When Nappy Hair Doesn’t Grow Long…What’s the Deal?
Understanding hair growth and coming to terms with having short nappy hair
When we finally get rid of that relaxer, the early days, weeks, months and indeed the first year or two turns into a time of almost complete discovery. Some of us have had relaxers since early childhood and may recall no memories, other than pictures, of having nappy hair. And others of us, who were fortunate enough to retain our natural tresses a little longer, say into the preteen years, may not been responsible for our own hair unless it was pressed or we started getting relaxers. So by the time many black women reach adulthood, we may do so without ever learning how to care for our natural hair.
It takes time and patience, but eventually most of us get it. We learn how to detangle, shampoo, condition and style our nappy hair. We learn our hair’s product and styling likes and dislikes. We learn how to trim our hair and how to keep it moisturized. We invest the time and learn all the dos and don’ts of nappy hair care. Then we have an epiphany. Our hair really can grow long if it’s taken care of properly. And many of us soon discover our hair is longer than it has ever been in our entire lives.
But while longer lengths become a reality for many, this isn’t true for everyone. For some, regardless of how well it’s cared for, growing longer hair remains a frustratingly elusive goal.
Growth rates, phases and averages
Truth is, not everyone is genetically predisposed to having long hair. To understand why, we have to understand hair growth rates, phases and averages. First of all, on average, hair grows about 1/4 inch to 1/2 in a month. Since we’re dealing with averages, most of us will be lucky enough to have hair that grows between three and six inches a year. Now of course everyone wants their hair to grow on the high end of this average, and many of us will. Some, however, will experience growth on the lower end. The really lucky folks will have hair that grows faster than average. Yet others will experience slower than average growth.
Get the picture so far?
Three Phases of Growth
Alrighty then, let’s move on to how long your hair grows before it naturally sheds. Actually your hair has three phases of growth. Quite simply it grows, rests (stops growing) and sheds. Then the process starts all over again. Just know that not all your hair is on the same grow, rest, shed cycle. If all the hairs on your head went through these phases simultaneously, you’d experience total baldness serveral times in your life while you waited for your hair to grow back.
Hair grows approximately three to six years before it sheds. Some people will experience average or above average years of growth before shedding occurs, while others will have hair which sheds after fewer years of average growth. But how does all of this relate to having naturally short hair?
Well let’s put all the pieces together. Let’s say your hair only grows two inches a year, and your genes tell your follicals to randomly shed hair every four years. What do we have here?
Two inches of growth/year X four years of growth before shedding = 8 inches of potential maximum length.
So in other words, it would take you four years just to grow 8 inches of hair. And because in year four, your eight-inch hairs shed before they can ever grow any longer, you’ll never be able achieve a length that’s greater than that.
Here’s another example, this time in favor of longer hair…
Someone’s hair grows six inches a year. But they’re genetically programed to naturally shed hair once every seven years.
Six inches of growth/year X seven years of growth before shedding = 42 inches of hair of potential maximum length.
Based on this scenario, in seven years, this person could literally have 3 1/2 feet of hair. Now of course in both scenarios, accounting for minor breakage of your ends and trims, the loss of some length is inevitable and unavoidable. So no matter what your maximum potential length is, you’re not likely to actually realize all of it.
Are you a short-haired natural?
Well, happens if you eventually come to the realization that you’re a shorter-haired nappy? My advice is embrace your hair for all it’s worth. You have to remember that everyone has some type of hair challenge to compensate for and the grass (ewe here comes the cliche) is always greener on the other side of the fence. Some nappies have thin hair that won’t hold twists. Some folks have hair that just makes shake ’n go styling totally unrealistic. And some nappies have textures that are too loose to wear a fro. The list could go on and on. Bottom line is NO one is 100% happy with their hair. But no matter the challenge, if you’re going to be a happy nappy, you have to learn to work with what you have and not worry about what you don’t have.
Ok, easier said than done I know. Sure coming to terms that you’ll never have long or really long hair will be disappointing, especially in a society that covets long/big hair. But the thing about nappy hair that makes it oh so special — at any length — is its versatility. There’s sooooo many cute things you can do to style nappy hair that could NEVER be done with chemically or thermally straightened hair. Of course there’s the shrinkage factor, but quite frankly we all deal with that no matter the length. However, if you have a burning desire to show length, then banding or braiding your hair to stretch it (to have a bigger fro or puff or elongated twists) will do the trick. Successful, happy nappies learn to work around their hair challenges. Trust me I know, I have have quite a few myself.
So be proactive and don’t let your length be a show stopper. Go visit the FOTKI hair albums and look for other nappies who have or have had your length of hair and see how they style it. If you don’t know how to do flat twists, twists and cornrows…watch some videos and learn. Can’t part your own hair… practice until you can. Don’t think a style will look good on you…try it, you might like it…ya never know.
In the end, it’s your hair…whatever the length so make the best of it. If life only gives you eight inches to work with, then hold your head high and wear it well with nappy pride. Attitude is everything.