Monday, 30 August 2010

Natural Hair Top Tip: The dangers of Afros

Uh oh, here is another controversial one...........Afros are not the default style of your hair. Let me make it clear afros are cute, I love my own, I am just saying in my opinion, it should not be a default style. Let me qualify that statement

1.Picking the hair is not ideal
Afros require you to pick the hair (i.e separate each hair). Curly hair gains strength in numbers which is why it prefers to twist with or around other hair strands. Picking hair can lead to breakage  

2. Historically Africans rarely if ever wore afros as a hairstyle
A long time ago Leila of BGLH had an African Style Week featuring a mix of precolonial hair styles and modern takes on traditional hair styles. The afro only features as a short hair cut.

Medium length and long hair was styled in a way that generally hid the ends of the hair be it a tucked in bun or wrapped in thread or braided (Talking about free hair here, locs are also an option). Afros with long hair are usually seen when the woman is in the process of styling her hair.

In my opinion medium and long hair afros are actually an invention of the 70's. It is a cute style, I just think many of us are playing with fire by thinking it is our default style. Traditional hair care shows otherwise.

3. So why are afros dangerous?
Afros are dangerous
1. If you are trying to grow your hair
2. If you wear the hair in an afro very often  

Where is the danger?
The danger is breakage from
1. Hair tangling
2. Physical breakage from tugging the hair into shape
3. Physical breakage from picking.  

4. What is the alternative?

Reader Renee asked me to propose an alternative to the afro. My answer is

1. Don't default to the afro, wear it as a temporary style for a day or two not as your regular style
2. Avoid picking the hair and try a chunky or curly afro instead (like a twist out or braid out styled into a fro without too much separation)



3. Pin up the afro

55 comments:

  1. Jc - I hate to say it, but this is a great tip! I wore my afro last week and quickly saw the potential negative side effects of wearing my afro for just 3 days! I co-washed Wednesday to get back to my regular routine...that detangling session was unlike any other - not fun!

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  2. Thanks for the comments. Monique I know what you mean, afros are so cute so it is difficult to say stop wearing them.

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  3. I loved the title of this post. You are so right. When I believed I need to pick my daughter's afro out, I caused so much damage and breakage. It was sad. When she wants loose hair now, it's low-touch, chunky afros; twist-outs; and wash 'n' go styles. The pick is buried in a drawer somewhere and we never use it.

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  4. I understand how having my ends exposed can hinder hair growth and be unhealthy. However, what options are available to relatively new naturals with short hair or a teenie weenie afro? I have tried 2-strand twists, and it is not a flattering style for my thin hair. Would you recommend doing a twist out or braid out every day: twisting or braiding the hair at night and taking it down in the morning?

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  5. Yes, but what if your hair does not grow very fast or it's tightly coiled? Keeping my hair in braids results in thinning of my hairline (which is why I do not keep my hair braided, I'm extremely tenderheaded and I do not like even the tamest pulling of my hair to have braids).

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  6. Wow JC, this is such a timely post. This weekend, my hair styling routine just went on hiatus. Friday I wore a puff to work and Saturday when I sat down to do some styling, I decided to take some photos of my "SUPERFRO". When I was done with my photos, my hair was so big and crazy tangled, I just wrangled it all into a stretched ouchless band and left it alone...for the entire weekend...LOL. This morning, I thoroughly regretted that move as I spent well over an hour in the shower trying to undo the tangles. Lesson learned: Picked out afro styles are NOT good for me at this length. I agree with your assessment that curls love each other and really like to be huddled together...for comfort and strength.

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  7. I like this post. And your right afro's should not be a deafault style. You had me worried when you used the word DANGEROUS. First thought was instantly bad and that you were condemning the hair style. I will be more CAUTIOUS with my next fro.

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    1. ~ grace x

      Yeah the title alarmed me too - like, might someone conceal a weapon in there? Can your afro suffocate you while you sleep?

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  8. Thanks Katie and Mikimu :)

    Co Co Pelli- When hair is not long enough, an afro is a great style. The only no no (for me, perhaps others would disagree) is picking out the afro. Styling it with chunky twists or braid outs is an option but daily manipulation is not necessarily good. With time and practice it is possible to learn how to keep a braid or twist out for 2-3 days.

