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Parlour on B+GM: In Defense of the Straight-Haired Natural Girl

We feature the best of Parlour Magazine's need to read info in this space twice a month. Enjoy!

By Shannon Washington

Caesar? Three times. Locs? Six years. Lion-like curly fro? I’m a pro. Cornrowed bouffant? I swear I was the first in Brooklyn. When it comes to natural hair- I’ve pretty much done it all since I decided to stop relaxing my hair during my senior year of high school, close to 14 years ago. It was 1997 and after growing out my Halle Berry-esque cut out into a shoulder length bob – I started going longer and longer between touch-ups. Aside from being busy with graduation and a near-expulsion experience (suburban thuggin!) I became pretty lazy with my upkeep and got a kick out of the volume that my hair had when new growth mixed with the relaxed part. My hair was thick, shiny and wavy. It felt alive and I liked it.

After figuring out a transitional technique that worked for me (did you know that I INVENTED the ‘twist out’?) I stopped relaxing all together. By the time I graduated high school and enter Howard University I had a lion’s mane of thick, curly, shiny hair. It was on that campus that I started what has/will be a lifelong evolution on my political, personal and beauty preferences and naturally my outward appearance followed suit. When I accepted my degree, I threw up a peace sign in Cramton Auditorium with a shoulder-length bundle of dreadlocks that I carried on into my early twenties. After cutting my locs off in a heatwave-induced rage, I’ve continued to rock a plethora of natural styles that compliment my mood of the moment. I’ve never saw a ‘loctician’ or visited a natural hair salon—aside from cornrowed-styles, I twisted my own locs and have always maintained my curly hair myself. If it’s natural, I just let it do it’s natural thing, with as little guidance as possible. And don’t ask me what “type” of natural hair I have (B2, Prop 8, ??) or when I made the “big chop” because I honestly have no true idea of what you are speaking of. I’d consider myself to be a casual natural woman, meaning…it’s just my hair. No huge event, grandstanding,  personal politics, message boards, technique devotion involved.

Which brings me to this. About a year or so ago, I started to get regular blow-outs. After going to my local salon to get a trim I noticed that my ends had fell victim to endless twisting, brushing…just being messed with in the name of natural “styles.” So about three weeks later—I went back…and it’s become a regular thing for me to have long straight hair for long periods of time. Frankly, my hair grows faster, and it’s extremely easier to maintain for my lifestyle. I keep it conditioned, and after leaving the salon, I don’t put any heat in it. I don’t even use oil-sheen (except when its a #struggle day) and rotate between a variety easy/maleable styles and ponytails. And yes, I work out, I sweat and let it be great. The less I do to it, the better it looks and there is nothing like having variety on a hot day that involves a body of water. I will gladly jump in the pool and emerge with a ‘fro full of curls.

But somehow during this time, I think I lost my ‘natural’ card to some. After trading hair horror stories with an old colleague last month, I described myself as “natural” while standing there with chest-length straight hair. The look on her face said everything. She jokingly referred to me as ‘faux natural.’ [Sidenote: I hate the term ‘natural’ when describing a group of women, ie “What’s up with the naturals?” Are we one big singing group?] And while I understand where she was coming from, I replied by affirming that if having natural hair means hair that is free of processing/chemicals, etc—then I rightfully fit in the category. The important thing is that it grows amazingly fast, it moves, it shines and it is strong. So what if it is straight? Am I any less “down” than I was with locs? Can the straight-haired natural girls get some love too? Is it even that serious to you?

Before writing this, I mentioned the idea to a few girlfriends who are curly and straight hair wearers and they all lamented at the growing number of what Solange rightfully labeled the “Natural Hair Police.” Basically, the women who live by a totalarian code of what natural hair is. Sounds to me like the same folks who administered the ‘brown paper-bag’ test to sistas back in the day and enforced the light-skinned, long hair code of beauty that still haunts many Black women today. If this entire movement to embrace our natural textures is to be honest and true, we also need to embrace the variety that it holds—to include the option of straightening it with heat and actually liking it. Besides, why would I want to use a “natural” product to give me a different, “desired” curl pattern other than my own? Basically, if I my hair texture is that of say…Viola Davis, then why are you cramming products in my face so that my hair can look like Cree Summer?  That doesn’t sound natural to me. Or over twisting/brushing/fiddling/braiding your hair until it breaks off and it looks dry and horrible? But anyway, that’s another post.

