Going Natural

Every black woman has a hair story.

It can be a complex tale because her complex hair isn't simply the stuff she combs and styles. Her hair is often viewed as a statement—whether intended or not—about the culture she comes from or the life she leads. In a society where hair can define her, the decision to go natural can have an impact that goes way beyond fashion. And her hair story can take on many layers and twists and even curls.

Sometimes, her story is all about nostalgia, remembering the African-American mother-daughter ritual of Saturday afternoons at the kitchen table as Mommy straightened it with a hot comb, or braided it way too tight with nimble fingers, or touched up those edges with Revlon Fabu-Laxer.

Sometimes, it's about a choice made, remembering that definitive moment when she marched into the job interview or her conservative workplace with a defiant head of cornrows—in spite of the possible consequences.

Sometimes, it's about something as simple (or complicated) as style—wanting to set a trend at school or follow one she's seen in a magazine.

Sometimes, it's about something as simple (or complicated) as honoring her heritage, and even the women who made it acceptable. It's about wanting to create a look to emulate Angela Davis' 1960's afro, Cicely Tyson's 1970's cornrows, the dreadlocks of Lauryn Hill and Whoopi Goldberg, the untamed, defiant tresses of Macy Gray and Erykah Badu.

My hair story started with a 2001 book that was literally called Hair Story. Thinking about the health of my permed hair—hair that had been straightened by chemicals since college and by hot combs since childhood—and looking for a personal makeover that I could call my own, I watched authors Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps discuss black hair in America during a televised reading the year their book came out.

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