Monday, December 19, 2011

To stretch or not to stretch (for extended periods of time)

When I first began my hair journey I believed that I had to follow to the T the regimen of ladies who had had great success. If they said "Use this product" I bought that product. If they said "Wash once a week" I washed once a week and when they said "Stretch your relaxer" I was on the stretch bandwagon.

My hair in a half up half down bantu knot out. You can see the difference between the texlaxed hair and the new growth.

I have always been a stretcher even before I knew what that was. When I first began relaxing as a tween my mom always let me get a fresh relaxer at the beginning of each school term which worked out to be no more than 3 times a year. Even in my days when I did not even know about deep conditioning I always stretched and never had breakage at the line of demarcation. My problem was that my ends would constantly break off.

Skip a few years later when I joined the virtual black hair care community and heard about all the benefits of stretching. I came across so many ladies so stretched for 16 weeks, 20 weeks, 24 weeks and even 52 weeks. I figured "Ok, I can do this" and so I began to stretch, increasing each relaxer by a week and before I knew it I was stretching for 16 weeks and even went up to 24 weeks.

I understand the benefits of stretching. A lot of people believe that stretching will help you get longer hair but that is a bit incorrect. It's the same way people say muscle ways more than fat when really and truly a pound of fat weighs the same as pound of muscle, it just looks different. If my hair grows 1/2 a month and I relax every 8 weeks at the end of 6 months I would have 3 inches (if I retained my length). I would have the same amount of growth if I stretched for 6 months. No more, no less.

The real benefit of stretching is giving your hair a break from the harsh chemicals. When you stretch you lessen the chance of severely overlapping the relaxer because it is impossible to prevent relaxer overlap. I know people believe they can but in reality they can't. To do this you would need to be very, very precise not just in the application of the relaxer but in the smoothing process. Everyone overlaps when they smooth.

I learnt this from an article I read by Audrey Sivasothy. I can't find the article online so I will paraphrase.

The idea is that every time you relax you overlap a bit and you create a weak point in your hair. Let's say you relax every 6 weeks in any given year you will be relaxing at least 8 times. If you grow 6 inches a year those 6 inches will have 8 weak spots. A strand of your hair would therefore look like this:-


Now if you decide to stretch 16 weeks in one year, or about three times for the year then those 6 inches would look like this:-


There is no guarantee that your hair will break off in these areas but you should be aware that your hair is weaker in these spots. This is what made me want to stretch my relaxers for as a long as I possibly could. However of late I have been rethinking long stretches. After 10 weeks my new growth tends to not want to cooperate with me. My styling options become limited and I let the hair dictate the pace. To be honest I have been feeling stuck in a rut. I texlax my hair but most time I am rocking two textures. My new growth starts showing from about Week 5 and so for the next 7 to 11 weeks I deal with new growth and texlaxed ends. I rarely flat iron my hair so I just deal with it. My styling options are limited and to be entirely honest, I don't look that cute.

Of late I have been asking myself why do I chemically process my hair if most of the time I don't chemically process my hair, if that makes sense. I feel anxious about reducing the amount of time I stretch but I am going to be on my the active growing part of my journey for another two years if I am to reach my ultimate goal of WL. The question is am I really going to allow myself to endure this struggle time and time again for the next two years?

I have just completed my 5th week and I have really been contemplating texlaxing somewhere between 10 to 12 weeks post. I have not made up my mind but I do know it won't be any longer than 12 weeks.

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