I have visited numerous blogs raising the question, "Are you still natural if you color-treat your hair?" or similar questions. Some curl enthusiasts agreed that if you chemically alter your curls (including color), you are no longer natural. Others felt as long as you preserve your curl texture you are still natural. After reading a couple of posts I noticed a theme, texture vs. alteration.
Being a researcher by nature, I had to dig a little deeper before I could formulate my decision. By definition, the term "Going Natural" means to stop chemically processing (relaxing) your hair. As you can see on the PH Scale above, lye (an active ingredient in relaxers) has a PH level of 14. Now, while coloring your hair is a chemical process, the coloring process does not go to the extreme of straightening your curls. As many of us were taught in Chemistry class, water has a PH level of 7, which is neutral. Hair and skin have an average PH level of 5 (slightly acidic). So, let's take this a step further. To permanently color hair, the hair cuticle has to be opened for color to enter, and then closed. Hair has to be raised above a PH level of 5.5 to open the cuticle, lowered below 4.5 to close the cuticle, and treated to return to the ideal PH level. Some hair dyes use ammonia to open the cuticle, while more natural dyes will use a substance with a PH level closer to neutral. However, in order to maintain structural health of your hair, the substance you add to your hair cannot deviate too close to either end of the PH scale.
Many curly divas choose the co-wash method to maintain their tresses. Co-washes include washing hair with conditioner only and occasionally using clarifying treatments to rid your hair of product buildup. This method helps preserve naturally produced oils in usually dry curly hair. Many clarifying treatments consist of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Both of these substances are acidic and in essence lower the PH level of your hair. When you rinse the clarifying solution out of your hair with water (PH level of 7), the water then raises the PH level. Even something as simple as leaving lemon juice in your hair and going to the beach can lighten your hair. In other words, anything you put into your hair (i.e. water, baking soda, lemon juice, Apple cider Vinegar, etc.) can raise/lower the PH of the hair or chemically alter your hair's PH level in some way, unless the substance is the same PH level as your hair.
If you ascribe to the reasoning that color chemically knocks you out of the naturally curly circle of friends, then technically speaking no one is natural (unless you do not wash or treat your hair, which I would not suggest). Everyone has processed hair for the sheer fact that doing hair requires some sort of a process, whether you shampoo, condition and repeat as needed or do something more extensive to your hair. Hair is another way to express yourself. Some choose to color while others do not. As long as you take care of the hair on your head, it really shouldn't matter what another curly lady chooses to do to express herself.
So I have a friend that refuses to refer to her hair as being “nappy”. Even if her curls are dried out she will refer to them as a dried out curl, but never “nappy”. She hates that word. It made me think. Although I use the word I would imagine if I heard some one from another culture refer to my hair as nappy I would take extreme offense to it. I have overheard mothers refer to their biracial daughters hair as “nappy” and cringed. Or I think of when Imus called the Women’s Rutgers Basketball team a bunch of “nappy headed hoes” how there was not a black women I encountered that was not completed offended, just as if he spewed out the other “N” word. Apparently I...we hate the word too.
With this type of conflicted feelings on the adjective, I have determined that nappy may be the other “N” word. Obviously no way near as painful or socially unaccepted, but derogatory nonetheless. Although we are hundreds of years away from slavery, this word like the other "n" word the sting is still being felt. Where did this word come from? Who used it and why? Why naps? I did a little research and tada….it stems from slavery.
Originally it was used to describe fabric. Apparently the fuzzy surface layer on yarn was referred to as “Naps”. This is dating all the way back to 14th and 15th century England brought there by the Dutch weavers. The Dutch would have called them “noppich”. So now fast forward to the 18th and 19th Century in the United States this is what whites would use to describe the texture of the African’s hair. So the African's hair looked like cotton, or naps. That is how they saw it. It was just as foreign as the African’s skin tone. It was not a term used endearingly, it promoted the way too accepted views of the African's inferiority in terms of beauty.
So what is the long drawn lesson from this tid bit in History? Don’t be mad at those who don't want to be called nappy…say dried up curls. For me I am going to work on letting people know where the word comes from and letting them decide what to do with the info. Maybe some creative Naturalistas can coin a new term for “you need to moisturize your hair”.
Every Naturalista at some point made a decision that chemically altering her hair was no longer on the “hair routine” table. We were all shocked by the soda can melting while in a tub of sodium hydroxide (key component of hair relaxer), in Chris Rock’s “Good Hair”. Also things such as time, costs, and overall health of the hair likely influenced most as well. We all have our reasons for deciding to embrace a relaxer free hair routine. For me, as an example, going natural seemed like the only way to keep hair on my head. After years on hair breakage and chemical burns, I figured I would try anything to get off the rollercoaster that my relaxing addiction had me on. I had to get off…my sanity was at stake. Seven years later I have a full head of healthy non-chemically altered hair.
This change of view on how to take care of our hair has been amazing to watch. We are starting to embrace more of our own beauty versus harping on the beauty that of other cultures. I do believe that all people are beautiful and there is nothing wrong with versatility. But for too long our hair in its natural state has been looked as either unattractive or radical reflecting a political stance. To see women of all different backgrounds accept their own hair is verifiably revolutionary in an environment where few forms of beauty is accepted.
Even in this moment of acceptance, has a new discriminatory culture begin to take form? A sub culture of Naturalistas that look down on women who are still relaxing their hair has begun to rear its little self righteous head. Yes…I myself have been guilty of preaching on the dangers of the “creamy crack” addiction. And yes, I have been pushy. But it has always been the chemical I was speaking against, not the person who wanted their hair straight. It was not until I hosted a Natural Hair Care Party that I had a friend of mine, who has relaxed hair, express to me she felt that Naturalistas can be a bit snobby when it comes to her decision to keep her hair relaxed, that I became aware of this attitude. The feeling is not that of encouragement she was clear that there was a judgmental attitude that was running rampant. At first I kind chalked it up to my friend over thinking the situation, but over time I have noticed attitude of superiority of some of my fellow Naturalistas. I want to go on record as saying that this type of “I am better than you because of my hair” attitude is played out. This is the same exact type thinking that has been poisoning our community for years. Why would anyone think something as trivial as hair would reflect who a person is? What does that sound like?
We are all beautiful and have the right to wear our hair whichever way we choose. We as Naturalistas, she be promoting healthy, hair not going on a campaign to belittle those who are straighten their hair chemically or by any other means. The issue in my eyes is that fact that we would use a dangerous chemical to straighten our hair. I would never look down on someone who wants to alter their hair…that is normal. Every culture changed hair color, goes from curly to straight, or straight to curly. There is not just one way to look, we can switch it up like everyone else. How you go about it, is what needs to be discussed. Besides, we have all been around women in our own community who are judgmental of our curls, kinks, and locs. Both attitudes are wrong. We as women need to start looking to build each other up not tear down with condescending looks and comments. We should shun that type of thinking since it mimics the thinking that taught us, as black women to look down on our own beauty. So ladies, let’s be aware of how we speak on relaxers making sure we highlight the negatives on the chemical not those who choose to use them.