And wearing your hair natural is not a political statement
When did how a black woman chooses to wear her hair become a political statement rather than what it is; a hairstyle?
I recently saw a thread on a black hair forum about relaxers being no different in terms of self hate than skin lightening creams and plastic surgery. A strong statement that’s likely to gauge a reaction whether your hair is natural or relaxed.
Some may agree due to the risks associated with relaxers like hair loss from scalp burns, cancer risk and risks to unborn babies in pregnant women. Why risk having a caustic chemical on your head just for straight hair? That aside, many other cosmetic and household products we use also come with risks associated yet we use them anyway because we always have. Soaps, shampoos and cosmetics also contain many allergens and parabens which have been linked to cancer yet we go on using them.
This may be a very naive view of things but when I was around 10 I asked my mum if I could get my hair relaxed. She refused saying that I could have it done when I was thirteen. When I was finally old enough, on the night before we were due to go to the salon to relax my hair, I was so excited I could barely sleep. I was excited not because of any socio-political reason but because it would make my hair look different. Just the same way I would get excited about wearing a brand new outfit to a party I was invited to. By the same token, I was ecstatic to see my natural hair grow when I decided to transition a few years ago. Not for any other reason than my hair would look different.
In previous generations it is possible that there was a slight element of self hate that made many women opted for relaxers as there was the conception that straight hair was more’ hygienic’. Silly I know! However in current generations girls from a young age relax their hair because it is the way things are done. Your mum’s hair is relaxed, your sister’s hair is relaxed so it follows that you will relax yours too right? Others opt for relaxers because they feel it will make their hair more manageable.
Let me pose a question however. If relaxing hair was a sign of self hate then how do we explain all those African women who relax their hair? I am talking here of the women who live in African countries where more than 90% of the population is black. There aren’t many white women with straight locks to envy and want to emulate. Television does not play that much of a part either particularly in rural areas of Africa where electricity is not common. So why do they relax their hair? The answer is simple. For the same reason that brunettes want to be blonde. For the same reasons that we paint our nails, put on lipstick, wear jewellery and even braid our hair. Because it makes us look different and feel different and we think it will enrich our lives somehow. It’s just the human urge to try new things and experiences.
Relaxing your hair is only a problem when you are not doing it for the right reasons. If you are caving in to pressure from work to look ‘presentable’ or to fit in with a perceived image of European beauty then you have a problem!
Let’s be honest here. We are the ones who have made an issue out of the differences between relaxed hair and natural hair. When a white woman gets a curly perm, she’ll probably get comments about her new hairstyle. No such luck for a black woman, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. After all, how many other races call the hair that grows out their scalps anything other than natural? By drawing the battle lines, we have created the problem.
Being natural is also nothing to be particularly proud of. For better or worse, it’s just a hairstyle.