I’ve written before about my struggles as a African-American woman in France, this time around the subject is a little lighter.
Many people of many races take their hair seriously, but I doubt that just as many take their hair as seriously as black people. Or, African-Americans. Being an African-American, I can attest to that fact.
I have a hairdresser I trust with my life, who’s been doing my hair since middle/high school. While I’m not completely lost without her here on the other side of the Atlantic, I have limited experience dealing with my own hair. It was one of many anxieties I had before coming over.
Fortunately, I had already been initiated by a study abroad experience in Nice in 2013. Between then and now, I’ve learned a lot about my own hair, and how to deal with it unpressed.* So, here are some tips from my own experience for other black girls venturing abroad.
Get advice before you leave
Even if you don’t go to a regular salon, do all the research you can from various resources. Ask stylists, watch Youtube videos, read blogs. (Hey!) If you’re like me, you don’t usually handle your own hair outside of maintenance between appointments. Prepare yourself for you know nothing, Jon Snow.
Bring products from home
This falls under the previous advice for me, as I bought hair products from my stylist. I say this not just because then you can get the best products for your hair from someone in the know, but also, finding black hair products abroad is not as easy as it is at home. In countries like France, I haven’t heard of a chain like Sally’s, where you can for sure find what you need. In fact, I had to go to a market in an immigrant neighborhood to find American black hair products.
Know your water
I have washed and conditioned my hair according to professional instructions biweekly and still experienced breakage. Last time, my stylist suggested it was the hardness of the water, and while I wanted to doubt it (mostly for convenience reasons) the same thing has happened this go round. I don’t believe that the water in my current apartment is especially hard, but I’ve recently started washing my hair with bottled water (not fun), and it immediately felt lighter and softer. Still too soon to know if it’s making a difference as far as breakage/growth, though.
Don’t fight your hair
This is something I had to learn in general in middle and high school, as I tried to force my hair into looking like that of certain celebrities. I’ve had to learn it again. My hair wasn’t bone-straight and light after the first few rounds with the iron, and I’ve had to do a lot of experimenting with styles now that I’m sticking to natural. After initial frustration, I accepted that it is what it is. I got better at straightening it, I’ve gotten innovative with styles and accessories. The same goes for my natural looks.
Yes, it sucks having to get used to your hair not being the way you’re used to, but once you get over the (false) sense of failure, you can start experimenting! As far as going natural, I have more thickness to work with than usual, and it stays easier in certain styles. I can stick flowers and headbands in my hair without fear of slipping. I can go long or short, depending on how I feel. And I don’t worry about rain or humidity at all. If you can get your hair to exactly how it is in the States, great! If something happens with your hair that you’ve never experienced go with it! And if you decide to chuck all the heat out and just go natural, awesome.
Obviously, everyone’s hair is different and everyone wants different looks and has different flexibility. You can ignore all of this advice and try a salon in whatever country you’re in. Whatever you do, embrace all the struggles and triumphs of this new hair independence. You really have no choice.
*I’ve never had a relaxer, I’ve always had my hair pressed.