I spotted this woman in Savannah, Georgia with a legendary, jet black mane. It was incredibly thick, healthy and so lush it had to be sho’nuff store bought. It wasn’t. They were the kind of tresses some Southern grandmothers swoon over, and beg us not to cut. Ravishing. Voluminous. Gorgeous. I inquired about her regimen, wanting to know what wondrous products she used.
“Well, my relaxer…” she said. My eyes widened, and all sound came to a silencing halt. She went on to explain she always made it a point to tell people she was relaxed because of the widespread notion that only natural hair is healthy hair. It’s tough to be a user of the creamy crack these days. And although statistics show that over sixty-five percent of Black female consumers are currently relaxed, the all-consuming natural hair movement would make you think otherwise.
It’s bigger than hair. The digital war pits presumed jiggaboos against alleged wannabes, and the online quips have gotten rather nasty. Having a hair preference has become a crime against your own ethnicity. Hot-headed naturalistas—even in the year 2012—will revoke your Black card for flaunting a few straight strands. However, when maintained professionally, what’s wrong with having a relaxer? A little research on today’s straightening creams proves that they’re not the damaging conks of the past. Due to the booming business of natural hair products, relaxers were forced to change their formulas about five years ago to incorporate a slew of conditioning buffers like shea butter, argan oil and keratin. Today, most relaxers are much milder.
"I desire to wear my hair straight most of the time and proudly have a professional stylist relax my roots every eight to 10 weeks,” says Tahira Wright, who mainly wears her hair short. “It is deep conditioned, trimmed, and it's never over-processed. I rarely have to put heat on my hair, if at all, in between appointments. Healthy hair can be achieved and maintained whether natural, colored or chemically treated!"
When asked if she’s ever felt pressure to go natural or received the notorious side-eye when discussing her relaxed roots, she confessed, “Yes,” but says that it doesn’t bother her one bit. "My beauty regimen is very personal, based on my own individuality, how I desire to look, and what fits my lifestyle. If not treated well, natural hair, just like relaxed hair, can become very dry and brittle. I love versatility!”
Celebrity stylist Johnny Wright, the magical hands behind Michelle Obama’s flawless coif is pro-options as well. “The main issue is at-home relaxing. Women, especially those whom relax, should have a professional maintaining their hair. When I relax my clients, I don’t relax to the point of giving them bone straight, limp hair. I allow it to have a little wave. It’s the 80/20 rule, which prevents damage,” he explains, adding, “Use your hair to express yourself.”
But when it comes to Black hair, having a point of view other than “natural” has been deemed archaic. Natural is the new black. At the heart of the matter is the prevalence of permanent damage, and allegedly hair hate. Over-processed strands are obvious, but the idea that having a preference means automatic dismissal of your God-given roots is up for debate.
“I think it's sad to run into a sister who hates her hair in its natural state. People like that have bought into society's definition of beauty, which excludes us,” says Sage, a curly-hair woman who went natural five years ago. “And, for the record, no you should not be using harmful chemicals, such as relaxers, that are known to cause damage to the hair and scalp.”
Equating relaxing to self-hatred is not a fair comparison says Candice Frederick. “That's such a ridiculous assumption! I do it because I like it and I felt I needed a change. It's just hair. No big deal.”
Alas, the war wages on. Too often—especially within the Black community—acceptance of one thing typically means absolute rejection of another. Don’t we all want choices when it comes to our most prominent vehicle of creativity? We should be looking forward to the day when our vast hair needs commands an entire store aisle at local drug stores for both curly and straight types. Black hair care will never fit into a one-size-fits-all model, and there’s only one hairstyle truly worthy of intolerance, and that's the Jheri curl!