“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 pass 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 asks while showing the two packs of Remi Eve weave costing her $35 a pack just a few days before she had it put in. Compared to the $200 to $400 weaves some women are willing to shell out for, 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 former Arts Management student from Purchase College, is just one of many black women who are delving into the world of natural hair. She decided to go natural in 2012 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. I couldn’t tell you how many times I was burned from getting my hair chemically relaxed. Too many times I must say!
Like many black girls across the country, Woryeneh Benson wasn’t taught to love and accept their natural hair. The history of black hair is a complicated one. We live in a world where European standards of beauty are the default. Natural hair to many people are seen as unkempt, ugly, and unprofessional. It’s also seen as radical statement: I accept my hair the way it is. For black woman this is extremely powerful, given the fact we haven’t had much control over our own bodies. Hair is our way of taking back that control. It’s how we’ll change our narrative. Our bodies belong to us and no one else.
Just look at the way Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy is talked about online. Back in June a woman was so concerned about the child’s hair that “she created a petition on Change.org to urge her parents to “properly care” for their child’s hair—or more explicitly—comb her hair.” Just Google “Blue Ivy’s Hair” and what will come up are numerous memes, Tweets, and Instagram posts criticizing her hair. BET’s 106th & Park was suspend for a week, after a tasteless joke was said on the air about the little girls hair by Chris Brown’s girlfriend Karrueche.
Blue Ivy is only 2 years old. She has already experienced first hand how political hair can be. It doesn’t matter that she’s the daughter of two wealthy black superstars. If her hair is too nappy or if it’s too black, it’s a problem. Blue’s experiences is not much different than many other girls of color. The only difference, is that Blue has the entire world looking at her and she probably doesn’t understand it yet.
The first time we met, we were walking the halls of Fort Awesome where she surprisingly asked if she could touch my hair. Being a black woman who is 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. After over three years of being natural, you realize the comments and random petting probably won’t ever stop.
Here was this beautiful brown skinned girl who wanted to touch my hair. At first, I was reluctant because I had no idea who she was and why she wanted her fingers in my hair. She was all smiles and very chatty, and as she placed her fingers in my curls, she started to ask me how long I’ve been natural now.
Right off the bat she started grilling me on my natural hair expertise. I was intimidated. At the time I was only a year natural and was still slowly learning how to take care of my own hair.
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 discuss the products we both use. She is deeply involved in the movement, more so than me.
After spending hours in front on the computer screen discussing which celebrities are our hairinspiration, she tells me, “I get so jealous of some of those natural hair girls on YouTube.” We’re both sitting on my bed glaring at the computer screen, watching videos of a natural hair YouTube artist, 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. 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.”
Here I was, sitting and listening to her open up, I realized not all naturals were created equally.
I could care less about the products I was using. I didn’t spend hours on YouTube watching tutorials. I loved looking at photos of other women with big, curly hair, but I was never jealous of them. For a class project I created a video about how lazy of a natural I was.
The difference between Benson and I, was that I had the privilege of being the “right kind of natural”.
My hair is more curly than kinky. Even through my awkward length stage, I never felt unattractive or masculine. Thanks to the fact that I had numerous short haircuts previous to going natural, I felt confident with my short fro. Paired with the fact that I am light skinned, I am less likely to be criticized for my natural hair. Colorism is a major issue in the natural hair community that rarely gets discussed.
Benson was not. She was everything I wasn’t, and for the first time I realized, that the natural hair journey wasn’t the same for everyone.
There’s also this idea of being a “real” natural haired woman. Plenty of naturals wear weaves and wigs, for multiple reasons. Weaves and wigs are great protective styles, especially during the colder season. Many women also just like the idea of having choices. Why wear your hair one way when you can wear it many different ways?
Some naturals think dying your hair or not using natural products doesn’t mean your truly natural.
At times it seems like natural hair is no different than having chemically processed hair. Why all the rules? The whole idea of having natural hair was to have freedom.
The internet has become somewhat of 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 about natural black hair. Carol’s Daughter was one of the few popular companies that sold products for natural hair. Now they are a very popular company that sells products to most retailers, ranging from QVC to Sephora.
Just as Carol’s Daughters products are becoming more known, so are others. Companies such as Miss Jessie’s, Shea Moisture, and Mixed Chicks are all owned by women of color and are being placed on more counters in an array of different stores. Even the major retailer Target now has an entire section dedicated to natural hair products.
It’s not just big known companies that are getting exposure. There is entire community of black women creating their own products from their home and becoming their own entrepreneurs. Madame C.J Walker would be proud.
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 Bob Marley told this woman she was ugly in the film. 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,” Benson explained. So, the question: 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 that 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. Relaxed, long, front laces like the ones Beyonce wears or the huge Angela Davis inspired fros, along side long locs, and pixie cuts will always be a political statement.