    Moni - My hair is very tightly coiled which is all the more reason not to style in an afro. I think having your hair free is totally different from styling it in an afro. Your hair can still be free but you can tuck the ends in. You can separate the hair too but you don't have to pick it out. (hopefully that makes sense?)

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  9. Aww Sorry Judy, I do love afros

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  10. While we are talking about fros, you should all really visit Mikimu's blog for her latest post complete with a ridiculously gorgeous afro. Yes I know it is a contradiction but afros are like that :)

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  11. Quite interesting. recently my mother came to visit me from Nigeria.She is african obviously. She said my hair looks like a vagrants. and that if I need to wear my hair naturally then I need to braid it up and not let it fly free. She also added that Africans do not generally wear their hair free.
    Now I do not even wear my hair as an afro. Infact my hair naturally grows in very defined coils. and I use twist outs to stretch my coils. So if I do ever wear my hair out its a coily mass of sorts. But mother still thinks that was unkempt.

    Reading this article, made feel that I might have been to harsh about my moms view of my hair. Maybe she is not necessarily against natural hair, but just against the way I wear it. and Maybe africans didnt generally fly their hair out. Maybe africans only wore their hair in controlled styles. *shrugs*

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  12. I think you are right. Ever since I combed out my locs I have been realizing that the reason my hair grew so quickly and long in locs is because kinky hair thrives when the individual strands are binded together.While I don't want locs again, I am still thinking of ways to apply the lessons I learned with that hairstyle to get good growth with my loose hair.

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  13. That updo is TO DIE FOR!!!
    I feel like if i tried it i'd end up with a headful of knots.

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  14. Yikes Ada - seriously many Nigerians have a hugely negative view of natural hair. The truth is if one kink shows that is pretty much a vagabond style. Braided or short natural hair is ok. I can point you in the direction of Nigerian bloggers eccentric yoruba (http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com/) and British Bigerian blogger (http://abountifulthing.blogspot.com/).

    I counter that your mother's view that an afro is unkempt is reflective of a dislike of natural hair which is totatlly not what this post is discussing.

    This is true Camille, braids and twists are the binding methods of loose hair.

    lol Dani, I think on freshly detangled hair it would be ok.

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  15. I agree with Jc about Nigerian veiws on Natural hair, I'm Nigerian and can attest to this FULLY lol. Although a lot of my fellow young Nigerian girls want to go natural but there's a widespread belief that they don't have "good hair" so they can't.

    Anyways, my questions about this post is about the amount of cuticle layers on african origin hair vs caucasian and asian hair. I've heard before that african hair actually has the lowest amount of cuticle layers which makes our hair more delicate than other types of hair, based on what this post is saying, it seems this isn't true... this post also concludes that african hair is thicker than caucasian hair (i'm referring to the thickness of individual strands) but again, i've heard otherwise.

    I think what I just want to clarify is: Does the number of cuticle layers directly relate to the thickness of your hair? I know it seems like a pretty obvious questions but I'm going to ask anyways.

    Also, I wonder how the stats change when we compare bi-racial hair types to other types of hair (eg black+white vs white or white+asian vs black).

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  16. ajwitafro - no the number of cuticle layers does not relate to the thickness of the hair. If you look at the previous post all the hair had a cuticle thickness of around 3 microns. The 'extra' thickness reflects a thicker internal cortex.

    There are no stats that I could find on biracial hair. People are generally identified as African or African American, Caucasian or Asian.

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  17. well I cant tuck my hair because it is a twa but I will try protective styles when I can.

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  18. generations of naturals1 September 2010 at 00:32

    sorry to be the desenting Nigerian voice here but I'm a bit miffed with the whole 'Nigerians' in general thing.

    Sorry, my great grandma... had natural hair, my grandma had natural hair, my mum rocked natural up and down lagos, and had funky cuts and had men running after her.

    I have natural hair, all my sisters and indeed my sisters children and we are not alone.

    90% of my Nigerian friends have natural hair... both in lagos as well as 'jand' (jand =london for the non Nigerian folks).

    Like most things, us Nigerians are notorious for thinking that our own unique view is the sum total representation of the entire body of Nigerians.

    You don't need to say anything negative about us Naija (naija = nigerians) folks. We usually are pretty self deprecating and denigrating before anyone else.

