Natural Hair Journey: One Woman’s Perspective on ‘Going Natural’

“Am I a self hating black woman if I put this weave back in?”

As she’s waiting in the chair at her sister’s house, with her head feeling like it was on fire from the tight set of cornrows her sister had just completed. Her older sister, who has locs down passed her shoulder, is prepping for a sewn in weave. Before even braiding her hair, she had to shampoo and moisturize first. Once that was all done, she was ready for her transformation from a short fro to a long Remi weave style. The entire process takes about two hours.

“Am I a self hating black woman if I put this weave back in?” she says as she shows the two packs of Remi Eve weave, which cost her $35 a pack, a few days before she had it put in. Compared to the $200 to $400 weaves some women are willing to shell out, this is fairly reasonable. She was already donning long box braids, a great productive style for people who are transitioning from relaxed styles to natural ones.

Her conflict is whether she’s truly embracing her natural hair if she continues to cover it up with weaves.

Woryeneh Benson, a 21-year old Arts Management student here at Purchase College, is just one of many black women who are delving into the world of natural hair. She decided to go natural last year after almost ten years of living with a relaxer. Most black girls get their first perm at the age Benson was.

It’s almost a rite of passage for girls of color; by sixteen many of these girls barely have any of their own hair to show for. High school is when black girls start experimenting with extensions, weaves, and wigs. Many of these girls have no idea the damage not only chemicals do to your hair, but also your body. There have been studies proven that links perms and relaxers to uterine fibroid tumors and early puberty.

Like many black girls across the country, Woryeneh Benson wasn’t taught to love and accept their natural hair. Her own mother hasn’t given her support with her going natural, something that many black people in the community still frown upon. Natural hair too many people are seen as unkempt, ugly, and unprofessional.

“My mother doesn’t believe a fro looks professional,” she pauses looking at my hair, “I don’t think a fro looks professional…for the corporate world, unless it’s trimmed and put together. I admire girls who continue to rock their fros, but at my age I have to think about, will I get a job with my natural hair?”

The first time we met was walking the halls of Fort Awesome as she surprisingly asked if she could touch my hair. Being a black woman who’s going through my own hair transition, I’ve been used to random strangers either touching my hair without permission or gawking at me while throwing up a black power fist. White people tend to touch and black people tend to call me Angela Davis.

Here was this beautiful brown skinned girl who wanted to touch my hair. At first I was hesitate because I had no idea who she was and why she wanted her fingers in my hair. She was all smiles and very chatty. As she placed her fingers in my curls she started asking me how long I’ve been natural now.

Right off the bat she started grilling me on my natural hair expertise. We were standing in the hallway for probably an hour going back and forth over hair, the men who love our hair, the men who hate it, our parent’s opinions, and why is it that black women do so much for just hair.  The real question is, is it really just hair?

For the first time this entire year there was someone on campus to bond with over our hair woes, other than the numerous black bloggers I follow online.

Some say it’s just another trend, some say it’s a “black is beautiful” movement, and some are just saying they want to change up their style. Whatever it is, more and more black women are opting out for natural styles. Even on the runways we see models with huge fros, locs, and even braids.

The movement surrounding natural hair has gain cult like status with some naturalistas.

Naming off different products she uses, showing off her impressive cabinet of curly puddings, hair oils, and gels. She has everything from olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and Shea Butter.

“What products are you using? Do you use 100% natural products? Petroleum Jelly isn’t good for your hair girl,” Benson says as we’re going back and forth over the products we both use.  She is deeply involved in the movement, more so than me.

Spending hours in front on the computer screen discussing which celebrities are our hairinspiration.

“I get so jealous of some of those natural hair girls on YouTube,” she tells me as we’re both sitting on my bed glaring at the computer screen watching videos of natural hair YouTuber Naptural85 as she goes through her tutorial on how to do bantu knots.

“I was on YouTube the other day watching all of these natural hair girls, which I get jealous of, because many of them cheat,” she pauses because she knows her statement is one that is most debated in the natural hair community. “They’re cheats because even though they’re natural, they’re still using weaves and wigs. The whole point of being natural is having freedom of self. Out of all the woman in the world, we spend the most time and money on our looks. I think of Madame C. J Walker as the devil now. God bless her heart, but I think of her as the devil now.”

The internet has become a safe haven for black women who are looking to go natural. Five or six years ago there weren’t a lot of outlets to get information on natural black hair. Carol’s Daughter was one of the few popular companies that sold products for natural hair. They are now a very popular company that sells products to everywhere from QVC to Sephora.

Just as Carol’s Daughters products are becoming more known, so are others. Other companies such as Miss Jessie’s, Shea Moisture and Mixed Chicks, all owned by women of color, are also being placed on more counters. Target now has an entire section dedicated to natural hair products.

Natural hair is slowly crossing over to the mainstream; however is this really why black women are ditching the relaxer?

Benson had her weave in for exactly a month. Every time we would meet up she would somehow bring up the fact that she’s tired of all the maintenance. She had to buy a flat iron, a blow dryer, bobby pins, and a wide soft bristle brush. Watching Bob Marley’s documentary Marley, Benson had a hair realization when in the film Bob Marley told this woman she was ugly. He said she was ugly because her hair was straight.

“I was laying on my bed watching the documentary on my laptop; I immediately started ripping out my weave,” said Benson.

Is she really comfortable with her natural hair?

“I can get my hair wet. I can take a shower without a cap. I can use the pick I just bought. I can go back to myself. I can do me. People are going to judge you for whatever. People are going to judge you if you’re a black woman with a long wavy weave and people are going to judge you’re a black woman with an afro. So if people are going to judge you, you mind as well be comfortable.”

As she talks about accepting natural hair, has she herself truly accepted herself?

People must remember that the natural hair “journey” is different for everyone. Hair isn’t just hair to many women, especially black woman. India Arie did not speak to many black woman because our hair; relaxed, long Beyonce-esque front laces or huge Angela Davis inspired fros, long locs, or pixie cuts, will always be a political statement.

So as she’s sitting back in her sister’s house waiting to get her Remi weave sewn in there’s this inner and outer struggle of acceptance. She wants to accept her hair for what it is; kinky, nappy, and thick. But when outside forces are telling you otherwise, is the struggle worth it? A month later and she’s weave free, for now, it may just be worth all the woes over hair. Not just hair however, black hair, natural hair.

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