When I wrote The Definition of Natural last week, I knew it would be a controversial post. 46 of you and counting offered your perspective, and I learned quite a bit from the discussion. After a while, there were so many comments I didn’t know who to respond to first. So here’s what you guys taught me, and my definition of “natural.”
Everyone more or less agrees that natural hair springs wild and curly from the root. A natural woman wears her hair without chemical treatments to alter it’s texture. Some of you even add hair color to the list of chemicals (which would make the color I am going to get over Christmas unnatural).
A 100% natural woman doesn’t wear wigs, or have hair extensions of any kind. She wears her hair as it grows, and uses products and hairstyles that enhance and protect her natural kinks and curls.
We women who wear our hair as it was intended are an assertive and opinionated bunch. For many of us the decision to shun the chemical fire cream was a difficult one, fraught with hurtful comments from family, friends, and strangers. For many, going natural is an act of defiance against what society dictates a beautiful black woman “should” look like.
The judgment of others has created a community of rebels. When I see other naturally curly, afro or lock wearing bellas on the street, we smile. We nod. We acknowledge each other. The Afrobella response to continually being made to feel “not as beautiful”, “unprofessional,” or “unpresentable” is an inflated self-esteem, pride in nappiness, and oftentimes, a wicked superiority complex.
Here is where the danger lies.
Isis has worn every hairstyle under the sun, and she eloquently explains, “I used to hate when women looked at me as less because I had added some hair to my locks, implying that I was not a real “natural”. I am a natural woman…sister…friend – and I have come to the conclusion that (natural) is not defined by my hair, but by my heart.”
And one of my favorite commenters, SlumBeautiful, made an excellent point. “Being â€œnaturalâ€ does not and should not define who or what a person is, and that is where a lot of nappturals get it confused. I was actually introduced to being nappy by a nappy-nazi, and being young, I really fed into all the crap about what I am supposed to be now that I am natural. Unfortunately that is where the thin line becomes transparent and where most nappturals go wrong because they need to be defined. Somehow, that natural hair definition crosses over to a judgment of someones character and that is pure BS…I love to recruit people and tell them about my life as a nappy girl but I donâ€™t feel any superiority over anyone else nor do I think that I am more real than anyone else,” she says.
Amen to that! I have teetered close to being that “nappy-nazi.” Ask Mama Bella ’bout that. Whenever she complains about her hair, I always tell her she should just go natural. And her response is often along the lines of “no,” and sometimes a four-letter-word gets thrown in there just for fun.
Chemical straightener and dye has damaged her hair, and in the past she has had to wear extensions to mask the damage. Now that her hair is healthy again she doesn’t need the weave anymore, but that doesn’t mean she sees anything wrong with wearing one. I just called her for a quote on this. “It’s just like my lashes. Julie says, if anyone asks you where you got such long lashes, just tell them “I paid for them.” And leave it at that because it’s none of their effing business.”
Alrighty then. Mama Bella’s experience ties in with some of my readers, who are sending in Ask Afrobella questions that I’m not qualified enough to answer, about serious issues like alopecia or thinning hair (Bellas, I will try to find professional advice for your questions but that might not happen until 2007. I’ve got a lot of travel scheduled for December. But two of my Afrobella goals are to find a professional hairdresser and a dermatologist to answer serious questions like these).
Jazmin, look for a post on deep conditioning and moisturizers soon!
It’s important to care for your hair. Whether you’re rocking a TWA or a three feet of weave, treat your hair like you would treat an invaluable silk gown. Cherish it, wash it carefully, and it will respond to the love you show.
I guess I kind of see hair extensions and wigs as akin to breast implants. Some women get them because they honestly need them, to look and feel normal and to boost their self esteem. Even more women get them just because they’re fun, and long hair equals femininity. Some women get ridiculous, long, big, over-the-top weaves for attention. And it’s their prerogative. Who am I to tell anyone how they should wear their hair? It’s your thing, do what you wanna do. Whether you buy it at the store, or pay beaucoup bucks to have it styled every three weeks, or you’re a napptural sista who makes her own products with honey and olive oil, it’s important to admire who you see in the mirror.
Hair doesn’t make you a better person. True beauty comes from within, and I think it’s important to embrace who you are and love yourself without adornment first. Then make decisions for the right reasons, not to fit into a fad or to look like that video girl you see on Sucker Free Sunday. I personally would like to see more of a balance in the media – if I can’t get music videos with tastefully clad women, let’s at least have Afrobellas with thick coils of hair being embraced as desirable right alongside the traditional blond extensioned broads.
It makes me sad to hear women say “I could never go natural,”, or “my hair is too nappy to be natural.” Half of the time, these are people who believe the lies that the media has told us, who believe in contrived, outdated concepts of “good hair” versus “bad hair.” All hair is good. If you nurture it and give it time to grow, you might give yourself a pleasant surprise. “Natural” is about strength and confidence. Patience is also a natural-hair virtue, because it takes time to find the right products and styling techniques.
Going natural has worked for me. I don’t have to worry about getting my hair wet, or not having the dough to go to the salon. In laying down the relaxer, I’ve finally been able to relax and that feels wonderful. But what’s right for me isn’t right for everyone else, and wearing extensions or using chemicals to achieve the texture you want doesn’t make you a traitor. Whatever makes you feel beautiful, bellas!
So regardless of whether or not Leela James is natural, she provides a role model we can aspire to. I for one certainly hope that her locks are her own, but even if they’re not, the pride with which she wears her hair and the larger-than-life presence that her lion’s mane gives her is inspiring. In that sense, she really does epitomize what Afrobella is all about – embracing and celebrating untraditional beauty, and facing the world with confidence no matter what.
And that’s a philosophy I believe any bella can get behind, regardless of your hair texture or shade of beauty.