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  19. JC-- I loved this article. I am going on 6 months without relaxed ends. I have always wanted to try an afro but was always afraid of the pic because I have tight spiral curls in the back and sides and looser in the front and crown and I was afraid of breakage. Your article confirms that...lol.
    However, I do want to mention that twists and braids are not the only protective styles. There are finger/comb coils/coil outs too. I have discovered this and I love it. The curly coils clump together and the style stays for a long time because the coils are happy in that shape. And this style can be done at any length. I have collar bone length and I use this as a low maintance and manipulation style;-)

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  20. Anon - shorter hair can and probably should be worn as an afro. It is only the mid to long length hair where tangling can become a major issue.

    Generations of naturals - I think that you are entitled to your opinion but I think it is borne out of a passion to defend Nigeria rather than look at the evidence. I have not said every single Nigerian hates natural hair, I have rather said MANY Nigerians hate natural hair.

    There is overwhelming evidence of this when you look at natural hair blogs. Also there is not wide acceptance of natural hair within the Nigerian community- The outstanding example for me was when I was one of two adult naturals at a wedding attended by over 200 people (90-95% Nigerian attendance). The popular styles were braids (pick and drop as they call it with relaxed hair), lacefronts and relaxed hair.

    I therefore will call it as I see it. I also think if you have not already seen this post then go have a look at all the responses.

    http://bglhonline.com/2009/04/sunday-retrospectives-natural-not-hot-in-nigeria/


    Intelligent beauty - Thanks for the addition. I personally have never tried finger comb coils but certainly have seen others rock them (kcurly at newly natural comes to mind).

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  21. Thanks for this! I do wear a twist out curly afro - similiar to the ones in the YT vids. Phew!! :-) I was worried that this was no longer going to remain one of my go-to styles. This article will give me ammo for my husband, though, because he keeps insisting that I pick it out and wear a regular afro. I had to bite my lip last week when he told me I needed to buy some Afro Sheen. LOL! What can I say? He was a teenager in the 70s and rocked an afro. ~Renee

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  22. lol Renee....not the afro sheen lol

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  23. I know, right? He is so darn cute. I love how interested he is in my hair, but some of his ideas....!:-) "See" you in the next post! ~Renee

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  24. Completely agree. Sometimes when I say to other black women that afros can be just has high maintanence and/or damaging as relaxed hair, they're confused. But honestly I personally cant wear my natural hair in a fro too long b/c I get the 'single strand knot' which you have to trim out. These cant be untangled. Or I get alot of breakage from simply detangling my hair in the shower. It's weird b/c I get less breakage from wearing my hair pressed than I would wearing it in a afro. They are cute, but only in moderation. And like JC said, twist outs are better for the hair.

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  25. generations of naturals2 September 2010 at 14:52

    @JC...
    cool I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

    Your evidence of your attendance of one wedding and a blogpost on BGLH seems to outweigh mine of actual living in the country and my entire family.

    oh well, anyway sha....
    cool blog, I've read for awhile.. keep doing you.

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  26. Hi Jc- the 'No comb Part 2 Curly Fro' video does not work..it contains blocked music content..I would really like to see this style- is there another version?

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  27. generation of naturals2 September 2010 at 15:23

    My best friend got married a few years ago. She is American. from the south.
    Throughout the rehearsals and on the wedding day, her inlaws constantly discussed her natural hair like it was buckwheat. They laughed at her hair, pointed at her, said all sorts of crazy nonsense that I had to ask her if she realised she was marrying his family too.

    There were only 2 naturals at that wedding. Me and her.
    It was the south, so numbers were in the 100's as well.
    The rest: weaves, wigs, fried+dyed+ laid to the side

    There are countless natural haired bloggers who are Nigerian some are even have natural hair blogs! (shock, I know lol).

    and yes.. I read BGLH, I read the article at the time, so what? one Nigerian journalist and a bunch of her supports out of a nation of over 140million people are talking rubbish?

    Thats what I meant when I said, Nigerians are self deprecating and we as individuals sometimes speak as if our own experience is the sum total of Nigerian-ness.

    You wouldn't set out to prove a hair concept based on 1 event and a blog post. why are you so resistant to the fact that you could be wrong here?

