Over the past few years, many women of color have decided to "go natural". There are many reasons for women deciding to begin this process. Such as; chemical damage, thinning because of age, curiosity, desire to try something different or just because they realized their natural hair is pretty amazing in its natural state when they allow it to grow out enough to feel it.
The process can be fairly easy or extremely difficult depending on the state of the hair when you decide to start transitioning. If your hair is healthy when you start, the transition is fairly easy without having to do the "Big Chop". I do not support the "Big Chop" as a way to begin, unless you have a particular style you want to try or if your hair is very damaged close to the root. Now if your hair is damaged because of chemical damage, sickness or because of poor daily and weekly maintenance (or wig and weave maintenance), you can pretty much bet on a long rough ride to transition.
There are many styles and treatments to maintain your healthy hair without having to weave it. I personally do not think weaves and braids are a good option for transition. When you are transitioning you want to be able to treat the new growth to ensure it grows out moisturized, clean and trained. The residual of your chemically processed hair can be maintained until your new growth grows long enough to allow you to have many style options.
Weaves are not the worst option, but they definitely are not the best "Protective Style". Weaves can thin out the hair from the root and edges because of the tension needed to affix the tracks to your scalp. The ends of the hair need to be trimmed and moisturized. The weave does not allow this to happen. When you leave hair out around your edges, those sections are naturally the weakest parts of the hair, and they are exposed to the elements, excessive products and flat ironing to help blend the edges to the weave. This is counter productive to growing healthy hair.
Like weaves, braids are not horrible but are not the best option for transitioning. Braid also stress the edges of the hair, can thin out the hair from the root, depending on the type of the hair used braids can dry the hair out excessively and does not allow you to cleanse and treat the natural hair properly.
Helpful tips and education for those thinking about or in the process of transitioning back to your hairs' natural texture:
Understand transitioning is a process
Decide if you can commit to the process
Know what your ultimate (realistic) goal is for your hair
Find a committed stylist (while YouTube is great for hairstyling ideas, a skilled stylist is a God-sent)
Research what products work with your texture of hair AND SPEND THE MONEY FOR THEM. Natural hair can be temperamental, do not make it angry with the wrong products.
If the process becomes a overwhelming, but you need a reprieve try: braiding your hair using the crochet braiding technique, flat twist and two stand twist techniques as less stressful protective styles. The previously mentioned styles are for all ages. Also, do not keep them in longer that two weeks, apply a treatment before and after using any braiding technique.
Smooth your hair out for trims. You do not have to blow your hair out at all. You can use the stretching technique (thoroughly comb out your hair, three strain or two strand braid your hair and allow it to dry. This will stretch your hair out enough to allow a pretty accurate trim). If you blow dry your hair, you can use a flat brush to gently blow your hair smooth or you can roller brush your hair if you are going to wear it straight.
Blow drying does not have to disturb your natural curl pattern if done properly. Moisturize, moisturize!!! Keeping your hair moisturized it key to maintaining curly hair. Once you blow dry and flat iron it, do not do it again until it is washed and conditioned again. The continued heat on top of the the dust, sweat and natural sebum secretions along with the initial products used to protect your hair during the initial flat ironing will singe the hair.
Be patient. Anything beautiful needs time to grow and blossom. Your hair is no different.