The Natural: It's More Than a Style. It's a State of Mind

by On This Journey

"How long you expect to keep them things in your head?!" my grandmother asked me with a distasteful look on her face.

"Forever." I simply replied.

"What?! Oh, no you ain't!"

I sighed in defeat and realized that my sweet, sweet grandmother will never understand why I would choose to wear my hair in its nappy state -- especially in the form of dreadlocks. But I can't fault my grandmother for her attitude toward my naps. After all, she came from the good 'ol days of press and curls and a time when relaxers were becoming popular. In those days, tightly coiled, kinky, hair was looked down upon by our white counterparts. The form in which we chose to wear our hair reflected a social class and allowed us to fit in better with mainstream society. As a result, the Negro has developed a repugnant and shameful impression of their African textured hair.

I had always had a curiosity about those who proudly wore their hair in its natural state. But the fear of ridicule and my ignorance of natural hair care put my wandering mind to rest long enough for me to make yet another appointment for a retouch with my stylist.

"How confident and regal she looks," I would think to myself whenever I saw a sister bold enough to beautifully sport anything from the almost bare look, to head turning locks, to a bad ass afro that demanded attention. Each time my hand would retreat to my own head of chemically damaged hair in shame and I would wonder where the courage inside of me was to want to embrace the natural, god given texture of hair I was born with. The eventual decision to go completely natural took a lot of soul searching on my part.

The very first thing I had to get over was cutting my thick, shoulder-length perm off. My hair was my pride and to get it to that length was an accomplishment on my part. The desire for long hair has been a dream for most sisters long since the days of our captivity. It's that same desire that has made weaving and any concoction with the words "magic" and "grow" slapped on its label a multibillion-dollar industry. Long hair on black women is a sign of beauty, femininity and the desire of their men. For a sister blessed by nature with lengthy tresses to go cutting on it all willey nilley is almost taboo. Why would a Negro woman do such a thing for goodness sakes?

After finally getting the confidence to make the natural step, I stopped relaxing. Immediately I began to feel a change in myself. The arrival of my natural hair texture sprouting from my head was new and strange to me. For me, it signified a new beginning. I was taking the advice of Marcus Garvey when he urged to remove the kinks for my brain and not my hair.

"Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty I'm free at last!"

But was I?

Like I said, my long hair was quite an achievement for me and letting go of it was going to be far from easy. The summer I decided that nappy was the way to be was the start of what had originally planned to be a long transition through braids and cornrows. After all, I was use to having long hair and there was no way that I was going to just up and chop all my relaxer off. So with that, I endured one of North Carolina's driest summers with creative cornrows. I had long made the commitment in my mind that I was going to immediately begin locking my hair after going natural. When I revealed my decision about my hair to friends and family, I would get frowns and comments like "Your hair is too thick and nappy for you to do that," or "You don't have the kind of hair to pull that off." As if to say I had to have "good hair" to rock a natural. Statements like these would bewilder the mess out of me because I had gotten to the point where there was no such thing as "good" and "bad" hair.

Whatever texture of hair a person was blessed with was all good to me. I had someone tell me once, "Well, if you're going to go natural, at least color it because it looks better."

It's just so hard for black people to wrap their minds around the idea of not having some sort of chemical to alter or lessen the look of nappy hair, isnt' it? Just the word "nappy" is hard for black folks to say with a straight face. That word alone has so many different connotations used to describe and demean our people that it's right up there with that other ever so popular "n" word.

Regardless of disapproving and unsolicited advice of my peers and relatives, I still held fast to my decision. In fact, it only pushed me even more to face what I would ultimately have to do. Cut it off.

After looking in the mirror one day only four months into my transition, I wondered, as adamant as I felt about my decision, why I was finding it so hard to let go of my hair. Would all of my beauty and femininity be left on the bathroom floor along with my lifeless relaxed ends? Right then and there, with my reflection staring back at me I came to a realization that I was keeping all of my vanity in my hair. All of what I thought made me beautiful, womanly and desirable was held hostage by my lengthy chemically processed ends. My hair only encompasses a small part of who I am and getting rid of it was not going to change who I was or necessarily reflect the true me. It was time to let go of my vanity. With the help of my not so willing mother, off my sable-colored mane went, spiraling down and around me on the floor and in the sink.

Since that day, I have been locking two years strong and let me tell you it's been a learning experience watching my locks go through it's different phases. I still have a ways to go, but I am up for the challenge and ready to take in the lessons that growing locks will teach me. Surprisingly, I've received a lot of good comments about my hair from people who too, are curious about natural hair. I still have certain people in my life who have not outwardly expressed their distaste for my hair and simply choose not to comment on it.

No my hair isn't long and flowing, nor does it blow in the wind on a gusty day. Instead the dense, dark ropes that frame my face serve a purpose. God didn't make any mistakes when He created Africans and their unique hair. He made our kinky, tightly coiled and woolly hair to keep us cool and protect us from the sun's heat and harsh rays and for that I am not ashamed. For me natural hair is not a trend like the coming and going of jheri curls and finger waves.

It's not a style -- it's a lifestyle.

The Natural: It's More Than a Style. It's a State of Mind by On This Journey

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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