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In Defense Of The Straight-Haired Natural Girl

the author’s curly and straight styles

Caesar? Three times. Locs? Six years. Lion-like curly fro? I’m a pro. Cornrowed bouffant? I swear I was the first in Brooklyn. When it comes to natural hair- I’ve pretty much done it all since I decided to stop relaxing my hair during my senior year of high school, close to 14 years ago. It was 1997 and after growing out my Halle Berry-esque cut out into a shoulder length bob – I started going longer and longer between touch-ups. Aside from being busy with graduation and a near-expulsion experience (suburban thuggin!) I became pretty lazy with my upkeep and got a kick out of the volume that my hair had when new growth mixed with the relaxed part. My hair was thick, shiny and wavy. It felt alive and I liked it.

After figuring out a transitional technique that worked for me (did you know that I INVENTED the ‘twist out’?) I stopped relaxing all together. By the time I graduated high school and entered Howard University I had a lion’s mane of thick, curly, shiny hair. It was on that campus that I started what has/will be a lifelong evolution on my political, personal and beauty preferences and naturally my outward appearance followed suit. When I accepted my degree, I threw up a peace sign in Cramton Auditorium with a shoulder-length bundle of dreadlocks that I carried on into my early twenties. After cutting my locs off in a heatwave-induced rage, I’ve continued to rock a plethora of natural styles that compliment my mood of the moment. I’ve never saw a ‘loctician’ or visited a natural hair salon—aside from cornrowed-styles, I twisted my own locs and have always maintained my curly hair myself. If it’s natural, I just let it do it’s natural thing, with as little guidance as possible. And don’t ask me what “type” of natural hair I have (B2, Prop 8, ??) or when I made the “big chop” because I honestly have no true idea of what you are speaking of. I’d consider myself to be a casual natural woman, meaning…it’s just my hair. No huge event, grandstanding, personal politics, message boards, technique devotion involved.

Which brings me to this. About a year or so ago, I started to get regular blow-outs. After going to my local salon to get a trim I noticed that my ends had fell victim to endless twisting, brushing…just being messed with in the name of natural “styles.” So about three weeks later—I went back…and it’s become a regular thing for me to have long straight hair for long periods of time. Frankly, my hair grows faster, and it’s extremely easier to maintain for my lifestyle. I keep it conditioned, and after leaving the salon, I don’t put any heat in it. I don’t even use oil-sheen (except when its a #struggle day) and rotate between a variety easy/maleable styles and ponytails. And yes, I work out, I sweat and let it be great. The less I do to it, the better it looks and there is nothing like having variety on a hot day that involves a body of water. I will gladly jump in the pool and emerge with a ‘fro full of curls.

But somehow during this time, I think I lost my ‘natural’ card to some. After trading hair horror stories with an old colleague last month, I described myself as “natural” while standing there with chest-length straight hair. The look on her face said everything. She jokingly referred to me as ‘faux natural.’ [Sidenote: I hate the term ‘natural’ when describing a group of women, ie “What’s up with the naturals?” Are we one big singing group?] And while I understand where she was coming from, I replied by affirming that if having natural hair means hair that is free of processing/chemicals, etc—then I rightfully fit in the category. The important thing is that it grows amazingly fast, it moves, it shines and it is strong. So what if it is straight? Am I any less “down” than I was with locs? Can the straight-haired natural girls get some love too? Is it even that serious to you?

Before writing this, I mentioned the idea to a few girlfriends who are curly and straight hair wearers and they all lamented at the growing number of what Solange rightfully labeled the “Natural Hair Police.” Basically, the women who live by a totalarian code of what natural hair is. Sounds to me like the same folks who administered the ‘brown paper-bag’ test to sistas back in the day and enforced the light-skinned, long hair code of beauty that still haunts many Black women today. If this entire movement to embrace our natural textures is to be honest and true, we also need to embrace the variety that it holds—to include the option of straightening it with heat and actually liking it. Besides, why would I want to use a “natural” product to give me a different, “desired” curl pattern other than my own? Basically, if I my hair texture is that of say…Viola Davis, then why are you cramming products in my face so that my hair can look like Cree Summer?  That doesn’t sound natural to me. Or over twisting/brushing/fiddling/braiding your hair until it breaks off and it looks dry and horrible? But anyway, that’s another post.

