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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