Help! There’s a Natural Disaster Coming!!

There is a disturbance in the Realm of Natural Hair. I can feel it coming, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one little bit.

I went natural many years ago for esoteric reasons, all centering around ‘love of self’ and ‘the way I was created by the Almighty God’. However, I’ve stayed natural two basic reasons: I’m lazy and cheap.

There are only ten Black women on the entire planet who don’t care how their hair looks when they leave the house, and I am one of them. I have yet to encounter the other nine, but I know they’re out there…like a secret Black brigade scattered across the globe. Perhaps we’ll unite at a Panera branch for lunch one day. Who knows?

Yes, yes. Back to the disturbance in the Realm.

If you’ve noticed, more and more Black women are going natural. (For my Readers of other races, the term ‘natural’ for us means doing away with relaxers and tending to our hair in its ‘natural’ state instead of straightening it with chemicals. You saw the movie Good Hair. Chris already explained all this to you.) There are more afros, kinky twists, bantu knots and twist-outs at grocery lines, teller windows and other places that Black women congregate than I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard that even in my native Ghana many more women are going natural, which is astounding! For a long time, the standard Ghanaian woman’s headdress was a pomade slicked bouffant tinted with harsh burgundy highlights – an unfortunate side effect of the combination of perming cream and the full power of equatorial sunrays. They wore their bleached diadems with pride.

Ever since Madame CJ Walker invented the hot comb, Black women have been looking for permanent solutions to straighten and ‘tame’ their hair. So what is behind this movement in the opposite direction? What is the catalyst for this shift?

“Girl because it’s the thing to do now,” said a friend of mine, who is in the process of transitioning. (Not to be confused with gender transitioning.)

This particular friend is the definition of simple elegance. Often clad in jeans and a t-shirt, her hair is rarely out of place. Her hair doesn’t move at all, in fact. It’s been that way for the seven years that I’ve known her and I that’s what I’m accustomed to. Why was she now jumping on my natural band wagon?

“What do you mean ‘the thing to do’?” I asked. She had tossed out the explanation so callously that it sent my alarm bells were ringing. “And since when do you follow what everybody else does?”

One of her children screamed and scampered through the room. She never answered my question, thanks to the distraction. She only picked up the conversation by saying that her mother had recommended a product that would keep her edges straight and hair slicked down while the new growth came in.

I nodded and “oooh’d” and “aaaah’d” as she ran her hands over the top of her slicked back hair. Inside, however, I felt sick. This simple act of admiration was a prelude of more sinister things to come.

 Our brief conversation had brought to mind an article I’d read a few weeks ago about the new natural hair wars. Solange Knowles was at the center of this article, and the pundits were deriding her because of the way she’d dared to wear her hair to an event. ‘Untamed and unruly’, they called it.

It looked fine to me.

It seems now that this “trend” is taking off, the deans of the beauty industry are imposing standards on what natural hair should look like. There is a certain way it should be worn, you see. It should be coiled and/or have the curl pattern perfectly defined. Hey you nappy headed ho’! In case you didn’t know, you can still achieve that coveted straight look if you flat iron it and wrap it at night. AND, there’s even better news! Natural sisters can seek out keratin treatments – which give you the benefits of a perm – without the everlasting commitment to getting it relaxed every 6 weeks. But beyond THAT, you can still achieve that runway ready look by cornrowing that knotty African grade hair and sewing in a Malaysian woman’s discarded follicles. In effect, the deans of the beauty industry are saying that there is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ natural hair…the very same label that the vanguards and guardians of the natural hair movement have been fighting against for eons.

 I wear an afro puff because it’s quick and easy. It takes all of 2 minutes to do my hair. But am I in danger of having ‘bad’ natural hair? To achieve the styles the beauty industry describes as ‘acceptable’ would cost be hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours. I have both in short supply. I would take a little more time to ponder over how the beauty world and this new crop of natural hair wearers are going to judge me, but I suspect they have bigger fish to critique and condemn, like Alfre Woodard and Viola Davis.

