Is it really “Natural”?

Anu's afro1

You’d have to admit that in the last 20 years the word “natural” has definitely had it’s share of usage.  Everything is deemed natural these days, whether it truly is or not.  In other words, it’s been used and abused, stretched to the limit of it’s original meaning.  When I began in this business over thirty years ago, natural was mainly being used to describe vegetarian food.  Since that time it has also been used to sell everything from “soup to nuts” and some really questionable things in-between.

When it comes to natural hair, there seems to be a debate brewing.  There are some who believe that natural hair means you don’t chemically treat your hair.   While others confer that it also means that you can wear your hair in any style extensions, weaves, and even straightened with heat via flat-irons or hot comb just as long as it hasn’t been chemically altered.  Some times this includes a person whose own hair you’ve never see because it’s always covered in extensions or a weave.   And of course natural hair also includes Locs of all shapes sizes and variations.

The young new jacks on the block are taking it a step further and their perspective is natural hair means only your own hair, which does not include the use of extensions, the cover up of a weave or the altered state of a having it straightened by heat or whatever.  It strictly means only your own hair in its natural state.

It seems that there are dozens of websites popping up that speak directly to this message.  A few of my favorites are The Coil Review, Natural Hair Care Guild and Going Natural .  As Mireille Liong of Going Natural stated, those with this perspective can some times be like “natural hair Nazis”.  Their belief is that if it’s anything other than your own hair then it’s really not natural.  But you know, though I get their point, I still feel to each her own.  We’re all evolving at different rates and why should we judge?  That’s not to say that I’m not going to continue to encourage sisters to consider the alternative to chemicals.  I will continue to do that, because I believe in promoting health and the non-chemical choice is just the healthier choice.

I have noticed recently though, that a number of clients at Khamit Kinks, are being influenced by other clients who are having styles without the use of extensions.  One client whose worn her hair in long single braid extensions for years, just the other day was so impressed by an elder who had a wet two strand twist that she made the decision to try it out.

This client sat in the salon for hours having her single braid extensions removed.  She was able to witness client after client, come and go while she sat there not having a style done, but spent hours just having her extensions removed.   That was probably enough to inspire her to try something a less complicated.  She returned the next day and true to her word was styled up in a wet set Two Strand that looked gorgeous on her!  She’s still getting used to it, but I applaud her for trying something different, for having the courage to step out on faith, to come to terms with accepting the beauty of her own “natural” hair.

But my humble opinion is do what I do, I try it all, well with the exception of straightening.  I recently removed my Tom Boy braids and am just sporting a ‘fro and the response has been so positive, I’m definitely encouraged to keep it going for now.  What’s your opinion regarding natural hair?  Does it include the use of extensions or straightening with heat?  Tell us how you feel.

13 responses to this post.

  1. “To each her own. We’re all evolving at different rates and why should we judge?”

    I feel the same way and love the fact that you keep encouraging sisters to go natural.


    • And Mireille, I sincerely appreciate your passion and dedication to help sisters transition from chemicals to their natural hair. Also, Thank you for encouraging me not be put extensions in this time around. I’m enjoying the freedom of dealing with just my hair.


  2. I agree with Mireille. Being natural is an individual thing and each person needs to decide what is best for them.

    I also think that some people go natural in stages. I did a call with “Good Hair” Lonnice Brittenum Bonner on Tuesday and I asked her about the the texturizer issue. That was her “crutch” for a moment but later on, when she locked, she cut it out and hasn’t “used” sense. But look how much she has contributed to the natural community.

    That is an extreme example but for some braids, weaves and wigs fall in the same category.

    Every one has to come to the place where they realize that what they have is enough. That their natural hair is good enough.

    Great article and thanks for the mention 🙂


  3. This “is it really natural?” debate can go on…till the end of time. Sistas ride other sistas about heat straightening, color, and twistouts/braidouts (ways to “mask” your “real” hair texture). It’s a mess. I define “natural” for me.

    I use chemicals (colorants), so I guess I’m not truly natural. My goal was to stop relaxing with chemicals. I did that. For some, that’s natural enough. For others, not so much so. I don’t really care.


