How Natural Hair Made Me a Better Feminist

By: Javacia Harris Bowser of GeorgiaMae.com and Notes From a Feminist Belle

Even in 2012 the word "feminist" is still considered a dirty word by some. Quick vocabulary lesson: Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” That’s it; there’s nothing there about emasculating men, for those who equate feminist with man-hater.

There’s also an assumption that feminists scoff at women who take pride in their appearance. I can’t speak for all feminists, obviously, but I am a girl who wants to look good. As a feminist, however, I try to always be thoughtful about the fashion and beauty choices that I make. Am I wearing these clothes and putting on this makeup because I truly want to or because I feel like I have to in order to be accepted or loved? Those are the kinds of questions I ask myself to keep my motives in check, but those are questions I didn’t start asking until I went natural. Let me

explain.

One of the points of contention in the natural hair community is whether or not you can still call yourself natural if you occasionally flat iron your hair straight. Some say no. I understand the sentiment. It's like being one of the X-Men but hiding your powers and the things that made you different from the rest of the world. (Sorry for that analogy; I’m a super hero nerd.) But I define being natural as not using caustic chemicals to permanently alter your hair texture. And when I straighten my hair a few times a year I use heat, not a relaxer, and my curls usually come peeking out in a few days because they love to be the center of attention.

But this debate did make me ask myself: “Why do you occasionally straighten your curls?”

When I was younger I got relaxers very infrequently so I've never had an addiction to the so-called creamy crack. Still I was obsessed with straight hair because I was taught that beautiful hair was straight hair. Period. So I constantly wrestled my curls into submission with the strongest hair appliances I could afford.

Then one summer day when I was 21 while on what was probably my third hour of doing my hair, my roommate at the time turned to me and said, “Maybe your hair doesn’t want to be straight. Why don’t you just wear it curly?” And something just clicked. Never before had anyone suggested that just letting my hair exist in its naturally curly state was an option. And with that I was free. I started wearing my hair curly and an amazing journey began.



Because applying heat to my hair had been something that I did because I thought it was the only way to be beautiful, after going natural I didn’t use any heat, not even a blow dryer, on my hair for about three years. I needed time to heal.

So nowadays when I get my hair straightened, which I do about three times a year, I am sure to check myself. Why am I doing this? Is this coming from a dark place of self-hate as it did when I was younger? After some soul searching I was sure that it was not. When I straighten my hair these days it’s usually because I’m bored and want a different look for a couple of weeks or because I want to wear a cute hat that won’t fit over my curly coif.

Putting thought into why I wear my hair a certain way pushed me to be thoughtful about all my fashion and beauty choices, which is why I always say going natural made me a better feminist.

I think all women should be conscious of the motives behind their hair choices, even the choice to go natural.

Are you doing it because you find it empowering and the best fit for your lifestyle or simply because going natural has become the “in” thing to do?

50 Weigh in!:
Amirh said...

Fantastic post. I feel the same sentiments. Going natural has made me a better feminist, a better proponent of racial equality, a better mother, wife, etc. Not the haircare itself, but the self-reflections I've had to make over the last 14 years.

Anonymous said...

Well said and I love the "I love my hair" T-shirt. Gorgeous hair btw!

Jenelle said...

I went natural because of my feminism and my keen eye for ....ehem....racial inequality...

I hated how everyone hated black hair. I asked myself: "Why are you straightening your hair?"
Why do we have to straighten our hair and why does the black community consider light-skinned Africans as "better"....

I adore your story, though.

I live in the Caribbean and i'm 15...lol

TussahSilk said...

Great post! I was one of the many children whose hair was relaxed at an early age because it was easier to manage. I've always admired natural styles on other women [including braids], but for the longest while believed in the whole "it doesn't look professional" thing. At work a senior corporate legal advisor disabused me of that notion pronto! I had been struggling with an excessively dry scalp for >20 years and had no ability [or even knowledge] to retain length. Seeing a wedding photo on the Essence website in which the three bridesmaids were all natural and fabulous was a real lightbulb moment for me. I made a decision there & then not to relax my hair any more [I had relaxed it that same morning].

