A Lesson in Afrology

September 16, 2011

By Katrice

At least once every few weeks, I hear someone who is so discouraged with her natural hair say that she is thinking of reverting back to a chemically straightened coif. And I feel like jumping into action with every tip I have learned by trial and error or heard in my three years of getting to know my own hair the way it grows out of my head. 

I feel like I should do something, not because I am against straightened hair -- because I'm not; but because I don't want us to give up on our "selves."

Going natural is not easy. It's not always beautiful and revelatory ... And every woman's process and reasoning is different. But, the stark reality is our hair, the way it grows out of our heads, is a fundamental part of who we are. We just haven't seen that part of ourselves since we were girls and we have gotten so out of touch that we reject it.

So many times, I hear women say that hair is just hair, i.e. a non-factor. I have said it myself; But, that is only true situationally. We are deeply affected by our hair's response to our desires for it and subsequent manipulation. While we tend to see our hair as more an accessory than an appendage, it is actually more of the latter. For some of us, it is just as essential and affected as our skin. It is just as sensitive and responsive as our nails. And unless, you make the ultimate decision to shave it all off -- it can be a major factor in how we feel every day.

WE are heavily influenced by Western ideals of beauty. Straight is more feminine. Straight is more professional. Straight is easier to maintain. Straight is more beautiful. Straight is more civilized. Straight makes others more comfortable with us and in turn us more comfortable with ourselves. 

Why? Because anything other than straight takes us back to our "primitive" days.

"Late in the 18th century or early in the 19th century, Americans in the southern U.S. began to refer to negro slaves as nappy heads, comparing some tightly curled negroid hair to the nap on some cloth or fur. It was not a compliment." - Bill Casselman

"Nappy" was meant to be derogatory and it worked -- traveling down several generations. We use it to describe our hair today and, moreover, accept it as true. And so to move beyond it, a process of re-learning our hair is necessary. As Felicia Leatherwood says, a change has to happen on the inside of us before we can fully commit to what lies ahead.

I've said all of this to say, as I have in earlier posts, don't give up on your natural hair. If you have made a decision to transition out of a relaxed hair state and actually made it through the cutting part, something has already begun in your mind. But, that is just the start. The most difficult part is the learning that begins when you start to become acquainted with it and it's tendencies as organic African-American strands.

As with any other process of enrichment: Study, teaching and a change of mindset is necessary. 

Get a consultation after you have had all of the relaxed hair removed from your ends. A natural hair specialist can give you excellent insight on the texture of your hair, what to expect of your texture, products and healthy hair practices. Coming to terms with your hair's tendencies {i.e. a loose curl, tight kinky curl, fine, dense, etc.} will save you from a lot of stress with styling and product trials.Your hair can only do what your hair can do. So, if you see a style on a head of hair that looks totally different than your texture and you decide that's a style you want, you're already setting yourself up for disappointment. Love your hair and take the time to figure out how to make it thrive. 

If you were getting your hair done on a regular basis when it was straight, you may want to continue to have it managed by a natural hair stylist {at least until you get a good grasp on the process}. Because contrary to popular belief, natural hair is not automatically low-maintenance hair. 

Don't expect a windfall of compliments because just like you, most others are not used to seeing our hair in its natural state. Learn to love your hair and be well concerning it even if you're the only one affirming you. And seek out natural meet ups in your city and forums online. There is an entire community growing up around us.

And finally, beyond everything else, know that "going natural" is one of the most profound processes of learning you will ever undergo as a woman of color. And sometimes, the lessons will be hard. But, you are more than capable. 

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  1. In the past, I would tell myself all the time and make myself believe that hair is just hair each time I cut it when actually my hair is a part of me. It does mean something to me. It is a factor. Now that I am natural I have the confidence to say that. I'm happy to be natural. For me, in the past, and in some ways having a relaxer was like an addiction. Quickly covering up "me" and my hair in its natural state before anybody would see my new growth, naps, my "kitchen", whatever you want to call it. My sister and many females that I know worry about their "edges" and making sure they cover it with weave. Nope, not me. Going natural was the best decision that I made with my hair. I don't worry about going to the store trying to pick out the hair that's going to make me look or feel a certain way because I already have what I want growing out of my head. Naturally.

  2. The quote below stands out to me. It almost makes me want to cry.

    "Straight is more feminine. Straight is more professional. Straight is more beautiful. Straight is more civilized. Straight makes others more comfortable with us and in turn us more comfortable with ourselves."

  3. It is extremely disheartening but I believe that each of those phrases fuels the way so many African-American women feel about our hair.

  4. Love this post. Unfortunately, I get more support about my hair from friends and random people than my own family. I get the "are you gonna comb your hair today?" comments. lol. Doesn't bother me though; I fall in love with my hair more and more every day.

  5. As I approached my BC date in August I was that woman who questioned the madness of my curls. Not because I felt rejected by them, but because I became bored with what I saw in the mirror. But sometimes what you find externally is what you reveal about yourself internally. Especially when all that is around me tells me what my curls dont matter. No one caters to my curls but me in most cases so I am learning that to embrace my curls is to embrace one of the most "authentic" parts of myself.

  6. love this post... i have been natural for about two years now, and you are right it has been an incredible journey of self discovery and self love, and i'm still learning and discovering a lot about myself. it was hard because my family didn't understand what or why i was doing because i had "long pretty hair" (their words not mine), but i was tired of getting my hair pressed and really hiding behind my hair. i honestly did feel that it made me prettier (although i couldn't admit that to myself then) so my personal journey has been totally been about figuring out who i am, what i want to do with my life, and finding the strong confident women that every one else seems to know is there, but i don't always see. having natural hair has really helped me find myself, and i think i have helped some others around me even though i really wasn't trying to. :-)

  7. Danielle G. said, " I get the "are you gonna comb your hair today?" comments. lol. Doesn't bother me though; I fall in love with my hair more and more every day."

    Personally, I remember way back when these remarks saddened me. However, now-a-days I can't help but to shake my head and laugh at the level of ignorance being engaged by the speaker when things akin to this are said. As women, we really have to learn to define beauty for OURSELVES, instead of leaving it to be determined by an outside source. No good can come from that.

    Thanks for this post!

  8. So true, Denia. I realized when I first started the process of transitioning out of chemicals that I was going to have to shut out the noise around me and really just work on my own perceptions about myself. It made ALL the difference.


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