Stop Caring About the "Right" Type of Natural Hair

by Celeste Graham

Over the past three years I’ve watched as the natural hair movement and Afrocentricity have made a major comeback into fashion and pop culture at large. It’s everywhere. From our clothes to the music we listen to and most noticeably, in our hair. Braids, afros, twist-outs, wash-and-go’s, protective styles. The list of hairstyles is endless. Each natural hair care line claims to have all of the right ingredients to moisturize, nourish, and help our natural hair reach its fullest potential. Within all of this natural hair frenzy, of course, are the politics of hair. What should natural hair look like? What is considered to be “attractive” natural hair and what’s considered to be unattractive?

But more importantly: Why does it even matter?

Two weeks before my twentieth birthday, I decided to cut all of my hair off. I’d just gotten back from studying abroad in Thailand and I felt like a brand new woman. I figured, what better way to embark on a new decade in my life than by cutting all of my hair off and going natural? Although I was deeply entrenched in the politics of Black culture and hair, I wasn’t completely aware of the politics surrounding natural hair. To my understanding, there were girls who wore weaves and girls who didn’t, even if they relaxed or straightened their “real” hair. I saw the backlash that both camps received. If you wore a weave, you were somehow plastic and trying to be something you weren’t. If you wore your own hair out, you were judged for not having a certain type of hair. It wasn’t until I cut all of my hair off and went natural that I was completely exposed to the politics of natural hair.

It is a known fact that the majority of black women that we see in the mass media possess a certain skin tone and a certain hair texture. The same is the case for many of the natural hair care products that are advertised to women who are natural. A fair-skinned woman with big, beautiful, bouncy, loose curls is usually on the label of nearly every natural hair care product saying to women, “THIS is how you should look with natural hair!” Rarely do we see the other side: A darker woman with beautiful, tightly coiled hair. When I first went natural, I enjoyed the attention I received. People would come up to me and tell me how beautiful I was, how good my hair looked, how much I resembled a model, and how mature my hair made me look. It wasn’t until my hair started to grow out that people began to come up to me and ask me about my curl pattern, why I wasn’t doing twist-outs to make my curls looser, and why my shrinkage was so extreme.

I didn’t understand what was going on. My tightly coiled hair was my natural hair texture, and I was keeping it healthy. Who cared about shrinkage or curl envy?

What was wrong with people? What was wrong with me?

It was then that I realized that the good hair vs. bad hair binary is also prevalent in the natural hair community. I began to hear statements like, “natural ain’t for everybody,” and “it only looks good on some people”—as if our natural hair wasn’t perfect the way it was, because it was what we were born with. It hurt me. I began to see that even within the natural hair movement, a Eurocentric view of what Black women’s hair should look like was still (negatively) affecting us.

Like so many other areas in our lives, society is constantly telling us what we should be, how we should look, and how we should change ourselves to get there. There is a standard, and if you do not appeal to that standard, then there is something wrong with you. Unfortunately, this is prominent within the natural hair movement as well, even though this movement should be a celebration of Black women’s inherent beauty.

I’m here to say NO to these harmful ideas about what natural hair “should” look like. Your hair is YOUR hair. Kinky, nappy, tightly coiled, extreme shrinkage, loosely curled, bouncy—it is YOUR HAIR. No one can tell you what your natural hair should look like. You were born with it and it’s coming straight from your scalp the way it was meant to. Just like the other issues within the Black community and culture, we must be open to having this conversation. Naturalistas rarely want to talk about the inherent discrimination that exists within the movement, but it is there. In talking about it, we can heal from it. And in healing from it, we can all learn to love and appreciate ourselves and our beauty, without feeling the pressure to conform.

The great thing about the natural hair movement is that the number of Black women who love their hair is at a steady incline. And even if you’re not natural, you still deserve to be proud and accepting of who you are.

Love you hair, no matter how you choose to wear it. Love yourself. Period.

Photo: Shutterstock

Celeste is a self-proclaimed community activist who has been heavily involved in the NAACP and Battleground Texas. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Women’s Studies. She earned a bachelor’s degree in History from the University of North Texas and spends time as a McNair scholar researching the African American female body as a political canvas. With plans to later attend law school, her current research interests include women of African descent, sexuality, and crime.

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