So you’re really going to do it. You’re going to do the “Big Chop.” Go natural. Embrace your inner afro in an outer most way. Marvelous. But before you tackle the final frontier of what your actual roots look like, prepare yourself for the wave of emotions you’re going to go through if this is your first time ever seeing what your real hair texture is.

If you’re one of the fortunate few who immediately fell in love and immediately found perfect workable hairstyles and a routine, that’s great. But you’re the minority. This post is for everyone else.

1. Throw away all preconceived notions! Before you let the relaxer go, you first need to let go of whatever you think your hair is going to look like once it grows out. If you’re going natural expecting your hair to grow out looking like Solange Knowles fro or Tracee Ellis Ross’s ringlets, divorce yourself of this notion now. No two heads of natural hair are ever alike. You may have more than one curl pattern in your head. Or your roots may curl up differently from your ends. Embrace the surprise because you are almost guaranteed to get one.

2. Acceptance. Did you take my advice on no. 1? You didn’t listen did you? It’s OK. Don’t feel bad if you have Natural Hair Shock Syndrome. For a segment of you, you will not take to your natural hair very well. You’ll start to wonder why you did this, but you’ll feel alone in your shame because to complain out loud will cause some judgmental people to say you’re a self-loathing, straight hair fetishist. You should ignore those people. Almost everyone goes through this: the initial shock of whatever your hair turns out to be once the strengtheners are gone. It’s just not popular to say “I had to learn how to love my hair.” But there are only two cures for Natural Hair Shock Syndrome. One of them is going back to your perms, wigs, and weaves. The other is number 3.

3. Experimentation! Your hair is an adventure you have chosen to embrace! Good for you. This is a magical time when you try different techniques and hairstyles and products and methods to find what works best for you. Like rocking the short cut, growing it out, molding loose curls with styling gel, using conditioners to make it curl up, trying locs, trying braids, trying two-stranded twists, trying twist-outs, blow-outs, and up-dos. Once you let go of any preconceived notions you can truly find what works best for you and have a lot of fun the whole way.

4. Confidence is your friend. If you go natural, you’re going to need lots and lots of confidence as sometimes people will make rude comments like, “You need a perm;” “Your hair looks nappy;” “You don’t have ‘good’ hair like Cousin So-and-So;” or “You’ll never get a man with those locs in your head.” Whether it is strangers or loved ones who say these things, you need to ignore them. By choosing to go natural you have chosen a path they still find strange and scary. While it may be best to ignore these folks, it’s always good to have a few comebacks in your arsenal. For instance, if you’re a God fearing woman, I suggest saying, “I am simply embracing the hair the Lord gave me rather than trying to perfect His perfection.” If not that, try any variation of these: “It’s a recession;” “It’s just hair;” “I’m not wasting $100 on a perm. That’s my new shoes money;” “If all a man cares about is hair, that’s a man I don’t want;” or “I lead an active lifestyle. I can’t afford to lose any training days for my decathlon because I can’t sweat out my hair.” But honestly, you don’t need the comebacks. You just need the confidence.

5. Be A Hair Ambassador, Not A Hair Bully. Once you’ve come full circle and are now a master of your curl domain, it’s important to not let your love turn into a love most foul and judging. Do not try to convert other women using the same judgmental tactics people used on you to bully you into getting a perm. No accusing women with perms, wigs and weaves of “hating themselves” when they’re just still doing what you used to do. Remember how you felt early in your hair journey. That nervousness. That frustration. The disappointment that your hair looked nothing like Lauryn Hill’s locs from 1995. Instead, focus on the positive. Be helpful with those who are curious about going natural. Celebrate your fellow afro people. Don’t waste your time getting into petty debates over what is better or easier. Focus on what was better or easier for you. Now go out and have a grand ol’ natural time.

Danielle Belton is the creator and editor of the blog blacksnob.com and has been natural since 2001. You can read more about her persona hair journey herehere and here.

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  • Chica

    Loved this piece. I just went “natural” a couple days go but it didn’t involve a big chop or anything like that. I’ve worn braids, weaves, and pressed my hair all my life. I’ve never had a perm. So I guess you could say I was already natural although I haven’t rocked my fro since I was itty bitty. My big chop basically consisted of me wetting my hair in the shower, lol. So I guess I said all this to point out that going natural doesn’t always start with chopping off or growing out a perm.

  • tina

    Really the big chop??? How about just cutting your hair just because you want to? Just because of the damage done to your hair by man made products? How about because you just want the hair that you were born with? Why is this big chop / transitioning thing so glorified just do it because you want to. And has anyone really listened to this NYTimes Blog piece to hear the director say : Am I ready to look ugly yet? or heard her say Am I gorgeous yet/ When did we become hateful of ourselves that we needed a website craziness to make us feel like it was okay to love our natural born hair??it is because I am 53 and as a child my mother wouldnot relaxed/perm my hair until I was 18, and that ended at 22. And its’s been cornrows without extentions, high top fades, and now dreadlocks for 20 years ever since. I love my natural born hair Do you?

  • Cutting my hair down to less than half an inch was one of the most liberating choices I’ve made thus far. I don’t worry about sweat, humidity, or rain, nor do I have to “do” my hair in the morning. I don’t even call myself “natural”–I’m just me, wearing the hair the grows out of my head. Having recently dyed it red, I’m loving it even more!