I really thought I understood what the natural hair movement was all about and how its activation was supposed to give Black women with typically “hard-to-manage” hair the opportunity to celebrate the liberation that comes with public recognition.
I love Tracee Ellis Ross and I adore her jolly curly tresses — but her hair type doesn’t fall into the category of what I’m talking about — and that’s where the confusion starts.
We see all the hashtags: #naturalhair #naturalista #naturalist #naturalcurls #naturalgirl #naturalicious
It goes on and on. And these symbols have an exclusive lifestyle on Instagram with vibrant images and personal videos to help illustrate why “being natural” is so much fun. I actually remember not too long ago when it wasn’t fun at all.
It was back in the early 00s — a time when natural hair salons were slowly emerging and charging a shitload of money for manipulating strands into coils. They were able to get away with it because unlike now — it was unheard of to walk out the door with tresses that weren’t smooth and bouncy.
As a young twenty-something with limited income — I bounced from “straight” to “natural” quite a bit. I didn’t care at all that my lively Afro seemed to be an appalling sight to women who weren’t ready for my delivery. I got the residue of insecurities that were supposed to make me insecure about my decision to just “let my hair be.”
But — perhaps the grueling regimen of boarding school in Lagos, Nigeria where I was forced to keep my hair “relaxer-free” helped to groom my ability to not allow my “unmanageable” hair inspire my tendency to avoid the responsibility of managing it.
I did and still do comprehend the complexities that come with tolerating my hair type. My childhood memories are crowded with episodes of my face grimacing under the wrath of the big-tooth comb that my mother would energetically rake through my wet mop — as I gripped her thighs for support.
While at boarding school — I had to literally master the art of developing perfect cornrows so that I could find someone to barter with me before morning assembly. My hair was “one of those” that required extra time and none of my class mates were interested in that kind of investment — unless I could return the favor.
When I came to the States — the issue of what to do with my hair was the constant nagging item on the list. Before I found my footing — I would get heartfelt remarks about how I was too pretty to have such unruly hair or advice about how guys wouldn’t give me a second glance if I walked around without a relaxer.
Even after I did find my way and proudly rocked my #naturalhair — I still got buried in an avalanche of disapproval — which I readily ignored. As I mentioned before — I totally got why most were desperate to keep their roots slathered with the potion that allowed them peace of mind.
Our hair requires a level of skill and adherence to discipline that not everyone is willing to tackle.
For those who don’t get how “hair” can be such a cumbersome activity — it’s an alien concept unless you experience panic attacks at 6:49 am when you realize that the overnight “protective style” didn’t produce the results that are vital for your job interview at 8:45 am. And those nerve-wrecking instances become the norm — once you commit to leaving your hair — chemical-free.
The “natural hair movement” began not too long ago — and with it came the promise from Black women to stick with the notion that no matter how challenging the process — nothing would thwart the efforts of loyal #naturalistas.
Hair blogs expanded to include meetups, seminars, conventions and a plethora of support groups for women who were trying hard to overcome nervous breakdowns after succumbing to the “big chop.”
Those platforms aren’t thriving as much as they did seven years ago — and that might be due to another uber-popular outlet that has managed to transform well-intentioned ideas into the very definition of “stranger things.”
There’s no doubt that Instagram fucked up the natural hair movement with the relentless help of eager-minded users — who clog their pages with hashtags that are woefully misused.
Biracial women or those with ambiguous templates — as well as companies that cater to the hair industry — have all hijacked the true mission of a movement that is experiencing a renaissance that is still buried under the illusion of the real thing.
Consider this — if all women of color had the grade of hair that Tracee Ellis Ross and others like her possess — then there wouldn’t be the urgent need to encourage Black women to release their fear of going natural. These women are able to splash around the pool or ocean without making arrangements for the furious aftermath. They can wash their hair daily — run their fingers though it with leave-in-conditioner and head out for brunch.
Their “bad hair days” are considered awesome hours in my world — and that’s why it irks me beyond words to watch their pages littered with hashtags that they haven’t earned.
There are also the tons of hair companies or individuals who are commissioned by brands to sell hair that supposedly fall under the #naturalhair banner — except that they don’t. The curls are attractively soft and the models look great in the images — but again — that’s the misleading illustration of what the movement is really about.
The hair blogs from back in the day — got it right when they presented the honest picture of what it entails to relinquish your loyalty to relaxers — with the hopes of re-discovering the roots you’ve spent all of your childhood and most of your adulthood — taming.
Those who share my grade of hair are finally able to embrace their texture because of the support and inspiration they receive from others who can relate to the drastic shift from comfort to discomfort — and the emotional rollercoaster that ensues when you embark on a journey that is often times erratic and even thankless.
Like most — it took quite awhile to study my strands well enough to conclude that I didn’t need to stock my bathroom cabinet with over-priced products that were never a good match for my hair type. Almost all of the popular brands cater to hair types that fall into the “wash and go” category — and yet they try to convincingly target consumers that don’t apply.
Instagram is “dreamland” and in my dreams — I can fall asleep without covering my head and wake up in the morning with a gorgeous mess that looks even better after a shower. But that’s not my story — and that’s okay because the extra work that it takes to be #natural is the reason why the #movement is so vital for survival.
That’s why the climate of distortion and confusion is annoyingly frustrating for its adherence to the poison that emits when being social can be an absolute drag.
The natural hair movement is for women with hair types that still get a bad rap even from assholes like French Montana (still don’t know what he does) who used the word “nappy” as his retort at a young Black woman who hilariously called him out on Twitter.
The trend is not just a lifestyle — it’s real life.
And it’s not always pretty or Instagram-worthy in the way that notables with one White parent make it seem. It’s hard as fuck to keep up that momentum and still look like a kickass #naturalista who can entice the likes of Taye Diggs and Jamie Foxx back to the dark side. (Okay maybe that’s a stretch!)
But — you get the point. We’re working hard out here and we deserve to reclaim the spotlight. So let’s get it!