Shari DaCosta writes about her decision to not only go natural, but to make it a statement.
She is filled with both pleasant feelings of anticipation and jittery nervousness as she squirms in her seat thinking to herself, “Will it give me the look? Will it burn?” Still, this jar contains a magical mixture that can change afro-type manes into the things of dreams – long flowing tresses that will move through the air with a simple shake of her head.
For many black women, the process of chemically straightening – relaxing and perming – hair not only represents a rite of passage for us, but also our families, often being a prerequisite for the transition from childhood to young womanhood.
“The first time I got a relaxer, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, now I’m beautiful, or at least closer to it,’” actress Tracie Thoms said in the documentary Good Hair, in which Chris Rock explores black hair through celebrity interviews and other commentary.
Rock, a cast member and executive producer of the film, was originally inspired after his young daughter came crying to him one day and asked, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?”
But what is good hair? African-American studies professor Dr. Molefi Asante helped explain the answer.
“[Good hair] came from slavery, when some people thought that to have hair that looked like white people’s hair was ‘good hair.’ Black people had never called their hair ‘bad hair’ in Africa. They still do not call their hair ‘bad,’” Asante said.
For some people, this idea still holds.
“That’s what I looked as good hair … white hair,” biracial music video personality Melyssa Ford said in Good Hair.
She always longed for the long, silky tresses of her Norwegian mother.
My quest for the relaxer, however, began at age 8. Before then, I hated having my mother comb through my thick mane. Getting my hair washed and styled was an all day-event that sometimes meant tears or wriggling on the floor as my mother detangled my hair from above. But at the end of the process, my crown and glory looked good. It was well-styled and more importantly, it was healthy.
I never viewed my hair as good or bad; it was just hair that was thick and healthy. After years of relaxing, however, it began to break off. One day during my sophomore year of high school, while surfing the Internet, I came upon the natural hair Web site Nappturality, and in an instant, I decided I would go natural. Boy, did I fail to realize the controversy it would cause within my family.
I remember one day my mother actually came into my room and said my cousin’s friemd at school had told my cousin that I needed to get a perm, and basically, my mom said she agreed. I felt attacked, as if somehow my hair was not acceptable because it wasn’t straight, like the hair that belonged to most of the girls in my high school.
Junior journalism major Brandi Hargette remembers a similar reaction from her family.
“Initially, my family was very apprehensive. My father went so far as to say that I looked like his son … they are a lot more accepting of it now … My friends were always very accepting,” Hargette said, adding that she has been going natural for two years.
Eventually, I got frustrated with the negative comments and caved in. Now, I’ve decided to transition to natural hair again. And this time, I’m doing it to make a statement.
I want to show people it’s OK to be natural and that you shouldn’t let societal expectations dictate your hairstyle, be it natural or relaxed. I want to show people, as singer Indie Arie says, “I’m not my hair.”
But honestly, it may take a while for society to accept natural hair. For some people, such as Hargette, going natural isn’t a major decision; it is just what fits.
“I believe it says a lot about who I am,” she said.
Shari DaCosta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.