Au naturale: a journey to find your roots

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It is the crowning glory for many women: long, flowing hair, but many black women are again trading in their straight silky hair for something more natural, taking them on a journey to find their roots.

"I've had chemically processed hair since the age of five," said LaTonya Miles.  She is like thousands of women, who have undergone some harsh and potentially unhealthful treatments to get that look.

"My opinion, I feel like it's not healthy to keep applying relaxers on the hair," said CoCo Robertson, a local stylist.

Relaxers are known to black women as the "creamy crack" takes the kink out of the hair, leaving straightened locks.

"Relaxers have been known to cause cancer," said Robertson.

Among the ingredients in relaxers is sodium hydroxide, a chemical found in bleach and other household cleaning supplies.  Scratch your scalp before a treatment and you could wind up with second or third degree burns.

But now many are returning to their roots, going back to their natural state.

"It was maybe here," Miles says pointing to her shoulder, showing how long her hair was when it was relaxed.  "And one day, it was on a Saturday, my husband came home and all my hair was on the floor."

Miles has been natural for three years. She says her 11-year-old daughter pushed her to make the change. Her daughter was chemically treated as well, but one day decided she wanted to the texture she was born with.

With the change, came questions.

"Why are you doing that? If you were meant to look like that they wouldn't make relaxers," Miles says she was told.

It can be a shock to some, when a woman decides to take the big step of cutting off most of her hair.

"Once I big chopped people were like what'd you do?  Where's your hair?" Miles said.  She says three times before she had tried to go natural, but was discouraged by some people.  For that reason she says when she and her daughter began the journey together, she didn't tell anyone.

"It has to be something you want to do because it does take a lot of time and patience," said Robertson.  Robertson caters to natural hair.  She says making the decision to go natural is a very personal one.  It can be emotion, cutting off the long locks.  But she says contrary to what most think, you don't have to chop all at once.

Miles says she transitioned for eight months, wearing styles that would blend her natural and her relaxed hair until she decided to cut.  Some women cut just a few inches at a time.

"It can be challenging to maintain an afro, a TWA (teeny weeny afro).  But I mean, that's the hair we were born with," said Robertson.

One of Robertson's clients made the decision one year ago to switch from chemical to natural.  She says doing so the hair over time will become stronger, healthier, not as itchy or dry and you can do more with it.

In Miles' three years, her natural hair is almost as long as her relaxed hair was.  And the trend is picking up in popularity.

"Within the last two to three years there are a lot of people that have gone natural, embracing their natural hair.  Solange Knowles, even Halle Berry has a recent pic in a magazine where she's sporting a big curly fro," Robertson said.

Some stylists say they are losing money, from clients making the change and leaving their chair for another stylist, who can teach them about their new hair.

"I'm a lot more comfortable with myself," Miles said about her life now as a natural.  "Taught me a lot about myself and it helped my daughters to accept themselves, no matter how they are."

And she says it's creating a new picture of what beauty can be.

Miles also has a group dedicated to helping women who are interested in becoming natural called Red Stick Naturals.  They meet to talk about their issues, their journeys, products and more.

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