earth would I measure it stretched when it’s curly?

After I started to really see my hair, I realized it would grow longer more like this:

And that was such a gift, because I love her hair. I won’t even get my Fotki avatar’s hair. And even though texture-wise Zezi Ifore is my twin…..

I don’t delude myself that I will ever have her length because I have too many issues with length retention. I’m pretty happy with what I do have. I use less styling products now and condition a lot more.

Miss Spikey High Clump’s photo gave me the confidence to know that if I were to BC today, I could transition to longer hair without chemicals. Also, looking at successful 4 and4b length transitioners did it too, because if you saw my hair short, it’s closer to 4b than to 4a, as would Zezi’s hair also be. Check out Teri at http://www.tightlycurly.com/CurlyPrimer.aspx She is not a 4b, but a wonderful example of how hair can grow with care. I lived her early hair.

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