When it comes to hair texture, "The Grass is Always Greener" is an apt expression. Women with straight hair can envy women with curly hair, and curly girls sometimes yearn for smoother strands. While changing one's hair texture can be as simple as using heated styling tools, the process becomes more complicated and costly when using chemical retexturizers such as perms and relaxers. A growing number of women of color are walking away from straighteners and embracing their natural curls.
Chanel Ward gave up relaxers on Oct. 1, 2010.
"I remember the exact date," she says. "Growing up, I would see people with naturally curly hair and secretly wish I could have curls, too. The irony is that I had curly hair all along and didn't realize it until I was older. [When I was] a child, my mom straightened my hair just so she could deal with it."
While Ward was happy with the length of her hair, it was thinning at an alarming rate. "I just had the feeling that if I stopped putting so many chemicals in my hair, I could get it back to a healthier state," she says.
Deciding to give up relaxers is not always easy. Trends, culture and even pressure from family and friends can influence a woman's decision to transition from chemically straightened to curly hair.
Keeley Evans, a mother of twin boys and a teenage daughter, knows the pressure women of color experience when it comes to their hair. When she decided to ditch relaxers, she cut off her processed locks. The result was a chic crop that not all of her family appreciated.
"I remember when my grandfather first saw my new style, and he was like, 'Why would you do that to your hair? You look like a boy,'" Evans says. "He grew up in a time where a woman's hair was considered her crown and glory. He didn't believe in women having haircuts like men."
Despite the negativity Evans says surrounds the culture of black people's hair, she has found peace within herself and has more support than ever. "Every lady in my immediate family is now natural, including my daughter," she says.
The process may require "the big chop"— cutting off much of the hair's length. Some women grow out the relaxed hair in order to maintain a longer length. They may utilize braids or hair pieces during the transition. As with strands of hair, each person's needs and experience are unique.
Rene Dugar, who has survived two bouts of breast cancer, gave up relaxers after her fourth round of chemotherapy.
"My hair started falling out within two weeks," Dugar says. "I had been prepared for it by the nurses but wasn't prepared for it to fall out so quickly and dramatically. A friend shaved my head, and I decided no more relaxers."
Dugar eventually felt pressure from family and peers to use relaxers once again. "I caved and relaxed my hair," she says. "I wish I hadn't."
Through patience, experimentation and a renewed commitment, she has been relaxer-free since December 2011. Her biggest hair challenge now? "The New Orleans weather doesn't help," she says.
While the transition to natural hair can be daunting, there are encouraging communities and many resources available to make the process easier. Women considering the switch can comb blogs, video tutorials and testimonials for hairstyling tips, product reviews and emotional support. The most important tool, however, is patience.
"Take your time and research the process," Evans says. "I am proud of my hair now. I knew this is what I was waiting for."