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  28. Cocoa Chick - the video definitely plays for me, perhaps it is blocked from where you are (I am in UK). Try putting in curly fro in youtube. The style should involve finger separation of bantu knots or twists or braids.

    Generations of naturals - Again your passion is misguided. I absolutely do think you are in serious denial. Of course I know there are natural Nigerian bloggers, I even follow some of their blogs(duh I follow some too). Do you know many of them voice concerns about lack of acceptance of natural hair in Nigeria and Nigerians? Are you really going to dismiss tens of dissenting voices and say oh it is just one blog post?

    I applaud that you have a circle of friends and family who support natural hair. I would not let that blind me to the experience of others especially when that experience is overwhelmingly different from your own.

    Leila at BGLH is not Nigerian btw, I am not Nigerian either. Leila is a journalist who followed a story coming from a Nigerian. I am a non-Nigerian who has tons of Nigerian friends (multi ethnic too from Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba .. plus a few others). I have witnessed the same behaviour at naming ceremonies, weddings, church gatherings, university......every single walk of life with different people. Frankly you can continue to sound your lone trumpet on nationalism and pride but mine is rather a focus on natural hair acceptance.

    I did resist the temptation to pepper my little speech with Nigerianisms like sha, abeg and all that wahala. Trust that I know what I am saying. Trust too that this a wahala free zone which means, that was your last comment. You have said your piece and I have said mine, case closed (fyi for non pidgin speakers - wahala means trouble).

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  29. I am half Nigerian and Jc is correct. A lot of Nigerians DO NOT LIKE NATURAL hair. When I first went Natural, my African-American mother didn't care too much for it, but she sees what I am doing and now she is going natural. My Nigerian father (with whom I barely have a relationship with) hated it. He wanted me to get BRAIDS or WEAVE to cover up my natural hair. So Jc has a valid point and no, I do not think she is wrong. I live in Houston, one of the cities in the U.S. with a large Nigerian community and I only know a handful or see a handful with natural hair.

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  30. @Generations of naturals: I'm a full blooded Nigerian....lol...I grew up there and still have family there...my dear you are completely mis-guided by your passion about the majority view of natural hair in Nigeria...i don't know why you are denying what is so clear by overwhelming evidence that Nigerians view Natural hair in a negative way....FYI my grandmother and mother are both naturals too...you are accusing people of using their own experience as a sum total of "Nigerianess" however you are doing exactly what you are accusing people of because you are trying so hard to use your own personal experience as a yard stick in the face of overwhelming evidence in the contrary!...my dear Nigerians know that natural hair is viewed in a nagative light even those that come from family and friends that support natural hair~ Lola

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  31. Just to say that I have posted up the last two comments regarding the view of natural hair in Nigeria but I am closing the discussion about this. Let us stick to Afros :)

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  32. So back to afros... I love my afro but after my last horrible detangling session I dealt with, I decided that my is hair best kept out of an afro. Jc your post has the science to back up my thoughts. Between the stray hairs, single strand knots and overall breakage I know wearing an afro cannot be a permanent style.

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  33. lol thanks for getting us back on topic Neems :)

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  34. Jc, thanks for this post. I think I have intuitively known that my hair should not be picked out. I mean, my hair naturally coils and yet I keep trying to get it to do something that it does not want to do.

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  35. Don't know how many people are gonna see this now, but I just had to share. The link I'm posting is not to my blog, but it is really interesting - the first afros were actually worn by "Caucasians." Go figure.

    http://rachelandjanelle.blogspot.com/2010/09/fro-is-back.html

    Also, I know that wikipedia isn't a credible source for you, Jc, but it's a great story anyway

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  36. Wow, very informative. I have about five inches of hair growth right now and usually wear my hair in an afro. However, I'm not sure if I can really find the time to twist my hair EVERY SINGLE night as second-day hair is the stuff of myth when it comes to my hair.

    At the same time, I don't think I have the same amount of breakage as suggested in this post. Nine times out of ten, if I'm picking my hair either I'm in the shower, just got out the shower and patted it with a towel, sprayed it with a spray bottle, or at least put hella moisturizer on it. I actually don't get a lot of broken hairs left on the pick, especially compared to a lot of naturals I see snatching their hair out while it's completely dry.

    I'll try to maybe do more twist outs, but for now, I think I'll stick to my fro and just be even more attentive to how I handle it.

