Natural vs Relaxed Hair?

The last video I posted was titled 'Natural Hair is NOT for everyone' and I received an email from a concerned reader about whether the video was inferring that women with natural hair is better than relaxed hair.

Reader: This video promotes the idea that women with natural hair are more confident that women with relaxed hair and this is not true.

I really did not see that in the video. I honestly felt that she was addressing the psychological preparation necessary for a transition to natural hair. For example
1. Are you prepared for criticism from family or strangers?
2. Are you prepared to accept your hair texture for what it is and not what you think it should be?

Fair enough she did say that, 'Natural hair is not for sissies' but I think that it was just a jocular expression rather than a stab at everyone who is not natural. I do agree with the general principle that your hair should not break your spirit. I would rather that a woman maintained her relaxed hair and kept her confidence rather than go unprepared into a natural hair transition and develop low self esteem or low confidence issues.

In other words, the most important part of natural hair transitioning is the mental part. We women for a long time have tied a large part of our identity to our hair and to not address a major change in this is only preparation for failure.

In my opinion, confidence has nothing to do with hair or anything physical for that matter. It is actually an internal perception that sometimes we as humans wrongly tie in to physical attributes. The problem is once we tie confidence to things like hair, we have to take the time to unravel that knot and reinstate the internal balance that we should have.

You are ready to go natural when you are ready to be your own cheerleader because ultimately the only person who has live with your hair is you. 

What did the video mean to you?


  1. Logic fail for your reader.

    To rock natural hair you must be confident - is not the same as - to be confident you must rock natural hair.

    To be a horse you must be an animal - is not the same as - to be an animal you must be a horse.

    Chill out, reader.

  2. I took this video to mean that it takes a true self-acceptance to go natural BECAUSE of all of the social misconceptions that are often associated with kinky/curly hair. Also - I agree with the viewpoint that if you're not willing to put in the time to care for your natural hair, that it may not be for you. Natural hair is definitely more work for me than maintaining my relaxed hair in terms of what I do, but I don't mind - MOST OF THE TIME!!!

    (In reference to the readers comment) - Does this mean that a relaxed woman has not "truly" accepted herself? Heck no! It's one thing to say that a woman needs to be prepared to adjust her mental perception WHEN she goes natural, and another to make the assumption that a woman HAS a certain mental perception BECAUSE of the style she wears.

    For a random final thought...If relaxers weren't caustic - I'd relax again because I like how straight hair looks. However, I don't use harsh chemicals for cleaning, so I know I would never apply something similar to my hair again.

  3. Women with natural hair are not better than women with relaxed hair, but natural hair IS better than relaxed hair.

    There is a difference.

  4. Jc, you are SO on point.

    Just...on point.

    I really like what you said and I saw the video the same way you did. However, taking a step back I can see how the reader came to that conclusion. *The thing is, it's not an "either/or" statement.* I feel Sunshine was saying that in order to make such a drastic change in physical appearance, confidence is KEY. In order to do ANYTHING that could rock the societal boat (move away from family, quit your job to start a business, ect) you've got to be more sure of yourself than those around you. Sure, not everyone will hate on a person who doesn't wear straightened hair...but the haters are there and eventually they make themselves known. Thus, you have to be ready in the inside from the naysayers on the outside.

    I feel the video is saying you have to have the confidence IN ORDER TO DECIDE to rock your hair natural, NOT that the hair makes you confident.

  5. I thought she was referring to the fact that with the beauty of natural hair, there is baggage with it and if you're not ready to embrace the baggage then it's not something you should go into.

  6. *deep breath* I have to remind myself that people interpret things in different ways and that doesn't necessarily reflect upon their intelligence or ability to perceive...

    The fact is that in 2011 there are still a LOT of black people who believe that natural nappy hair on women is unacceptable, unprofessional, unhygienic, etc. It has always been a LOT easier to go with the flow and fit in than to do the opposite...and for that very reason it DOES take confidence and guts to go natural and to stay natural ESPECIALLY if we're talking about nappy hair.