My straight hair isn’t about me attempting to look at all European or ‘acceptable” to some. I’ve maintained a pretty amazing career with curly and straight hair. It’s me maximizing the versatility and options that I have with it. With all that said, there a plenty of women like myself with a ponytail swinging that are just as natural with their hair as the next chick with a twist-out. Who still walks slow in the rain and don’t mind being sweat-drenched after a night of dancing. If natural hair is to be truly accepted as a norm with Black women, then we need to accept the natural desire to experiment and change.

Where here, we’re queer straight, and it’s great!
In addition to this snazzy website, Shannon is also the founding director of another image-challenging online movement, Feminist Enough

Parlour on B+GM: Men, In My Vagina, And In My News

Today we’re introducing a cross-publication series with the lovely and amazing Parlour Magazine. I used to write a column for them on sociopolitical issues called Politrix, and refuse to give up my family status. We’ll feature the best of their need to read info in this space twice a month. Enjoy!

By Shannon Washington

Peace, this is mecca the ladybug and I’m sayin though! what is really what if I can’t even get comfortable because the supreme court is, like, all in my uterus?! —ladybug mecca

Lately, men have been pretty vocal about my/yours/our lady-business. From hot-button issues like abortion to superficial topics such as what we wear (ps. Fuck you if you don’t like my wedges or maxi-dress), undoubtedly the loudest person in the room when it comes to a woman’s issue always seems to be a man. Not that there is anything wrong with a man’s input—but there are some topics that testicle-carriers need to fall back on. Namely, topics revolving around what I can do with and put in my vagina. After all, I think I’m the best person to make a judgement call on, well, myself. And if I need a second medical or political opinion, I’m a little more inclined to respond to a woman’s point of view. Too bad mainstream media thinks the opposite.

A recent study shows that among 35 national publications (such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal), men are quoted around five time more then women in stories involving issues such as birth control, Planned Parenthood and abortion. The Daily Beast reports:

“…men had 81 percent of the quotes in stories about abortion, the research group said Thursday, while women had 12 percent and organizations had 7 percent. 
In stories about birth control, men scored 75 percent of the quotes, with women getting 19 percent and organizations getting 6 percent. Stories about Planned Parenthood had a similar ratio, with men getting 67 percent, women getting 26 percent, and organizations getting 7 percent.” 

Funny enough, while men are dominating the political/social debate surrounding women’s bodies, they are also dominating the media conversations (albeit at a lower rate) concerning women’s rights:

“Women fared a bit better in stories about women’s rights, getting 31 percent of the quotes compared with 52 percent for men and 17 percent for organizations.”

Sadly, I’m not surprised that men are generally quoted more in news stories overall, however there seems to be a connection between the hysteria and inexplainable political actions (word to Rep. Lisa Brown) associated with women’s issues and how women are represented in media focusing on women’s issues. This in itself, presents a danger in how women and women’s issues are perceived and considered by the general public. Because of the role of ‘media-as-fact’ in the United States, this leads to a behavior of men being seen as the ‘experts’ on women’s issues, which then leads to mis-recognition, misleading statements and potentially harmful legislature for all of us. This isn’t to say that men can’t speak intelligently about women, but that the role and voice of women should be equal to men, and in some cases elevated, when it comes to women’s issues in the media to maintain accuracy, honesty, legitimacy most importantly—objectivity for the benefit of the reading public. So while I’m a bit flattered that my sexual behavior and health is such a concern to all, I’ll leave it to the ladies to reference in determining the best way to proceed. Love you still fellas.

Photo: clockwise from top left: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Dan Skerbitz, director of Personhood Oklahoma, Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., spoke at 2012 news conferences on issues related to women’s health including birth control, Planned Parenthood, and abortion. 

I’m Kenrya Rankin Naasel, a lifestyle + parenting expert who—after much prodding from her friends—decided to share her hippie-dippie Black chick mama life.