It started with a black satin pillowcase. I don't know when it arrived, but I know that once it got there, I was banned from touching it. Even though it is a pillowcase, I couldn't actually lay my head on it because apparently I have a greasy mechanic's rag for hair. Such is the life of loving a woman with natural hair.
It didn't start like this. When we met, she would spend a Saturday at the salon and come back all blown out, and that would be it. It would end until she went to the salon again and they made the magic happen. Now I find curlers in my car. And I cannot get into the bathroom to brush my teeth in the mornings because my fiancee is in there, endlessly fussing because she went from a blown-out Beyoncé to an au naturel Solange.
We never talked about it. It wasn't discussed. Just one day she came out of the shower looking like a 1970s bass player. She'd washed her hair, and it looked like a long Jheri curl. I laughed about it.
Learn from me, men: Black women's hair is not a joke. It's not a game. The way we feel about fantasy football or saving a season of “NBA 2K” doesn't even come close to how women feel about their hair. Their hair has been enslaved, beaten, punished and poisoned. Black women's hair has endured, persevered, triumphed and been stolen, which is why they get so upset when cornrows are appropriated and renamed boxer braids. It's political. It's always political.
So it is with total admiration for the diverse beauty of black women's hair, and in acknowledgment of all it has endured, that I admit I come to this conversation lacking. I don't use hair oil. I have a hairbrush that I've had since the Reagan administration. I use one shampoo that also has conditioner in it, and I'm pretty sure that in a pinch it could be used as bodywash. So when I say that I'm confused about natural hair, I'd like to add that I'm completely confused. I also fully understand that her hairstyle is her choice, but I would argue that if I learned that my great ancestor Phineas Crockett was a swashbuckler and began dressing in a cape, mask and sword to run to the grocery store, I'm sure she'd want to have a talk.
We evolve, and I'm with that; in fact, when I first learned that my fiancee was going natural, I was excited. I figured that meant it would cut down on mirror time. Second big mistake. For my fiancee, going natural turned out to be not really “natural” at all. Instead, it was about crafting the perfect curl out of what was deemed imperfect. Whether it was too curly, or not curly enough, I’m not sure. But the process to obtain "curl-fection" is elaborate and highly manufactured.
For, you see, I'm natural. My fiancee is natural like nude tights; natural like preripped jeans. Natural like the time I went vegetarian but I only ate McDonald's fries; I was adhering to the letter of the law, but it wasn't healthy. Like, her natural is really curly and really precise. She has curlers and products, tons of products—actually more products than when she was un-natural. It is a process where you pretend it’s devoid of process. It's ritualized and obsessed over.
The Naturals are a tribe, and I didn't know that when she signed up, it meant that things would change. When Naturals spot each other, they can have a 20-minute conversation about product alone. Which brings me back to the pillowcase. We have six pillows in the bed, one of which is dressed like Prince. It's shiny and really cool on hot summer nights. This has become her pillow. Why? I do not know. I cannot discuss this with her. I've tried.
Trips to Target are the worst, and if you are dating a Natural, you know what I'm talking about. Hours can be spent going over products, comparing products, seeing which one is water-based, and which one includes jojoba oil. There are the tutorials on YouTube that show the Naturals how to appear more natural. There are straws, and products to use with the straws. There are painstaking twists that go in, only to be taken out.
There is stuff called Bed-Head, which will make Naturals' hair look like they just woke up. But actually waking up and rolling out with actual bedhead is unacceptable. The idea of the natural is to look un-fussed-upon—except everything about the natural is fussed over. My fiancee will leave the curlers in her hair if certain parts aren’t curly enough, which is how they end up in the car.
I was fine with a bedtime bonnet, since that is an accepted part of black life. But I never thought I would miss the days when she walked out of the shower wearing a Safeway bag on her head. Curly or straight, I love her and she’s beautiful, but let’s be honest: Anything that involves satin pillows I can’t touch, straws, rollers, twist-outs, braid-outs, 10 kinds of creamy hair pudding and an industrial-sized jar of moisturizing conditioner is not “easy breezy.” It is not “wash and go.” It is not what I thought going “natural” would be. It is not a few hours on a Saturday at a salon.
Going natural is a lifestyle. And it is now my lifestyle, thanks to my fiancee. I’m drowning in shea butter and questions, y’all. Are Naturals not “natural”? Somebody help.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.