    • I hear you Nappy Girl. To each her own. We all have our own roads to walk and support helps to carry one another much further than criticism and judgment.


  4. Posted by Anita M. Samuels on August 6, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Anu!
    It’s interesting that this comes up now. Back in 1991, when I wrote an article for the New York Times about “natural hairstyles,” it included shaped “fades” by Ademola Mandela of the former Kinapps, and styles such as “boofruto” from African braid salons in Harlem, I was under the impression that hair worn without chemical products to straighten it was “natural.” I think this debate is similar to comparisons as to whether a person is “black enough.” I think this is yet another way to keep us divided, and not nearly as important as other serious concerns we face on a daily basis. Why can’t we simply just be black women who wear our as “naturally” as we like?


    • Hi Anita,

      My position is that when we’re in full acceptance of ourselves, then it’s natural to be in full acceptance of others and their choices for themselves. My purpose though, is to facilitate dialogue and healing.


  5. Posted by Tiffany Lee on August 6, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    I have to agree with Ms. Samuels statement about being “black enough” concerning how natural hair is defined. I believe this issue is really the heart of the matter.
    I have had natural CHEMICAL FREE hair for the last decade or more, and I love it, love it, love it! I have no intention to ever put any chemicals in my hair again. This is the definition of natural hair to me.
    However, I do wear weaves and extensions, (I’m one of those who’s natural hair you hardly ever see!) I like to have the option to change my look and do different things with my hair, without subjecting it to all kinds of abuse and trauma. Some styles, natural or otherwise, I feel are simply not for me or complementary to my features.
    I am proud of who I am and my natural hair. I don’t hide behind my weaves and extensions (meaning I freely admit that I wear them), and I care for my natural hair as if it were an exotic plant or a delicate piece of fabric.
    Also, hairpieces and extensions ARE a part of Black history and culture.
    I refuse to be judged or questioned about my blackness or realness because of my choice of hairstyles.


  6. Posted by Arlene G on August 31, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Tiffany Lee! I agree with you, my friend! I have been wearing extensions for ten years now, and I also wear wigs and hairpieces. My non-black co-workers are always jealous that they can’t be as diverse with their hair. This makes me proud to be who I am. I don’t like the fact that people judge me because I choose to mix it up and work with i was given. We are chameleons and we should be able to do whatever makes us happy!


  7. Posted by Cynthia on September 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Anu,
    Natural is whatever you want it to be. I am getting two strand twists, and I consider that natural. To each his own.


  8. Posted by Jackie on December 31, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Hi Anu,
    First I would like to say that I first came to your shop back in 98 or 99 when you were in Tribeca. I had just taken braid extensions out, and I had my hair shaped by your barber at the time. I made an appointment to come back, all the way from Albany, NY to get twists. I loved my hair, but did not stay natural. Anywho, I do agree that whatever make one pant legs fly up then do you. Me and my hair is on a constant journey, and our journey now is 16 weeks of no relaxer. I think we need to continue to encourage each other on proper hair care whatever your choice(s) maybe. It feel good been nappy with lots of options.


  9. Posted by Pat on January 4, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Hi Anu,

    What type of hairbrush is best for black hair? I am thinking of going natural with a very, very short cut. There were so many brushes in the store I didn’t know which to choose. What kind would you suggest?



  10. Posted by Jackie on January 5, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Good morning to all,

    to comment on what is natural I do agree with Anu comment when one is in acceptance of self, hopefully they will be able to accept others at whatever stage of life’s journey they mignt be at. As with most things in life we are all on these journies may it be hair, bodies the list go on and on, let not get into a divide and conquer, I think it is okay to disagree to agree. Dialogue is good. I also agree with Anita, I too was under the impression that NATURAL HAIR! was about being free from the chemical processing. But, this is why I am enjoying this blog, because it show that we all have different thoughts about being natural. But at the end of the day, are we all ultimately in search for how to care for our hair and to have a good, healthy head of hair inside and out.


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