My straight hair isn’t about me attempting to look at all European or ‘acceptable” to some. I’ve maintained a pretty amazing career with curly and straight hair. It’s me maximizing the versatility and options that I have with it. With all that said, there a plenty of women like myself with a ponytail swinging that are just as natural with their hair as the next chick with a twist-out. Who still walks slow in the rain and don’t mind being sweat-drenched after a night of dancing. If natural hair is to be truly accepted as a norm with Black women, then we need to accept the natural desire to experiment and change.

Where here, we’re queer straight, and it’s great!
In addition to this snazzy website, Shannon is also the founding director of another image-challenging online movement, Feminist Enough

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington

  • ndeed

    Great post. I get so tired of people being self-righteous about wearing their natural hair.  To each their own. I blow my hair out.  And sometimes I don’t. Its just hair. Have fun with it.  There are such better ways to make a political statement than hair (i.e. voting).  

  • Mannnn, idk when/ where the natural brigade came into power but I can’t! If I see one more tutorial, insta-pic, I am going to scream. Did your mama not do your hair in its natural state growing up? It’s like a rite of passage to straighten one’s natural mane. Girl, bye. I’m natural because it’s the healthier option for me, not because I’m looking to become besties with Angela Davis. -____- So yes, Shannon, viva la straight-girl naturals! No homo. iKid. 

  • Preached.

  • D Rudolph

    I was definitely guilty of feeling “less natural” with my hair straight.  Thank God for my sista circle!! They pulled me out of that real quick.  Now I’m at the point where it’s really just hair.  Who cares if it’s straight or not??  I consider the versatility a perk.  The ability to switch up your look at a moment’s notice is so freeing!  So go on girl! Do ya thing – straight hair and all!!!!

  • I could not had said it better my self! 
    Keep living your life and loving your natural hair !
    Wear it any way you want to!Coniece Washington

  • I could not had said it better myself!
    Keep living you life and loving your natural hair!
    The hair God gave you and it is gorgeous!

    Love Mom


  • Kinkyg.r.i.t.s

    Your post was heartfelt and honest appreciated, however, straight natural hair can break, dryout, and become brittle. It is about caring for your non chemical treated hair in a productive manner. I believe it is not about straight, kinky, coily, or curly textures but taking care of the hair that grows as God chooses. I use natural products that define my type (kinky, curly, or coily) not to imitate Cree Summer. Hair is just that – HAIR. AA women should not have their mane define beautyit is only one aspect of looking and feeling beautiful.

  • k

    I really got down with most of this post. I’ve pondered writing something similar myself as i have always had a variety of hairstyles. But the whole ” we’re here we’re straight things” is mega offensive and not natural or cute. I would revise writing such things as many of us who read articles about hair have a myriad of gender and sexuality.

  • curlygirly

    I’ve been on both sides of this fence. For years I wore my hair without a perm but got it blown out or straightened. I ended up cutting it off because when it got wet the curls no longer bounced back and pieces were permanently straight. I understand some naturals side eye when blow-outs say they are “natural” – it is different. And I understand the natural struggle because right now I’m rocking a cute twist out but my ends are dry as all get out. LOL!! But those who wear their hair straight without a perm should be commended not snarked at. Because regardless of how black women choose to wear our beautiful hair – none of us need a perm to look good.

  • rootdown

    reaching much? clearly she’s riffing off of a widely known saying. the entire post is written with a humourous edge.
    completely not offended black lesbian with a sense of humour.

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