Now I'm 5 months post relaxer, with amazing growth [really, I mean I can't believe what I'm seeing compared to what I'm used to], and the itchy scalp seems to be a ting of the past. I'm not remotely political about my hair, Im just loving what feels like freedom right now.

Kasey said...

Lol. There are a lot of negative implications associated with feminism nowadays. I would not want to be associated with that term at all.
I went natural because I desired to take care of what I have. It's as simple as that.
No need to turn it into a figurative "empowerment" term.

Jody-Ann said...

Love this post!

http://girlsnextbestfriend.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

i loved your analogy :)

Steph...In Motion said...

I really enjoyed reading your post, Javacia! I had a similar moment where I suddenly realized I didn't have to straighten my hair. I was watching TV and thinking "Why would Ice-T go through the time/pain/expense of relaxing his hair when he doesn't have to?" Then I thought, "Well, why do I do it?" Then, BOOM, no more relaxing.

Sometimes we as women subject ourselves to unnecessary and potentially damaging junk without questioning the motives behind it. I'm currently having the same conversation with myself about wearing high heels. I swear they're just here to keep us slower and wobblier than men, but that's another story. lol.

blackcurlsbrowneyes said...

Excellent post, but i am even more captivated with your hair in the pictures Ms. Bowser. Could u please tell us how You achieved such luscious well-hydrated looking curls?

javacia said...

Thanks ladies for all the positive feedback and I'm so happy to connect with other feminists like Jenelle and Amirh! Kasey, you're right, there are negative implications associated with feminism but I am still VERY proud to call myself a feminist, nonetheless.
@blackcurlsbrowneyes -- I use Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie and Pure Clean Smoothing Cream by Garnier Fructis. I'm a wash-and-go girl. So I just co-wash (about every three days or every other day), comb through those products and let my hair air dry.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I went natural simply because I believe that it's the way it was meant to be - with a myriad of styling options.
Your hair is beautiful, curly and straight.

DYTG said...

This makes me want to wear my hair naturally curly.

Katrina A said...

My decision to go natural was neither any type of statement or desire to be part of any type of growing trend. I just got tired of burning my scalp every couple months. Both my hair and my scalp feel much better and healthier since.

Anonymous said...

Great post and I absolutely love your hair! I hate to admit this but I honestly did not know that the thick hair that God blessed me with could ever form such beautiful curls without some type of chemical process. After taking out a bad sew-in (which was curly hair..my fav) I had so much breakage that i decided to cut it all off and my daughter convinced me to go natural and guess what, I HAVE CURLS!!

Anonymous said...

I commend you on being a feminist, I couldn't be so bold. Your hair looks amazing & I love your pink t-shirt

KJ said...

I choose to go natural because I wanted to stop using chemicals and be better to me. Plus, I hated sitting in the salon for hours to get my hair fried, dyed, and laid to the side.

javacia said...

Ladies, thanks so much for reading this post and sharing why you went natural. I know many of my friends went natural because they wanted to exercise more and found that natural hair made that easier. I love that more women are focusing on making themselves healthier and, as KJ said, being better to themselves.

cheframoore said...

A Natural for over 15 years, I went this course because a home perm took most of my hair out! A TWA was my only option at that point and I loved the freedom from styling my hair and not to mention the fierce barber cuts (and the money I was saving!) I remained natural because of the styling options and to this day my hair is healthy, strong and brilliant!

I came against a lot of opposition in my choice to remain natural from family, friends and even the workplace. I did not let that deter me from embracing my natural curls! I have a keen sense of empowerment with my natural hair. I guess this could also describe being a feminist. It feels right... for me! It boils down to loving yourself and the skin your in and the beautiful hair that adorns you!!!

Margaret said...

This is a great post. I have never thought of going natural as connecting with "feminism", however Feminism has also been coined as "the female liberation movement". Wearing our natural curls w/o feeling we need relaxers is liberating. I like the association. :) BTW...Javacia your hair is gorgeous!!! Are you using the Curly Girl Method.

