Since the days that black people were brought here on slave ships, we have been made to feel less then and that includes in beauty. We have been told that our noses are too big, our lips are too big, our skins is too dark and our hair is too kinky. We have heard it so much that we started to believe it ourselves and did everything we could to look like the white standard of beauty. From fat grease to lye (which was also used to wash clothes and as a skin lightening wash!) to ironing just to have straighten our hair and that coiled, curly, kinky hair became “bad hair.” The way our hair was styled became as significant to us as how dark our skin was. Our first black millionaire, Madame CJ Walker, made her money on hair. However, like many other females at that time, she also felt the need to straighten our hair through the use of the hot comb. At that time, it was for survival, but one would think that after slavery and Jim Crow was over and the Civil Rights movement began that we could go back completely to our natural roots. But no, our natural hair was reduced to a style, a fashion, a trend that was relegated to the late 60s and 70s. Just another style like a weave, a wig, a permed hair, the jheri curl (I still do not get that one!). As soon as the black power, black panther, Blaxploitation, Funk music era was over, it was back to the relaxers and the hot comb.
Madame CJ Walker created her hair care business because she wanted black women to be able to care of their hair and promoting hair growth. However, there is a difference between taking care of your hair and conforming to what mainstream society wants you to look like. The best way to take care of your hair is to take care of it when it is natural. Yes, I understand that we did not have the tools (e.g. wide tooth comb) to take care of our hair in the past, but today, especially with globalization and information technology, that is no longer an excuse. The idea that we have to relax our hair or straighten our hair because we need to and we do not want the “naps to be showing” shows us that as black people we still have low self-esteem. Not only is it having an effect on us in loving ourselves the way we are, but also a generational effect on our children.
Remember when you were a young girl and you had to get your hair relaxed or pressed. Oh, the memories! Having to sit there while your mother took out the “Just For Me” package, put on the gloves and stirred the relaxer mix. Then sitting there while your mother put the petroleum on your head to lessen the burning (but it still did anyway) and after that harrowing experience of feeling like your scalp is on fire, you had straight hair. Next, the hairdryer and the hot comb (or curler), from which you had to put your ears down to prevent getting nicks on them. After a while, I had to go to the hairdresser every month to get a “touch-up” or get my “hair done” (for those who do not know, that are the terms for getting a relaxer). I have been through it all. I also went through hating my hair — having it breaking all the time, feeling the damaged patches at the side and the back, feeling like the bob hairstyle I had was the most boring thing ever and getting frustrated that it never grew past my neck area. But I kept doing and why; it was because I felt I had to and it was what I felt everyone else wanted. Growing up I barely had a choice; my mom never told me about having my hair natural (she relaxed her hair too and still does it) and I saw very few examples in media to show me any different. Being straight was the way to go. Until one day my hair was so damaged that my hairdresser said it needed to be cut and that’s when I realized “why am I doing this to myself.” I saw my cousin with her locs and I said I could do that. So, I did and I never looked back.
Yes, at first I was freaking out because I did not know how to handle my own natural hair and it took time to get use to. After almost 11 years of relaxing my hair, natural hair was foreign to me. Barely anyone teaches us how to do our hair the way it naturally comes out of our heads (not to mention some people of other races who do not know what our real hair looks like) . Moreover, there are few salons and beautician schools that actually can or teach students how to do natural black hair. So, over time I had to learn and as the months went by, my hair got longer and better and now I cannot stop touching it and I look better. I am proud of my hair because it is unique in its texture and no other race has my type of hair. What some black women do not realize is that when you go natural, it is not a style, it is not “political hair” as some call it (again with the whole 70s Black power movement), it is a statement of love, love for oneself the way I am. I see so many black women with their hair looking weak, brittle, and messed-up and have the possibility to look good natural, but they still want to keep perming and putting in the weaves because going natural is too scary or too hard to do. It is a shame that being natural can be so unnatural for black women. Why is it that being natural is considered a sub-culture, deviant, rebellious, but as a black women having my hair relaxed is the norm?
