The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word "movement" as follows; "a series of organized activities working toward an objective." Oxford-English describes it as "a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas."
I started to pay attention to the current natural hair "movement" about the same time that I noticed a bald spot at my hairline, some serious dandruff and an annoyingly itchy scalp were cramping my style following my latest relaxer. It wasn't because I heard a rallying cry, too revolutionary to ignore. No marches or riots led by rebels whose afros were accessorized with picks molded into the shape of the raised "black power" fist. No Billboard chart-toppers with anthemic hooks like, "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud" buzzing in my ears. It was because for the first time in my life, I faced the personal dilemma of having to peruse the aisles of the drugstore for anti-dandruff shampoos. So what about this so- called natural hair movement?
I've never been comfortable being categorized, corralled into a group. Especially not when it pertains to my ethnic identity. It comes with too many limiting stereotypes and preconceived notions that never seem to fit my diverse heritage and upbringing, and preference for self-determination. Going natural would only further invite the labels; "afrocentric," "free spirit." I can already see myself going on a very similar rant as the one Solange Knowles spelled out on Twitter when fellow natural-haired women and opinionated blog commenters insisted the singer doesn't "represent" the movement well. Her "unkempt" styles make "natural hair look bad."
"I cut my hair all off four times in my life all for very different reasons," Solange tweeted in response to her critics. "This fourth time did not define me, just as it had not the previous three times. I've never painted myself as a team natural vice president. I don't know the lingo and I don't sleep with a satin cap ... All I'm saying is my hair is not very important to me ... so I don't encourage it to be important to you."
Solange's declaration of independence reminded me of Dominique, a 21-year-old Houston- based woman who went natural in college and remained relaxer-free for exactly one year before her ignorance about how to care for her growing curls led her back to the more familiar territory of chemically treated hair. "Girls who still had relaxers said, 'I was going natural because of you. How could you do that?' And girls who were natural said, 'I can't believe you went back to the creamy crack!' It bugged the hell out of me. I was like, 'Chill. It's always been my hair!'"
For Dominique, who is currently transitioning back to natural hair for a second time, her by- default membership in the "movement" was an unwanted induction into a club she never intended to join. "People would always walk up to me and ask me about my hair. I always had a billion questions about what products I used. Sometimes I would gladly talk, other times I was like, 'Me having natural hair does not make me your sister. No we're not sisters. No!' I hate that word, 'sisterhood.'"
For Melanie, a 24-year-old who chopped off her processed hair before her senior year of college, it was about saving her thinning strands from an almost certain ill fate. "If I still had a relaxer I would literally be freaking bald!" she confessed with a "No, but seriously though" kind of laugh. "I like it a lot better now. It's thick. It's more me, because it's actually my natural hair. I can do it myself. I don't have to go to the salon anymore. I don't have to worry about the rain. I don't have to worry about it getting messed up when I work out."
She looked to natural hair blogs as how-to guides to map the uncharted territory of her unprocessed new-growth, but Melanie has never identified herself as a member of a greater movement. "It's really something I did for me, not for making any kind of statement. It's made me more confident, because I like it better." And even now, as she's reaping the benefits of really loving her hair for the first time in her life, Melanie is no natural-hair pusher. "My hair is fine, so it never took relaxers well. But if your hair can take a relaxer, more power to you."
"Both my parents had afros back in the day," Melanie said, speaking of a time in the U.S. when going natural could not be interpreted as anything but a statement in alignment with a greater movement. Her father attended North Carolina A&T State University during the 1960 sit-ins and as a Greensboro native herself, Melanie is proud to say a profound understanding of the Civil Rights movement is an inherent part of southern culture. But when it comes to the potential socio-political implications of her own hair choices today? "Honestly, I really don't care."
Some women surrender to the racially-charged labels and assumptions that come along with their natural hair, like 27-year-old Dee in Virginia. "I decided I had to accept me for me. Stop trying to please everybody. It was all about acceptance of myself. It never even dawned on me that it would be a big movement," Dee admitted. "But everyone is a part of someone's subculture, so I'm fine with it," she added apathetically.
For many natural women today, self-confidence trumps racial pride and self-discovery takes priority over sisterhood. Convenience, time management, budget and health are on women's long and diverse lists of reasons to go natural. Some women even find themselves transitioning without any premeditated intention to do so. From not trusting anyone to relax their hair while living abroad, to skipping their last hair appointment because they "just didn't feel like it" -- and then never felt like it again. "A group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas"? There are plenty of natural and transitioning women today who do not fit the bill, and decidedly so. To automatically brand them as members of a "movement" is to rob them of the very sense of individuality that seems to be one of the most rewarding results of the going-natural experience.