Jay-Jay said...

Excellent post!!! Your hair is GORGEOUS both ways!!!

Tasha said...

Your hair is Fabulous! I went natural because I got tired of the burning scalp due to relaxers. I realized that you can do so much with your hair in its natural state

Kasey said...

My problem with feminism is the way it carries over to extremism on certain grounds.
In its origin, sure, it had pure and noble motives. But nowadays, it has gone beyond that equality into an undeniable regressed between the sexes: greater over-competition, misunderstanding, and bitterness.
This inequality is even changing our family system for the worse.

For example: without a doubt, feminism has been a contributing factor towards the current divorce rate, the plight of fathers because of alimony, the issue of cuckoldry, etc

And also, many a times, the "you go gurrl" attitude has created overly entitled women who demand the world and give little to nothing back.
But oh well, this is an argument for needed for another day/subject.

The natural hair movement should primarily be tied to the breaking of racial boundaries in western society. I really hate to attribute any sort of natural racial accomplishment to the wiles of feminism. Because, in my opinion, it simply does not merit that title.

Erin said...

PREACH

lord-erica said...

YOUR SHIRT!!!!!!!!!!!!
YOUR HAIR!!!!!!!!!!!!
YOUR VIBE!!!!!!!!!!
YOUR P.O.V.!!!!!!!!!!!
& your super hero nerd thought pattern!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
MUCH RESPECT.

Anonymous said...

I went natural because I got tired of being pissed when water touched my hair after hours at the salon. No deep moment of truth or soap box statements. Two years later I'm still enjoying taking a shower without it being wrapped and capped :-)

Sam said...

Great post! I think it's important to look after your hair no matter what your political/cultural views are. I have been improving my hair quality by eating correctly, using the best hair care shampoo for my hair type, and avoiding anything that may damage my hair.

P.s. nice clothes ;)

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's that serious for everyone. Its Just Hair!

Natalie P. said...

Love your hair! Even straight it's so shiny. Would Love to know what products you use...

Cecily said...

Wow! This totally hit home! I had my hair done nearly EVERY week until one day my boss (who is also my really close friend) simply asked me, "why don't you just wear your hair naturally? i don't understand why you can't love what comes out of your scalp?"

Well, there wasn't an answer to that. So, about a year and a half ago I did the big chop and never looked back. Just the other day I thanked her for asking the question that inspired my journey ... I love my curls and I love me too!

Anonymous said...

Not crazy about labels, but as a black women I'm inclined to lean more toward "womanism" than feminism. But honestly, I felt empowered before I had natural hair. Being natural has just taken this sense of empowerment to another level :)

Annie L. said...

Javacia great post, thanks for sharing!

@Kasey - your comment has a ton of sweeping, stereotypical generalizations without an ounce of evidence. How about not reducing women or an enduring sociopolitical and economic movement into emasculating extremism? Natural hair is a racial movement to you - fine! What it 'should' be to others is their prerogative.

Anonymous said...

I went natural purely out of curiousity. My hair did well with a relaxer (even though it made my fine hair look extremely thin). Matter fact, wanting my flat ironed hair to be thicker was apart of the reason i went natural. Once I was 100% natural though I grew to love it as is and really dont feel like straightening any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Unhuh. Well your roommate was quite right. Can't believe you and so many other women with pretty (and on the loose side) perfectly manageable curls got caught up in the nonsense those of us with tighter more difficult curl patterns did.

Anonymous said...

Your hair looks great either way--straight or curly. Your curls remind me of Jess AKA MahoganyCurls hair a bit. I must agree with the person who wrote it's not always that serious. Sometimes people straighten every now and then to see their length or because they want something different. I don't think it means anything more than that for some people. I know that's how I feel about it.

javacia said...

