Aug 17, 2010

Embracing the natural

I was recently ambushed by a member of the NHM. What, you ask, is the NHM? This is my own acronym for the Natural Hair Movement – these are typically black women who have turned their backs on the billion dollar hair industry that peddles relaxers (aka creamy crack), fictitious hair growth ointments, human hair extensions, and whole host of other stuff that many wouldn’t admit to using in mixed company. Many NHM adherents have instead embraced natural products made without parabens as well as their own natural hair, though the two aren’t always mutually exclusive.

Natural v Relaxed hair is a highly contentious issue among black women; I’ve lost friends in this long running battle. J I’m currently camped in the latter camp though I am making way to the other side. So, getting back to the ambush…though my friend means well, she caught me off guard when she started her stump speech about the evils of relaxed hair. She began by ticking off the dangers of using chemicals to straighten our hair and potential links to cancer (that certainly got my attention since I’ve been reading about this myself) but she soon found herself on quicksand when she brought up the “you are trying to look white” point…that brought the conversation to a screeching halt. 

Okay, there is no denying that many of us go to some pretty extreme lengths to achieve our own standards of hair perfection and there are different motivations that drive this. Personally, having lived within my black skin and with my black hair for 28 years I’m pretty sure I’ll never have “white hair”, and really, what would be the point? Yes, I’ve been chemically altering my hair for more than half my life and but at no point has it been in pursuit of “looking white” with long, glossy locks.

I would probably boil it down to ignorance - which is probably worse! I got my first relaxer when I was eight or nine. I don’t ever remember asking or crying to get one, it just happened. I left home with my tight, afro curls tied with multi-coloured ribbons and came back home with shiny, bone straight hair down to my shoulders. Talk about a transformation! The creamy crack obviously leached into my brain because I loved it…

…fast forward 20 years, and I am still getting my hair relaxed. I had a break here and there, and dabbled with natural hair but ultimately always came back for a hit of the crack. Why is it so hard? Well, you don’t have to be genius to figure it out. I never learned how to take care of my natural hair. I don’t know how to handle its thick texture and the tight curls. My mental model has been “natural hair is difficult to take care of” and this is reinforced by all the misinformation out there.

However, I’m slowly coming around as the NHM slowly infiltrates our ranks bringing with them shears to cut off the last few evident signs of our bondage, as they ease the pain with recipes for homemade hair treatments that nurture the afro hair and teach us the beauty that lies in embracing natural hair.

We all have to understand the motivations behind our actions, hair relaxing not withstanding. I just hope my friend’s misguided tactic was just a minor fumble and that she just did it to get me thinking about why I do what I do.  


As a natural who is about to reach her one year anniversary of wearing my hair natural and out I would obviously encourage all those that are tired of chemically altering their hair to go for the big chop. However, I appreciate that not everyone can wear their hair out - as in, sport an afro. There are actually for more naturals out there than people think; their hair is just permanently weaved or plaited.

I try to avoid the militant nappy hair mafia approach. I think we can all learn better ways of looking after our hair (natural or relaxed). My still in development blog, is supposed to tackle this

Masuka, congratulations on your one year anniversary! Keep up the good work.

I am actually nine months post relaxer. I haven't done the big chop yet. I may do that before the end of the year because I should have enough natural growth for a cute teenie 'fro.

As I mentioned in the post, I have attempted to go natural before without much success because I simply wasn't ready. I didn't have role models to share information with or even ask questions about the intricacies of natural hair. But with the number of blogs and websites out there dedicated to natural hair care I am armed with good information. Will keep you posted.

I've checked your hair blog, I'll be following your progress. :)

Hi MissBwalya, may I please have your email address?

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