That Afro Is a Lie

If you thought going natural would relieve you from the “stress of straight,” you don’t understand the politics of black hair.

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A friend of a friend of mine a while back was lamenting why her natural hair did not look like X celebrity she really liked. That celeb’s hair was so big, thick and full, the curls so dynamic and bouncy. What products could this celeb be using? Was there a twist-out technique she could use to get the same effect?

I told her, “Girl, that is a wig.”

She did not initially believe me. But I pointed out there was no way this celeb, who was almost rocking a baldy the year prior, was now suddenly blowing in the breeze with Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” glory.

Her response to this realization was a mix of confusion and horror. She had grown used to women augmenting their straight hair with weaves and wigs, but natural hair? That could be faked, too? It was like finding out those people in Alabama didn’t really see a leprechaun.

But considering how fashion already presents women with impossible beauty standards for their butt, boobs, waistline and straight hair, would curly hair really be immune?

Of course not.

All my life, people have made a big deal about my hair, but in almost every situation, the hair they gushed over was not my “real hair.” I have never, ever “woke up like dis.” My hair—while strong, long and my dominant feature—is a carefully crafted myth that can easily be shattered by stuff like “the wind,” “water” or “the scarf fell off while I was asleep.”

All hair manipulation—whether it’s your hair or someone else’s—renders it otherworldly. I created my hair mythology because it was expected of me. It is expected of every black woman, and it is a pain in the ass. Going natural does not spare you of it, since your curly hair is compared with that of biracial women or women wearing realistic-looking Afro wigs. Loose, bouncy curls? Good. My frizzy, “Good Lord, what are you mixed with? An Arabian horse and a Brillo pad” hair? Bad.

Even with all my length and thickness, my hair could not turn into the hair of a biracial woman with a curly weave. It is not possible. That hair is a lie, a lie meant to give natural hair all the same anxieties as straight hair. It’s a standard set for you to fail against. Another beauty battlefield to die upon.

There are other lies: That your lack of “willpower” is the only thing keeping you from being skinny. That you can get booty injections for $500 that won’t also kill you. That you can wear impossible, beautiful shoes and have perfect feet. That you can somehow stay a size 4 without working out or ruining your hair.

All lies. But the natural lie hurts initially because so many people become attracted to natural hair out of the false promise that it will free them from the “stress of straight” and “the tyranny of the permed majority.” It’s outsider art for someone born on the inside of the European beauty standard, a way to embrace yourself with pride.