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I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that hair is a very sensitive topic among the black female population. One topic that keeps arising in the realm of that is the natural hair versus relaxed hair debate. Why it’s “versus,” I still don’t really understand.

I remember in high school seeing black girls get ridiculed for not having a relaxer and have their locks labeled as “nappy.” Yet I also remember how in college no judgment was passed; people were celebrated for making their own decisions and not being afraid to stray from the pack. With time, we were all becoming more accepting of doing whatever worked for our hair. There were girls with relaxed and natural hair and you were saluted for whichever route you took. Then I entered the “real world,” coincidentally at the same time that the recent resurgence of the natural hair movement seemed to really take off, and that same high school judgment returned, but this time it was for the opposing reason. This time rulers were hitting the knuckles of the non-natural women, the ones who would dare to still relax their hair.

I am now one of the ridiculed ones, but I’m having a hard time understanding why. I have been relaxing my hair since I was eleven years old. My hair is soft and fairly curly and my roots do in fact grow up, not down. However, I prefer my hair straight. I like my hair to flow, lay across my shoulders, and I hate to say it, but I am a habitual hair twirler as well. I can’t help but get the “I need a touch-up” itch every couple of months to maintain the ultra-straight look that I’ve loved my entire life. This once was also the practice of all of my friends, but now everyone is natural, and that’s fine, but they’re pointing a finger at me because I have yet to “convert.” Do I have to?

A close friend of mine told me that all women that wear perms are only doing so because they are insecure and care too much about what men and society think of them. Another friend was a little less judgmental and said that those aren’t the reasons for all women, but it sure is for a lot of them. I have also been told that I am living an unhealthy lifestyle and that I am just assimilating to what “White America” wants. My question is, why does it have to be that I’m appeasing white folks if I like my hair straight? I am the type of person who doesn’t adhere to every new trend or fad and style-wise, I am basic and constant, knowing what I like and not straying too far from it. My mother had her reasons for giving me my first perm, but my continuing it for all these years has little to do with what others think and more to do with my own personal style choices and how I like my hair. Keyword, my hair.

To hear some of the harsh things said about women with relaxers is hurtful. I don’t insult people who have decided to be natural, that would be prejudice of me; so why the double standard? If people think getting a relaxer is strictly to please white people, then wouldn’t that mean going natural is being done strictly to please black people? I know that this isn’t true, and it’s a pretty far assumption, correct? But the assumption that this is the only reason a person would get a perm is pretty far reaching too, and warrants this kind of logic. I bet natural women would be offended by that accusation, so why shouldn’t we, those who choose to use relaxers, be offended too? Is it a crime to do your hair the way YOU want to versus what everyone else feels is right?

Honestly, I have given a lot of thought into going natural and I’m still undecided. I have not relaxed my hair in four months and I am experimenting to see if I can still maintain the hair style I love, without a perm and without doing the big chop, but I just don’t like a lot of the natural styles that I’ve seen. I’m entitled to my own opinion. I see the benefits of natural hair, but a relaxer has never actually done any damage to my hair, and by all accounts my hair is healthy–just ask my stylist. If my hair is still thriving, despite the fact that it is relaxed, then am I really doing wrong by not going natural?

I think what a person does with their hair is a personal choice and there should be no pressure surrounding it. It should not be assumed that because someone goes natural, it is because they just want to be in on the newest fad or that if they keep a perm, it is because they are insecure or want to blend in with everyone who isn’t black. I don’t like people pushing me to try and feel ashamed or as though I haven’t “evolved” because I still like my hair relaxed. It’s nice that there is sense of camaraderie and celebration in the black community in regards to wearing hair natural, but shouldn’t all black women share that, despite the way they choose to wear their hair?

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