Obsessed with hair manipulation…am I truly a natural?

I’ve been pondering this for a while now. What does it mean to be natural? If I dye my hair and constantly manipulate my hair texture, can I still claim to be a natural gal? I started thinking about ‘going natural’ in late 2004 during my last year of college. I think it started with a hair cut. I wanted a bob-like cut where it was short in the back and longer in the front and sides. I ended up having to go the salon about four times before she got it like I wanted it. The first few times, it was too long in the back. To the point where my hair didn’t just lay down, it kind of hung in space. I always hated how my relaxed hair just sort of defied gravity. It would take excessive heat and extra manipulation to lie down nicely. After getting my hair exactly how I wanted it, I started to wonder if my hair would ever grow back. My hair seemed to be stuck when it came to length. I felt like I had the same hair length since high school, which is what propelled the hair cut in the first place. But now since I had inches removed, I wondered if I would ever get those inches back?

Then I started to wonder why my hair had not grown much during my four years of college. All
the white girls I knew didn’t seem to have a problem with length. Surely length wasn’t a ‘white
thing’. Then I realized that they also weren’t “relaxing” their hair religiously every 4-6 weeks like I did since I was 9 years old. I thought to myself, ‘if I pour bleach on grass every month, it would probably struggle with growth too’. So I started researching hair without relaxers (I had no idea about ‘going natural at the time’). One of the first websites I found was Jenteel’s fotki
(which doesn’t seem to have any more photos on it). OH MY GOSH! I was flabbergasted!
Her hair was gorgeous. I saw how fabulous her straightened yet un-relaxed hair was, and I decided that I could pull that off.

So I transitioned with braids for a while and then cut off my relaxed hair on May 15th, 2005. I continued to wear braids until September, when I moved to DC for grad school and had no hair contacts near by. I thought, well I’ll go buy a hot comb and I’ll just straighten it out, no biggie. I found a beauty-supply store, bought a hot comb and a wig, just in case. I took my braids out and was stunned with my natural hair. I hated it and it seemed to not grow much despite the months of braids. So I heated up the trusty hot-comb I had just purchased and to my disappointment, it didn’t go to well. Perhaps my hair was too short or I didn’t know what I was doing. So I tried on the wig and decided it was entirely too hot to sport that thing everyday. So finally, I decided to wear my TWA as is. I went back to the beauty-supply store, bought some twist gel and spent an entire day twisting my hair. I hated the look at first, but after a month and some growth, I started to like it. Since it was so short, I decided to try and spice it up a bit with some hair dye. Four boxes and several split ends later, you could only see a slight red highlight when I was in the sun. Over the next few months, as my hair grew, I stuck with the same routine- – wash and twist every Sunday. I began to grow tired of this routine, especially as my hair grew longer, so I looked into locking my hair. I had my first set of locs installed in 2007. After eight months, I hated how bulky they became so I combed them out and had sisterlocks installed in 2008. After a year, I hated how dirty my sisterlocks were despite all of my attempts to keep them clean. After three months of combing them out, I became a loose natural again on January 24, 2010 (the day before my birthday- I had to look right for my day).

Here we are in July 2010. As I look back through all of my five short years of being natural, I’ve
come to realize how hard I’ve worked to avoid dealing with my natural hair. I rarely wear my
hair in its completely natural state (fro or wash in go). I am constantly twisting and unraveling
twists or buying rollers to give my hair bigger curls. I have been a proud natural for over five
years but now I’m starting to wonder if I can truly claim to be a part of this community if I’m
constantly manipulating my hair. So what does it mean to be natural?

What does it mean to you?