Friday, January 24, 2014

I'm Natural... But I'm Not a Naturalista

I think naturalistas are great. They are the people who go above and beyond to make sure their natural hair is always on point. And bless them for it but I can't claim the label. I am just a regular 4C Black girl who has natural hair.

Is there any room in the natural hair movement for 4C girls like me?
My hair isn't very special or particularly time consuming or something I spend much (if any) of my money on.

I spend fifteen minutes every night braiding it before bed and put on a head scarf. And then another ten minutes in the morning combing it out. I either wear it out or in a puff or maybe with a braid to the side. I usually wear headbands. I wash my hair once or twice biweekly. Even that isn't an all day affair. I used to do the wash and go which was even less work.

Sure, maybe my hair isn't Youtube worthy. But it's clean and it's healthy and that's good enough for me. So why does it seem like I'm doing something wrong because I can't list my top ten favorite hair products and because I don't really know what a curl former is? Why is it that I am asked why I don't "do something" with my hair and then patronizingly told "the problem isn't that you're natural" and then given "resources" on how to care for my hair that would turn it into an expensive and all time consuming affair?

Black hair has been systematically devalued for hundreds of years. Kinky and nappy hair has always been viewed as a negative. And even as some of this stigma is lifted thanks to the natural hair movement, vestiges of this mentality continue to remain with us. The naturalista emphasis is a result of respectability politics entrenched within the natural hair movement.

By respectability politics I mean that a kinky haired woman is expected to go above and beyond if she dares to wear her hair the way it comes out of her head. Casual maintenance of hair, allowable for all other women, is a no no for 4Cs. Even the rhetoric about my hair is disheartening. I am told that I need to "tame" it and that my hair is difficult and almost impossible to control. Horror stories are told about how much effort it takes to maintain hair like mine. In a lot of ways we as Black women "other" our own hair and act like it is abnormal and an enemy to be conquered. We call it "natural hair" but still have problems recognizing that our hair is a natural aspect about who we are and makes us unique and different but not less than or in a worse predicament.

I attribute my positive conception of natural hair to my mother. She had natural hair throughout my entire childhood. She was not involved with the natural hair movement and did not know about terminology such as "4C" hair. Her hair was simply one part of her that she knew how to take care of and did so without viewing it as a chore or unnatural. I watched her adeptly care for it alongside caring for mine.

And although I had phases where I wished for straight hair, I never thought my own hair was unmanageable.

Now natural hair is what I choose when I do not want to spend extra time with hair care. It was the press that would take up my time because I would have to think carefully about how to make it last. I would have to wrap is carefully at night. And I knew I'd have to pay money every time I went into the shop to get it retouched or redone. But natural hair was always intrinsic and easy for me to understand.

And so I proudly claim the "I am natural but not a naturalista" label. Not because anything is wrong with being a naturalista, but because I believe it is important to assert that I do not need to be one in order to have the right to wear my hair the way it comes out of my head.


  1. This is a point I don't think most people consider. We don't realize that in an effort to "normalize" things, we set standards for how they should be. This is a continuous problem that Black people face. For so long we fought to be normal that anything outside that norm is shunned. It's definitely worth a conversation...hopefully in an effort to find a solution.

  2. I think that when is come to natural hair,
    being natural is just simply the state of being while the naturalista label is more based on attitude. Someone identifying themselves as a naturalista is similar to someone saying they are a diva. The word has a negative, separatist feel to it. So on the surface it seems like the movement is empowering black women but its only furthering the divide by creating another "clique."

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