Having Natural Hair vs. Being Natural: Are They Different?

Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that “natural” means many different things depending on the context and the person doing the defining. So to help you follow my train of thought, I want to be clear about how I define natural hair. These are my criteria for natural hair:

1) hair that contains no straightening chemicals, or chemicals that loosen the curl (or even tighten it), such as texturizers, relaxers, perms, etc.

2) hair that grows from the head of the person donning it (no wigs, weaves, synthetics, or the like)

Others may define “natural hair” differently, but the two criteria I’ve listed above is how I will use the term “natural hair” throughout this post, and in any other conversations until otherwise noted.

When I first “went natural” I labeled every woman wearing natural hair as a natural woman. Years later, I’m beginning to differentiate between women who merely wear their hair natural and women who are natural in many aspects of their life. I began to notice a lot of women going natural for a while only to revert back to unnatural hair styles when they got bored with or tired of “managing” their natural hair. I noticed women only agreeing to go natural if their hair could “look like that,” referring to a another woman’s style. These phenomena baffled me at first until I realized that not every woman with natural hair has embraced a natural lifestyle.

The woman who merely has natural hair but doesn’t have a natural life style might also wear makeup every day, wear false nails, wear 50% or more of her income in the form of purses and shoes, occasionally switch it up by wearing weaves or wigs, only wear her natural to achieve a certain look, or only go natural if her hair is “good enough.”  For this woman, the natural hair is only a part of her efforts to achieve a particular outward appearance. For this woman, natural hair is just a part of fashion, merely a style that’s cool for a while, something different to try. This is a valid approach to hair, and many woman take this approach.

Taking an equally valid approach, but perhaps less common, is the woman who embraces naturalness for it’s deeper implications. She may like her natural hair for aesthetic reasons, but those aren’t the only reasons. She would probably make comments like “it’s so much easier,”and “I feel so free,” rather than  comments like, “I just don’t know what to do with it.” She’s probably aware of, even want to rebel against, the historical pressure for black women to conform to European standards of beauty (or these days, the “anything but black” standards for beauty). She probably believes that natural hair is healthier. She’ll probably be comfortable going places without makeup. This type of woman is more likely to appreciate all hair textures, rather than elevating one type as “good hair.”

I used to be of the camp that said you had to be natural to be cool, especially when I was in high school. I soon learned that wasn’t correct, for as my observations show, what’s on the head doesn’t always correlate with what’s in the head. Michelle Obama, for example, is one of my favorite women, and no amount of hair straightening will negate how awesome she is, even though I dislike chemically straightened hair.

I don’t believe different automatically means better or worse, so by differentiating between women’s attitudes about natural hair, I’m not advocating that one attitude is better or worse. I might be implying it, but I’m definitely not advocating it, at least not here in this post, though I might in another post. As I get older (and after reading The Art of Happiness with insights from the Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler), I hope that when I do judge, that I do so with compassion, understanding that we are all merely doing the best we know how at any given time.

So if you wear natural hair, why’d you chose to do it? If you would consider natural hair, what would your attitude be? Is it just another hair style? Or does it mean something more to you?

Another S. L. Writes post about hair:

Woman in the Mirror: A Reflection on Short Natural Hair

More about hair from Essence.com and one of my favorite contemporary writers, Demetria L. Lucas:

Viola Davis Wears Natural Hair to the Oscars