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  37. Sorry feral female. I closed the discussion on Nigerians and hair.

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  38. Well aren't you just a bowl of sugar? -.- Nice to know that simply trying to respond to an article gets me called feral. Though I can't recall making any kind of discussion on Nigerians.

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  39. Amaliru my comment is not directed at you. The person who posted a comment regarding the Nigerians (which was not published hence why you cannot see it) has a screen name of 'feral female' (I have nothing to do with it lol).

    My comment was just to let her know the reason why I had not published her comment. There was nothing offensive or wrong about her comment, so I just wanted to let her know the reason why it would not appear.

    Sorry for the confusion. Normally when I respond to a comment I will place the name of the person in it.

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  40. I can't do a shrunken fro (or puff) for fear of tangles. I will only do a fro of puff when my hair is stretched from now on. Even then, I only rock it for a day or two for fear of tangles.

    I have found that keeping my hair stretched and in pinned updos makes detangling easier, keeps my hair (and ends) moisturized and aids in length retention. Because the styles are quick, easy and cute I have no problem rocking them 99.9% of the time.

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  41. I agree that Afros aren't ideal for tightly coiled hair, but they are NOT a '70's invention...not at all. They're actually East African. Many Somali, Beja/Hadendowa (Cushites)wear it as a traditional style, but their hair is generally looser than that of W. Africans.

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  42. I wore a superfro everyday during college and never had a problem. I picked or combed my hair while it was damp and moisturized and let it go. I always twisted it and tied it down before bed too, that helped. Of course, now I know there are many more styling options!!

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  43. Anon - Sorry the discussion in relation to your comment is closed.

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  44. she has well developed arms, I guess it comes from having to pin up all of that hair! I know it can take hours.

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  45. I agree, love my fro and wear it once a week when I wash. I roller set with setting lotion under the dryer for 20 min then pick out. This works for two days then it starts to shrink and the breakage comes into play. I love your blog, keep spreading the knowledge and blessings to you in 2011.

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  46. Hi i really need yr help...now i'm 54 my hair thinning on top i have no sides it's trying to grow a little i have not had perm in 10 years my hair is med. long and thick in the back it curls when i put gel or anything on it so im stuck with the fro and head band to hide my bold sides. what can i do? HELP!!!!!!!! JJ

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    1. hey Gm! Try mixing vinegar and water and spritz the area, at night massage the area with red pimento Jamaican black castor oil.

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  47. Oh, yikes. I love my afro. I guess it's medium length. I have noticed I get knots on the ends occasionally. I do not pick, I use lots and lots of water and shea butter then fluff my hair gently with my fingers. At night I cover my hair. I am thinking about getting braid extensions for a change.

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  48. Unfortunately Afros do break your hair off if you wear them consistently. I have had experience with this which is why I cut my hair last year. Since I have begun implementing more protective styling like braids or twists into my regimen my hair has grew back and overall its definitely more healthy.

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  49. I read this and had to think way back. I have been wearing my hair natural for many decades. We did not start out with a style called an Afro. I never knew what that name came from. We wore naturals.

    I do remember braiding my hair at night before going to bed. I don't recall having a lot of problems with styling because everyone's natural had it's own look.

    But times have progressed. I just wanted to add my experience into the discussion.

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    1. I remember as well braiding my hair at night to wear a curly afro yearrrs ago. I would blow dry, use a setting lotion, braid and cover it with a cotton scarf! I never had the problems then, that I have now wearing afro hair!

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  50. I agree that wearing an afro (considered wearing the hair "loose" -rather than "loced")seems romantic and not as confining as locs, but the potential for damage to the hair is great. My 11-yr-old daughter wears waist-length locs but would love nothing more than a great big ol' fro. I always say..."when you are older and can take care of it, go for it." As a professional naturalist whose been wearing natural styles for almost 20 years, I think this article was spot on.

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  51. I've always worn my hair in an Afro from when it was TWA (if it ever was my hair grows so fast I went from shaved to three inches in eight weeks no Jokes) to when stretched out reached SL

    I didn't even do much to it just picked it and go

    Or maybe my hair is different it's not 4a but not 3c either it's kind of in a class of it's own

    And I'm wanting to go back natural since I was born to rock a fro not wear twisties or dare I say the relaxer

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