The media, and the corporations and people in charge of the media do not help either. Have you ever seen a TV show for kids in which the lead person was black and had natural kinky hair (not loose curls as some characters have, e.g. Sister Sister’s Tia and Tamera Mowry, although they are beautiful too). On Tyra’s show “Good Hair Vs. Bad Hair,” the little girl with the bubbles in her hair made me cry because she hated her hair and wanted to wear the blonde wig from Hannah Montana. That was all she saw on TV and so she felt that she herself was ugly. Commercials for natural hair products rarely appear, but commercials for relaxer kits like “Just For Me” and “Dr. Miracles” are all over the place. In music videos, do you see the natural sisters or the permed and weaved hair sisters? At the office, why is it my hair, which naturally comes from my head, is considered “unprofessional.” I would not tell a white girl with straight hair to get a perm to look more “professional.” Certain hairstyles are, yes, not professional, but the way that God made my hair is not a style, it is my hair!
About a year ago, there was a degrading illustration on the New Yorker portraying Barack Obama as a terrorist, but what was also insulting but very few people noticed was that Michelle was in military combat with an afro on her head. Why is it if a black women is portrayed as rebellious or militant, she has to be wearing an afro or locs. She could be just as militant with straight hair! Also, do you see the black women in high places supporting natural hair looks often — Tyra, Oprah, Beyonce, Michelle Obama (although she does not use relaxers, why can’t she change up the look and wear curls), Condoleezza Rice, Gabrielle Union — ? No, often it is put on the alternative acts, like Neo-soul, including Angie Stone, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, India Arie, Amanda Diva, Janelle Monae, Lauryn Hill. What about black models with natural hair? Getting the picture. I am not saying that wearing your hair natural all the time is a must because other races change their texture too, but there has to be a balance. We need more natural hair role models for the future generations of this country or we will have a perpetuation of feeling that as black people we need to change ourselves to look good or love ourselves.
Now finally, let’s talk about the health and economic reasons to not use a relaxer. I do not care what you say about “as long as my hair is healthy I can put a relaxer in my hair” because you are still putting those chemicals in your hair. Your hair may look healthy, but with a closer look, it is weak on the inside because all of the proteins in your hair are killed off to make it straight. Doesn’t matter if it has lye or no lye, it is still hydroxide (main ingredient) being placed in your hair. It is equivalent to bleach and draino being placed in your hair. I doubt you would want to drink that, but you put it in your hair. Also, unless you forgot, your scalp has pores in it, meaning anything liquid can easily seep through. Why do you think they put the petroleum on your scalp and at the sides before hand and why do you think it burns? I wonder how a person can be careful about what they put on their skin, but not their hair? Then when their hair starts falling out (as with my mom), black women are reduced to putting weaves in their hair, wigs on their head and using re-growth formulas instead of stopping the use the “creamy crack.” And I did call it that because if someone feels the need to have to consistently use a dangerous chemical and heating to make sure her hair looks “good” and put weaves and wigs on (which sometimes looks fake and jacked-up), she is ADDICTED! It is more like a “straight-jacket” than a freeing agent. Economically, it is just as bad. Black women are known to spend the most money on our hair, from relaxer kits to hairdressers to shampoos to products to grow our weak and brittle hair to weaves to wigs and the list goes on. On the other hand, I barely spend $30 dollars in four weeks on my hair (shampoo, olive oil, hair conditioner [glycerol and yes it is natural] and WATER!) and it looks good! Despite what anyone says it is not low-class to have natural hair, it saves money and do you see people telling any other race that their hair, the way it comes out of their heads, is lower class. Nope!
So what was my point in this rant on natural hair. Basically, to love yourself the way God made you. Living in America does not mean that you have to conform to a certain standard, it is about choices and the choice to be yourself and the only way to gain respect is to respect yourself. When you take off the makeup, the fancy clothes, the fake hair (or cut off the perm), the fake nails, or whatever is artificial on you, can you look in the mirror and still say I am a beautiful person inside and out. Changing your look is okay, but the real you is just as wonderful whether you were born with straight as a bone hair or kinky as a slinky hair. My other point is to refer back to beginning and to tell you to question the decisions you make and why you make them; do not just go with the flow (and that include hair). As Marcus Garvey said, ““Do not remove the kinks from your hair–remove them from your brain.” So, to everyone, whatever you call it, I am nappy, natty, kinky, coiled, curly and I like it! Peace and Love.