Read any C+C article about natural or relaxed hair and you’ll find a flood of comments from readers debating about which style is better. Remarks often veer on the argumentative side with naturals and relaxed pitted against one other.
The comments can get ugly. Claims that natural hair is unattractive and that women with relaxed hair want to look white are hurtful and antagonistic. When did our hairstyle choices make us enemies?
When the natural vs. relaxed tension materializes in our personal lives, the divide is felt even deeper. Hair is a bonding experience for many women who run style ideas by each other, share product recommendations and even coordinate salon visits. So what happens when you decide to go natural and your best friend is relaxed?
Though my best friend didn’t initially understand why I went natural, we haven’t had one argument or even a negative comment about my transition. Instead of attacking each other because of our differences, we chose to reach a place of mutual respect and understanding.
Here are three things I learned in the process that can help us all celebrate our individual hairstyle choices while still loving and embracing those who rock their hair differently:
1. Know that it’s a personal choice.
Women go natural or choose to relax their hair for various reasons which are ultimately personal. While one woman may find the natural hair journey liberating and self-affirming, another’s motivation might be purely aesthetic. There are women who relax their hair to fit the mainstream standard of beauty; others simply because it’s easier to manage. Sweeping generalizations, like the idea that all naturals embrace being black and women with relaxers don’t, are not only disrespectful, they’re inaccurate. It’s important to own your choices and experiences without projecting them on others.
2. Educate yourself.
Few things insult naturals more than ignorant comments regarding the look, texture and style of their hair. Comments that equate all natural hairstyles to a “nappy ‘fro” are insulting and untrue; not every natural wears their hair in the same style and some even regularly straighten their hair. Likewise, the myth that natural hair is unkempt and undone is highly offensive; it takes a lot of work, patience, time and money to achieve and maintain natural styles. Before making incendiary comments about natural haircare like Method Man for example, educate yourself about it.
3. Realize it’s just hair.
As black women, we are the target of too many attacks against us by the mainstream, Psychology Today studies included, to turn on each other over a hairstyle. At the end of the day, our similarities as women of color strongly outweigh the differences surrounding how we style our tresses.
Have you ever experienced tension between women with natural and relaxed hair? How do you deal with it?
-Jessica C. Andrews