Maybe I’m wrong. Somehow, I doubt it. The pages of Essence magazine in the coming months will vindicate or incriminate me. But if there is anything that Gabby Douglas’ ‘hair’rowing experience has taught us, it’s that (certain) Black women are still too focused on achieving an ‘acceptable’ hair style and not enough on personal achievement. These women are an unfortunate majority. I wonder:  Just how did they expect that baby to fly across those uneven bars and balance on a 4 inch beam with five extra pounds of sewn-in tracks in her head? You can’t win Olympic gold if you’re busy scratching at your itchy, sweaty weave. As always, I maintain we need to focus our energies on what in our heads, not what’s on it.

There’s a storm coming folks! And I hope this natural disaster passes quickly.

Thoughts, ladies? I know the men tuned out after the second paragraph. Admit it guys. 😉

  • Nana Ama

    Its all about control! “They” don’t like us acting all liberated! So the “Style Police” are going to direct that too? Not if I have anything to do with it. And why do we have to toe their line any way?

    I got tired of paying to burn my scalp every six weeks! Worn it natural since ‘ 98. And I never tire of the options I have for displaying my natural tresses. When did it become “the thing to do?”

    • Control: a very astute observation! My fear is that it will become a fad just like it did in the 60s and 70s and that in 20 years time, wearing natural hair will be seen as ‘archaic’.

      I wish you would post some pictures of your different styles. I’m at a loss as to what to do with my locks!

  • Abena

    Yup very right about the ‘In thing to do in Ghana now’.BC-ing(big chop) and going natural is seen as a very cool thing to do and not to be treated with disdain as used to be the norm a few years back.
    Now the natural girls are rubbing shoulders with the Brazilian,Peruvian,Mongolian(and all the other’s that end with ‘ian’)hair wearing junkies and they are winning!
    And yes for some stupid reason,the natural hair must have a certain look to it,tryna put the whole thing in a box,so called Caucasian hair stylist tryna tell us how our own natural hair must look like,the silly irony of it huh?
    PS: yup I have joined the bandwagon of natural girls and I’m rocking it.hehehe

  • Nana Ama

    Health is a very important part of why many black women/people are going ‘Daavi’ (or BC-ING (love the word!). And for the economically savvy ones among us, too, it is the beginning of a protest against the Brazilian hair factories in Korea and Vietnam! For these two reasons, I believe this time, keeping our hair natural is here to stay!

    I do my own twists, spider-web-thin braids, cornrows, ‘anago’ plaits, and if all else fails, combed and scraped back in a bun with an Alice Band to ‘keep it down!’:):) (My teenage daughter will only cornrow my hair for a fee! I know, I should be charging her rent too!). There have been a few occasions when I have kept it wild and uncombed for a couple of days (indoors only!) with consequences I will not share here!

    I have a friend (one of a fast diminishing band) who still knows how to bind natural hair with black thread. She does it for me when I am feeling brave and really really want to turn heads! Good thing that I don’t get the urge often, ‘cos BOY! DOES IT HURT!!! But then, so does the first few days of having your hair done in ‘extensions’ or ‘Ghana plaits’ etc.

    Truth is, my pain threshold is very low and my scalp is sensitive. So now that my time is my own, its easier for me to do what I fancy myself; no grimaces, no danger of OD’ing on Advil, and my scalp is very happy! My only tools are a hair dryer with a comb, and natural unrefined Sheabutter!

    I’ll dig up some pics for you soon.

  • Ekuba

    I really admire those who have been able to do natural hair and maintain it like you’ve done. I BC’d my hair a while back and tried to go natural but I realized that I was wearing weaves, doing styles to make my hair look like another texture ie: looser curls instead of kinky looking (like twistouts etc) or buying products that promised to make my hair look like another texture (eg. looser curls). Eventually, I gave up and relaxed it because it seemed I was deceiving myself if I claimed to be natural but didn’t want to embrace the true texture/ consistency etc. of my hair. Going natural is more of an ‘in’ thing now than it used to be but it seems that for several black women, there are ‘accepted ways’ of doing it eg: buying all the products, doing certain hairstyles etc and that’s why solange’s hair was deemed by some people to be unacceptable.