The buzzword is definitely natural hair as of late. From the weekly #NaturalHair Day on Twitter to actress and comedian, Kim Coles, unveiling her transition to natural hair on Afrobella, “going natural” is all the rage, so much so that it’s referred to as the “new black.”

During  #NaturalHair Day, I viewed countless tweets and pictures of women celebrating themselves and their hair. It was beautiful, but after a while, I became annoyed. I couldn’t decide if the trending topic was a celebration or a finger-pointing party, though I hoped for the former. I understood when a fellow writer tweeted, “I can’t participate with the (natural hair) hashtag like I deserve to be on a pedestal just because I’m a natural. I still think it’s very divisive.”

The trending topic reminded me of a Twitter debate I participated in just days earlier about straightening natural hair. Some women are saying it’s the number one “don’t” per a follower’s Twitter rant:

“I’m having a very annoying conversation with a woman who has natural hair. It turns out that I’m not ‘helping out’ the natural hair lifestyle by occasionally blowing out my SUPER thick hair and straightening it. Here’s what she said: ‘If you are going to wear your hair natural that means no blow drying or straightening it to look straight.’”

Give me a break.

Before you give me the side-eye, I, too, am transitioning. I have been relaxer-free for just over a year now. It started as a challenge of how long I could go without a relaxer. I didn’t do it so much for self-discovery or to see how dependent I am on my hair. Thankfully, I’ve never suffered from thin hair, breakage or chemical damage. I did it to see what my hair looks like without a relaxer. And get this: I straighten it…often! *gasp*

I will not be told what to do with my hair by anyone.

After nearly 17 years of relaxing my hair, I’ve almost completely grown out my relaxer, and it took patience and discipline. After accomplishing that, which I consider to be a milestone, I will not have anyone tell me that I have to wear my hair in its natural state. My hair, my decision.

I often hear the phrase, “It’s just hair” thrown around in discussions to promote various schools of thought regarding hair. If it’s, indeed, “just hair,” why shouldn’t I have the freedom to do with it whatever I choose—be it to relax, coil or weave it?

Yes, it’s true that hair is a MAJOR issue for African-American women. To quote interior designer Shelia Bridges, who was featured in Chris Rock’s controversial documentary, Good Hair, “The reason hair is so important is because our self-esteem is wrapped up in it.” If this is so—if hair is such a big part of us, is it really appropriate to treat our hair choices and textures as members-only clubs?

I am in no way suggesting that we shouldn’t celebrate our hair and its versatility. More so, I’m suggesting that no other person has the right to dictate what we do with our own hair, natural or otherwise. The beauty about being a woman is we have an array of options, and that is what we should embrace.

My personal goal is to grow longer hair. Eventually, I’ll wear it “out” or in twist-outs, but when I choose. All of the parts of our bodies, even the hair that grows from our heads should cause us to feel loved, not guilty or judged.

So to the women, like my dear friend, who can rock a ‘fro and twist-out like no other, the women who flat irons her natural hair every two weeks, the ones who let the relaxer sit until it begins to fizzle on her scalp, and the ones who think the longer the Remy, the better, only you know makes you shine. Whether I agree with your methods or not, it’s your hair, not mine. If what we’re really practicing and advocating for is freedom from whatever is entrapping us through our hair, let’s act as such. Live and let live.

