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How long can my kinky natural hair grow? To be length-obsessed and black


In the black community, long natural hair evokes marvel. For decades and from as young as elementary school, many black women have used relaxers, powerful chemical treatments that straighten curly hair. Since relaxers can cause damage to natural hair, such as breakage or stunted hair growth, long natural hair is seen as a rarity.

Exactly how long our natural hair can grow and how long it takes to grow is a mystery to many black women. Still, one way to get answers to just not relax your hair. This is how I’ve lived, as a lifelong, kinky-haired natural.

Growing up in the early 2000s, my mom, Michel, had a strict rule: No relaxers would ever enter our Brooklyn, New York, home. Rather than ship me and my sister to the hair salon, she spent four hours washing and combing our hair every Sunday night until we turned 18.

“Since you guys were toddlers, uppermost in my mind was making sure that you liked yourselves naturally,” my mom said.

She was my stylist, rotating between twists, braids and buns. She was also my cheerleader, making sure I knew that even though my hair wasn’t wavy like Hilary Duff’s or had cool highlights like Lindsay Lohan’s, it was still gorgeous.

“When I was doing your hair, I would always be making these comments of how black your hair was or how healthy it looked and, you know, how it felt,” my mom said. “I always talked about it in a positive way so, like, giving you the joy of your own hair.”

Reporter Mycah Hazel’s mom, Michel, washed and styled her daughter’s hair every Sunday. In this photgraph, Mycah (right) is with her younger sister sporting braids. (Image courtest of Mycah Hazel)

Not having relaxed hair did get lonely sometimes. From elementary school to high school, I was often one of only two girls in my class with natural hair. Still, being alone had its advantages. Since nobody looked like me, I didn’t worry about how long my hair was or how it compared to other girls’. My mom was supportive of my hair and in public, people were in awe of it.

“People made a lot of comments when you were preteens and teens about your hair,” my mom said. “One of the things they would always say is, ‘Oh, your hair looks so beautiful. Don’t you ever perm it.’ Or things like that. ‘I’m glad you never permed it. It looks so good natural. Keep it like that!’”

When college came, I moved to upstate New York, and I brought my mother’s Sunday wash routine with me. It consists of seven steps:

• Detangle the hair with a wide-tooth comb and lotion
• Shampoo
• Condition
• Apply a hair mask to add moisture
• Wash out the hair mask
• Add a leave-in conditioner and a heat protectant
• Blow dry

 

But washing is the easy part. For kinkier hair like mine, washing but not styling hair can lead to it getting matted and dry overnight. It has to be styled in braids or twists. This was something I didn’t prepare for before college. So, as in most situations, I turned to the internet. I found a ton of hairstyling videos.

But I also found another type of video: length checks.

Length-check videos were made by women who had cut off their relaxed hair and were tracking their natural hair growth. They’d tug a strand of their natural hair down and mark where it reached — nose-length, shoulder-length, or the goal, waist-length.

I fell down a rabbit hole of length-check videos. It was addicting, watching how long, thick and luscious these women’s hair had become. Some women’s hair grew as quickly as 4 inches in six months. Other women’s hair had grown waist-length in a single year.