    But your general point about confidence is something I've said for years. Better to be relaxed and secure than natural and insecure...and some insecurity is inevitable especially if one is around people like those I've described above. That's where blogs and vlogs come in to let people know that yes, you too can love the hair you were born with...

  7. lol Maria, your analogies made me laugh. My reader is a sweetheart though, she has previously written to me to thank me for some info. I think the blog should always be an open forum for anyone and any opinion. I'm sure she will take your 'logic fail' part on the chin.

    Mo - Your random thought is quite interesting. There are many things I did not like about my relaxed hair (breakage, thinness, new growth, salon maintenance) but the straight part actually never really bothered me.

    Sugabelly - The hair that makes each individual happy is the best hair to have. I strongly disagree with you statement that natural hair is better than relaxed hair.

    b. - I do see too how the reader could come to that conclusion. I feel with such an inflammatory title to the video people will misread its intention even before listening.

  8. Hello Jc- I am a long time british natural follower. I have been wanting to ask this for some time and now seems as good a time as any other. Do you find a lot of these black american vids on the natural hair experience applicable to us (non-american black british people)? All this stuff about mental transistion and things like London people are starting to wear natural hair all the time and I don't see black people in England making such a big deal about it if you look good.

    I never felt I had to mentally transistion, I just stopped relaxing. I know there are some african countries and caribbean islands who have more of the extreme american approach to hair - like pressing it as soon as possible. But I find a lot of these american vids don't always apply. For example, their blogs constantly talk about black women not knowing about their real hair looks like because its relaxed at such an early age - I'm talking 5 and sometimes below.

    I don't seem many black people (apart from africans sometimes), doing practices like this. To me, films like Good Hair are exaggerated versions of what we do. My family comes from an island, where wearing natural hair is not viewed negatively, so I know that my experience isn't everyone's experience. But I rarely see the kind of hostility in Britain that the Americans often talk about.

    I see americans on youtube talking about people they don't know in the street saying bad things about their hair , english people (inc blacks) are unlikely to do this kind of behaviour.

    What do you think?

    I think the reader u wrote to is seeing something that wasn't there.

  9. girl i could write a book in your comments after just seeing this video. Totally Agree!
    and actually I tackled this back in January on my blog. link below.

    Keep doing your thing girl. love your blog!

  10. Love 'em or hate 'em, inflammatory titles, like sensational headlines, are what make people stop and read/watch. I loved the video and shared it with many others. I agree that natural hair is not for sissies. I interpreted this to mean that if you are overly concerned with what people say about you, it is unlikely that you will be able to withstand the negative comments that will come from friends, relatives and complete strangers about your natural hair. As Maria said, to rock natural hair, you MUST be confident. However, if you want confidence, it must come from within, not from external factors. After all, what if you lose all your hair? What happens then?

  11. Can we remove "sissy" from our vocabulary? It's degrading and inappropriate. Everything else was pretty one point though.

  12. I thought Sunshine did a great job explaining how natural hair may not be good option for everyone. She was honest about a lot of things that people do not consider when deciding to go natural. I didn't really see the "natural vs. relaxed" angle; if I felt that way, I think I would examine why I did feel that way. Just like natural hair isn't for everyone, relaxed hair isn't for everyone either (including me).

  13. this ongoing argument/issue natural hair v relaxed hair, is endless. It seems to be only a trending topic in the USA. B/c I've been natural all my life, my friends some who were natural got a relaxer and some chopped it off (to go natural),others locked it up whilst others remained relaxed. It's not a big issue where i'm from so honestly I do not understand the whole natural hair is a lifestyle thing? and it's not for the weak hearted (i'm paraphrasing)
    Based on my culture being a rasta is an example of a lifestyle, not so much having natural hair or going natural.