@Kasey, of course, there are women out there who may choose to be selfish and unrealistically demanding and call it feminism, but to write off an entire movement because of a misguided few is extreme. Feminism is about the equality of the sexes and while this has focused on elevating the status of women since we have historically been the oppressed gender, feminism can help men also because let us not forget that sexism can hurt men too. And I didn't say that the natural hair movement should be attributed to the feminist movement (although the spirit of female empowerment can obviously be found in both). What I said is that it made me be more conscious, in a healthy way, of all my beauty and fashion choices.

zaza said...

Quite agree its just hair!
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Abstract said...

Your hair looks great both curly and straight! Thanks for sharing the definition of feminist. I guess I've had a somewhat distorted view of what it actually means.

Tiffany B. said...

Nothing's wrong with a relaxer, nothing's wrong with straightening, nothing's wrong with wearing curls...that's the beauty of being a woman; we can do what we want and have MANY looks (unlike most X-men) and it doesn't make us any less black, less woman, or less real.

But to the authors point, there's a difference between changing ones look for versatility versus doing it because of self-hate.

MsJisola said...

I went natural not because it was the "in" thing to do but because I love my hair and didn't want massive breakage to occur as I got older. I have an intense work out schedule and it forced me to use some type of heat to restore my hair back to "greatness" before I went to work. I didn't like doing that almost every morning. My hair was relatively healthy despite the relaxer I put in. But I also wanted a change for my hair for the better.

Now with natural hair, I though of going back, but I don't want to. Everytime I look at my hair, I like the progress I've made even with setbacks and adjustments.

I don't think straightening your hair once in a blue moon is bad. It's your hair and you should enjoy it in whatever style makes you feel great. Natural means you don't use chemicals to straighten it. Any style you wear for your hair does not define who you are. I am relatively conservative with my dress and hair, but every once in a while I like to do something different and have a different look. That's the great thing about being a woman that we can mix things up and still look beautiful no matter what!

Anonymous said...

@anon 4:36 am.by ur comment I can see that u completely missed the point of this post.the point is not that women with looser curls only are allowed to be proud of their hair.it kinda sounds like ur saying that women with loose "pretty perfectly managable" curls have no need to straighten but girls with kinky tetxtures need to.

Anonymous said...

@ Kasey
Very well stated!!!

MrsDjRass said...

This was a great read and I appreciate the author's sentiment. I just wouldn't label it as feminism (although in the purest sense, it is). Like Kasey, I feel the title of feminism has transformed over the years and has become more hurtful than helpful.

It's just my thoughts and not a criticism of the author. I really enjoyed reading this article and the author's perspective.

Anonymous said...

I never made a connection between my natural hair decision and anything else other than learning more about myself and having healthier hair! The healthiest hair I could possibly have. I've been natural for 12 yrs. Natural hair wasn't getting press and accolades back then, but it has now turned into huge business opportunities along with opportunity for personal growth. I think this is wonderful.

It is interesting to hear other points of view and opinions. I find it wonderful that there are so many varied experiences within the natural hair community.

Thanks Javacia for sharing yours in such an eloquent and thoughtful way!

mErCh said...

Great Post (throwing up the FEMFIST)

Mizz DiDi Baybe said...

I love this post GURLL!! to al those who are trying to go natural as well here is something to help you on your journey it helped me too!!

http://1fe024r2u3cvbshidf3njhjadk.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=NATURAL

Anonymous said...

I typically do it for a different look or to get a trim.

Deliliah Nonar said...

All these years I've held the same belief and never knew it as being a feminist. From my own ignorance I had the wrong perception of feminism, what you can learn from a hair blog. Anyway, being natural allowed my inside and outside to match. My genuine, strong, confident personality now matches my hair and outter appearance. It also opened doors to take a look at living healthier.

ROGUETEACHER said...

I really want to know where she bought that shirt.

Elaine D. said...

Best thing for my lifestyle by far! I run and love sports so this is sooo making it wonderful for me. Also, I love natural health food so this only made sense after a while...

Decemberpumpkin said...

I'm going natural because i never like my permed hair and how free i feel with my hair

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