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  • D. Bonett

    There will always be know-it-alls and control freaks who know what everyone else SHOULD do and in this case they are able to wrap a mantle of ‘blacker-than-thou’ around themselves and pretend that they are being virtuous when they are just busybodies.
    I personally never liked having processed hair–I just don’t like how it feels or looks on me. I’ve been wearing my hair with no chemicals for 12 years now–since 2001. Because its my choice. I have no time to worry about other people’s choices in this matter because I have a full life–wife, mother, teacher, volunteering in my church, many hobbies. I’ve seen women look good both with natural hair (of all types) and with straightened hair (done all different ways) and I don’t think how you wear your hair has anything to do with how ‘black’ you are. I spent a lot of time this weekend with a friend from Cote D’Ivoire Africa. When she arrived, she had her hair in braids, with extensions, and while here she had the braids undone and bought some relaxer and put that in. she looked great both ways. a lot of African women choose to process their hair. does that make them ‘not black’? They are the sources, after all. I spent a lot of time talking to this woman and saw no ‘self-hatred’ or issues with being black. I think it is a sorry type of stereotyping to make snap judgments about people like that, based on their hairstyle and actually quite racist.
    By the way, plenty of white women have perms to straighten their hair and have hair weaves. I live in a mostly white community and becuase I have natural hair, white women often come up to me and admit that they have curls–sometimes very tight curls, and that they are flat-ironing or chemically perming. A lot of them say that they love how my hair looks and that they might try to wear theirs natural, also. They are already white–so they could not be straightening their hair wishing to be whiter! If they hate themselves, its not from being black, since they are white.
    I am one of those awful people, by the way, who has light skin and green eyes and when I don’t wear my natural coily curls, gets mistaken for Hispanic or Arab or other things, although I am black. From reading some of the posts on here, I guess I just shouldn’t exist and that it was a crime to be born. Neither of my parents is white, they are both mixed and they taught me to be proud of my African heritage, but OBVIOUSLY, according to some of the posters, my parents and myself are the result of rape by white slave-owners and just a visible and living disgrace that puts the black history of oppression right out there. So we must totally apologize for existing and for having foremothers who loved their kids no matter how they were conceived and raised and nurtured them until a new day came. We should apologize to people who are visibly blacker than us forever and apologize that we even exist (even though one of the beauties of the black race in the US and the Caribbean is the fact that we are all mixed, one way or another and that a beautiful rainbow of different looks and variations came out of something horrible, as well as a very strong new group of people).
    I heard all this crap before, back in the 70’s and it was crap then and is crap now. It is actually worse than crap–it is poisonous hatred and racism. It does nto change the fact that the person who posted on this blog that we all have the right to wear our own hair the way we wnat is correct and its a sad testament that people not only feel the need to monitor other people’s choices about their hair but even the way they happen to be born looking–adn that other people have the need to encourage this nonsense by agreeing with it. Get a life, people. If you are busy educating yourself or doing something of value, you have no time to sit around worrying about others choose to wear their hair. it is not hairstyles holding us back, believe me.

    • Rebecca Akrofie

      DISCLAIMER— This does not apply to anyone you know probably, but it’s a truth all the same. Please don’t flay me alive for my opinion.

      As someone who originates from Ghana the ‘white is right’ rule still applies. If you go to the most remote village, where the people have very little, you will see these women spend their small monies on relaxer and skin bleach. Ofc, you can do what you want, when you want, I don’t give a crap about relaxing or not, I definitely understand why people relax. However, most of Africa is influenced by the idea that what is/looks European is best. That kind of ‘self-hate’ is what’s informing those ‘choices’ for a lot of women on the West African Coast- esp. the wealthy ones, who want to show that they’ve got the money for weaves and relaxers.

  • Sak

    Thank you soo much for this article. I’ve been transitioning for about 18 months and finally took the big chop (which actually was about an inch) last week. I always wear my hair straight or in straight weaves. I don’t like the short natural look on me and may try it in another year when my hair is longer. I get a lot of shade for being natural and straightening my hair but its mine and I can do what I want. Luckily I have a natural hairstylist that straightens her hair all the time so I have support but this article made me feel that there are others in the world like me: natural, but not nappy!!

  • fay fay

    I.LOVE.U. Straight up, you sound like me. I’m now natural and do what I want with my hair. People need to stop worrying about other’s business and bullying. Yes, us women are so advanced in bullying that you wouldn’t even know what to call their “i’m a true natural” diva act.

  • Rebecca Akrofie

    Been natural 3 years and I have a love hate relationship with my hair. I love it because it’s healthiest natural. I ‘hate it’ because it’s uneven in length, which is a devil to style. I thought flatironing would ‘stretch’ my hair to its full length. Alas, all it revealed is that my hair is uneven and just grazes neck length. Depressing, I tell you. I couldn’t flatiron regularly- I am too lazy for that. I have 4c hair which is dryer than a desert- any tips on how to keep it moisturised?- my hair misses my moisturiser when its straight.

  • becka

    I love this article, I stopped relaxing my hair over 10 years ago simply because my hair couldn’t take the harshness of the chemicals, and i used to strighten it. Then last year after getting harassment from naturals i stopped straightening and tried to do heat free surprisingly following that and other natural advice, such as oiling and conditioning and co washing etc broke my hair off so badly i had to start over and chopped it. Like you said what works for one doesnt work for others, let’s be happy with the versatility of our hair and do whats best to keep our own heads healthy :) thank you for this article!!