  14. Thanks for all the comments!

    Lela - Yes I do believe that the psychological transition applies even to the UK. I agree that by and large UK is not a place where people feel compelled to make comments to complete strangers. However family is a huge influence. In my own personal circle, among the black women, I am the one and only with natural hair 24/7. Surprising most of the black women are natural but all of them are what is referred to as 'natural underneath'. This means they wear weaves, wigs or braids as their permanent hairstyle. I still get comments about how 'brave' I am to wear my hair this way.

    Of the three weddings I attended last year I was again the only natural in two of them and in the third, I was one of two.

    Yes I do see increasing numbers of naturals in the streets. London certainly is home to plenty of naturals. I would say that though that the real reason why many of the people that I know will not wear their hair natural is because it is still regarded by themselves and their family as somehow strange. It is a mindset.

  15. I have a completely different perspective, because I never "went natural." I've never had a perm at all and I honestly never realized hair texture was such a big deal. Granted, I was the victim of taunts and teasing here and there, as a child. Years later, I still get side-eye from permed and weaved women who I see out and about, now and then. And, of course, I'm far too familiar with the whole "good hair" ridiculousness.

    But, I don't know. Maybe because it never occurred to me that anything was wrong or undesireable about my hair as it grows out of my head, I never associated my feelings of confidence with my hair's texture. It's just not that big a deal to me, and I naively had no idea that not perming one's hair was such an issue to anyone else. Indeed, when girls made fun of me for "needing" a perm, my feelings were never hurt. I just wondered why they even cared about MY hair texture, in the first place. You couldn't have payed me to perm my hair, even when I was little.

    So, keeping my hair in its natural texture, in may case anyway, is certainly not an issue of bravery, since few things in this world are as terrifying to me as a perm. Even now, as an adult, I wince ever so slightly when I see relaxer kits at the drug store or beauty supply. The "Just for Me" jingle gives me night terrors to this day. Ugh.

  16. Hi JC.

    You pretty much summed up my feelings. When I watched the video I was reminded of my mother asking me if I was going to walk around with my hair looking "rough." That was last year Easter. Now she rarely bats an eye, although I can sense some disapproval. Let's just say I have her now using the Giovanni brand of shampoos / conditioners (with her pressed hair self). Recently one of my aunties has suggested on many occasions that I visit her hairdresser to get a press. I have politely refused, explaining to her that heat can be damaging to strands.

    With these kind of sentiments one could easily cave in to the creamy crack, or a routine press and curl. But that's what makes this video so powerful. I can hold my head up high and compare last year's Easter, to this upcoming one and say to myself, way to go and what a difference a year makes!

    Thanks for thought provoking discussions.


  17. I have a similar experience to Seygra20. I don't see natural hair as a lifestyle either, its just a way of wearing my hair.

    @ Jc: I agree that family is a big deal and I think I may be more reluctant to wear my hair natural if they were negative. The caribbean side of my family are about maybe 75% are natural, (ranging from type 2 - 4b) and the african side - none are natural.

    However, I do have the kinkiest hair amongst my caribbean family! I am 4a /4b. The only stereotype I see a lot, (even from my friends who are natural underneath) is that going natural is a niche thing. Its something only certain girls can do and only a small amount of girls can do if you have my texture of hair, and only if u have the right kind of look. I hear that a lot.

  18. Thanks once more for all the comments.

    Anon on the word 'sissy' - I agree with you, I don't think it is a necessary word . I do think too that words only have as much power as you give them........

    Lela that is an interesting topic. I am told too that I can get away with my hair like this because of my personality. I always shake my head because I am yet to comprehed the use of the term 'get away'.

  19. @ Jc: I always hear variations of that stereotype all the time as in - " natural hair is only for...."

    a) black / mixed race girls who are pretty. If you are ugly - definately not.

    b) the beauty of your face determines how 'african' your hair can be for it look good - basically if u are pretty u can have 4b or whatever, it doesn't matter, but if u are ugly, u need to have a looser texture otherwise kinky hair will make u more ugly.

