Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The tyranny of natural hair

Spotted this video over on Post Bourgie (Thanks @underbellie!). In the accompanying post, Brokey McPoverty makes an excellent point about the expectations created by models used by many marketers of natural hair products. Check out this page at Miss Jessie's that encourages "silkeners" to get kink-free curls. The subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) message is that soft, uniform curls are pretty; naps and kinks not so much.

I think it is the rare black woman who doesn't grow up learning that "that Florida Evans shit" (as woman describes) ain't cute. It is hard to let go of that, even if one makes the decision to stop relaxing. It is still there for me--even after five years of being natural. I still prefer the twist outs that stretch and tame my hair to my wash-and-gos that result in shrunken curls and much frizz. It's a journey. And I am much better at embracing what I was born with than I was when I first did the "big chop."

But as I've written here before (and not just about natural hair), consumerism goes hand-in-hand with insecurity. There is no money to be made in us all feeling good about ourselves. If all women rejected the notion that light, straight and silky hair is the ideal, then who would fill the salons on Saturday afternoon? And who would buy all those relaxers and dyes and softeners? [I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with coloring or straightening. I'm talking about the notion that uncolored, unstraightened hair is ugly. Ex. coloring for fun or a change = good; coloring because dark hair is deficient = bad]

Companies have gotten wise to the growing number of black women who are ditching the relaxers and so they have to find another way to make money from us. The key is leveraging our insecurity over kink vs. curl. When I first cut off my relaxed hair, there was no natural hair section at Target. When my hair was the length of the woman's in the video, caring for it was super easy. I "washed" it with conditioner in the morning. Fingered some leave-in through and DONE.

Now I note there are all kinds of lotions and potions that one "needs" to wear natural hair. The woman in the video isn't lying. Drop in on a natural hair forum and you might think caring for natural hair is like nuclear physics. Gotta figure out your hair type...4c...4a...3c...To co-wash or not to co-wash?...Use this brush not that one...Buy this expensive product and that one, too...Let this thing sit on your hair for 30 minutes, followed by this thing and that thing for just the right curl...And a lot of this is done because we are supposed to look like the neatly curly women on the "after" side of that Miss Jessie's page. Except most of us naturally don't. So, we're not flat ironing every morning or sitting all day Saturday at the salon, but we're spending just as much time trying to make our naps conform. And so we trade one tyranny for another.

Yes, it takes time to learn to handle a texture that you've kept hidden from childhood. But eventually and ultimately, caring for healthy, natural black hair should be easy. It can be easy and simple. But the beauty industrial complex is determined not to make it so. And many of us in the natural hair community are buying into they're selling. And in doing so, we do a disservice to women like the one above.

P.S. I have to give a shout out to Oyin Handmade, a conscious, black-owned haircare company that I think gets it right. Gotta love a company that greets you with "Hello, beautiful." 


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