    Where I grew up and now, no one bats an eyelid if some beyonce/alicia keys/naomi campbell looking girl has 4b, but if she looks like Precious, she has to have looser texture to look nice.That's the one I heard as a child a lot. Basically 'good hair' was only really for the ugly girls, if u were pretty ur hair texture didn't matter as much, (same goes for skin colour by the way - I remember people saying things like she needs to be fair to help her look less ugly. However, I no longer hear this one very much, if at all).

    People would say things like she has nice hair, but she needs it, which basically means having looser textured hair makes her look a bit more pretty, because she is actually very ugly.

    c) natural hair goes with a specific personality type. This myth was not about looking afrocentric or 'black-power,' its just where it suited that person's particular look - maybe u look quirky or unique or something like that.

    1. I have been reading this blog all day! And this person's comment was EVERYTHING! I have noticed this too and I swore I was the only one! Somehow, the hair itself makes someone look worse/better. Thinking like this is why women feel compelled to straighten natural hair for special occasions (weddings, graduation balls/proms etc.) It's just HAIR!

      Thank you Lela7! It's always pleasant to hear someone else express a similar sentiment :)

  20. Also, I've noticed that acceptance of natural hair is heavily geographical - my friends that are the most resistant and make more of the comments I have written above are almost entire african or jamaican, (but less so with jamaicans). I've found black people from other parts of the world, (excluding america, because I don't know many black US women) are a lot less bothered by natural hair.

    The blog : naturallounge did a post about this because someone raised the point that natural hair (in the UK) is much rarer in african women than other women. The vast majority of natural women that I know(including those who are type 4) are either caribbean descent or mixed race.

    I do think the precise region in the world a person is from affects the level of acceptance in their family.

  21. (frequent reader, rare commenter)

    This thread made me think a bit- I transitioned about a year+ ago and was surprised about how easily I embraced my hair. The thing about me though is that self-esteem-wise, I'm about . . . 1-2 light poles from a complete wreck, haha.

    I still totally agree with what everybody is saying- confidence is the best thing you'll need in doing anything against the grind- though I think a person can also go natural with little emotional fuss if their self-image isn't attached to their looks, or more specifically, their hair, even if what they feel *is* important to their self-worth is sub-par.

    With me for some reason all the things I'm proud of (negative and positive pride) and all the things I'm ashamed of, my hair got almost completely rain checked. Drove my mom up a wall when I tried (and sometimes succeeded) to go out in public with, well, disaster hair. I just didn't think about it enough/too low on my list. And as for people picking at me for it (it happened some), for some reason it never hit home, though I've been brought to tears with just a hint at being called stupid, useless, general ugliness, etc. Middle school bullies soon learned to move on to other traits to make me upset (clothes also got an emotional pass, though I've always loved cute outfits).

    I think in my case going natural for me was easy because I never truly felt my hair made me more or less attractive, nor more or less accepted by others, even though my confidence is still a work-in-progress. I may just be a real oddball, but I see something similar happening to others.

  22. You are right Cronus Killer and I do not think you ae an oddball. I think many women tie hair to their attractiveness but not all do.

    I'm glad you made the transition and are continuing the path down to positivity!

  23. After having natural hair for 5 years, I am now going to texturize my hair. The natural movement has been fun, i've learned A LOT (in fact, too much about hair) but detangling 10 inches of 4b/c hair has been an upward battle. Trust me, I love myself, but I can no longer devote 6 hours to washing, deep conditioning, subsequent detangling, and two-strang twisting just on my hair alone when I work full-time and have so many other things going on.
    Detangling and seeing so much shed hair is very disheartening, and it hurts so much (I've been know to cry in public during appointments at the salon, when they start combing my hair). It's extremely painful and gives me headaches with my sensitive scalp.

    In the end, it's just hair and for me - I don't consider it a political statement or an self-affirmation to my african heritage. I know who and what I am, I don't need my hair to prove it.

  24. Soniya were you on BGLH before because your last paragraph is identical to someone I was having a conversation over there.

    Anyway whether you were or not, I do want to say that the reference to natural hair being a 'political statement' or affirmation of 'African heritage' is just so irrelevant. The vast majority of naturals simply grow natural hair because it is the default......nothing more to it other than it is how it comes out of your scalp.

    It is like saying a Caucasian woman choosing to not dye her auburn straight hair is doing it for a political reason. There is no reasoning to that!

    I think you can do whatever you want with your hair, you do not have to be natural. I do even agree with you about hair over 10 inches becoming easier to tangle and requiring more time for manipulation when wet. I think that for myself who wants to stay natural, I approach this with a natural hair solution which is keeping protective styles for longer.

    Lastly, this is not to convince you to change your mind about your hair, I just want to make the point clear to any natural who reads your comment.

    Feeling pain when combing is a sign that your hair is being pulled excessively. It is not a sign that you should ignore. It means you need less force, a wider tooth comb or finger detangling (or all of the above). Pain is a sign not to be ignored.

  25. Jc, No I don't comment on BGLH. I like reading the articles and getting inspiration for new hair styles but I don't partake in the discussion section.

    And my comment about my decision to texturize not being a political statement or sign of self-hate has been in response to the backlash of comments I got on BHM about my plan to revert (read: back-slide) to my "old ways" or the "devil's mayonnaise" as many natural-nazis have called texturizers/relaxers.

    And this is also a comment on natural-sunshine's video. I'm a confident person, I wear my natural hair well and I get compliments. I also wore my relaxed hair well but didn't pay too much attention to the health of the hair in that state. But like I said, I've learned many things in natural journey since my last relaxer in the summer of 2006. So I think I have a better shot of taking care of my hair, be it in a natural, texturized, or relaxed state.

    When I newly went natural, I was still in college and had relatively more time on my hands than I do now. Among my friends and acquaintances, I've been one of the biggest advocates of natural hair. I made it look easy. And I won over many converts. Since 2007 when I BC'ed, my sister and 2 best friends have also gone natural. But that was also at the time when my hair was below 5 inches. Now that it's gotten longer, I am at my wits ends. I love washing my hair for that feeling of a clean scalp but I dread the detangling phase. I prepoo with indian oils (amla, vatika) and wash my hair in sections but detangling is still a mess. The best detangling session I experienced with minimal pain and shedding was when I detangled my hair before the wash, put it in 6 twists, and then shampoo'ed and conditioned it normally. Then proceeded to put in two-strand twists (only small-medium sized ones look neat on my hair). The entire process takes me 6 whopping hours! I've tried to be efficient and spend less time on that one aspect of my appearance but nothing has changed.

    Before I used to say, I'd rather shave my head than relax it again. But now after putting in all this work to grow out my hair (10 inches and counting!), I've decided I like medium to long hair. So my new mantra is I'd rather texturize than relax. And I know they're both chemicals, but with a texturizer I can still enjoy twist-outs and puffs rather than bone-straight hair.

    Trust me, it took me almost 5 years to get to this point. And I think a texturizer will be my best bet. Wish me luck!

  26. Thanks for the response Soniya. Sorry that I confused you with someone else.

    Personally on this blog, I do not do the relaxed v natural debate. I firmly believe it is your hair and you can do whatever you want with it.

    I do wish you all the best in your journey! I am a die-hard natural because relaxing always ended up in severe breakage for me. I do think my hair because of its kinks is not suitable for relaxing.

    The only advice I would have for you when going to chemically treated hair is just make sure you have a solid plan to maintain it (prevent overprocessing, take care of new growth when it comes in, be up on your protein treatments etc).

    All the best :)

  27. I think that if you're a confident person, you'll feel confident no matter what your hair is like or even the clothes you wear. You could walk out your house with black shoes, thick fluorescent yellow socks, pale peach jeans, and a floral denim jacket and think you're it. (I was only 11 at the time, can't believe my mum let me out the house like that especially to look around my new school).


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