I Am Not A Tree-Hugging “Herbal Girl” Because Of My Hair: Quandries Of A Not-So-Natural, Natural-Haired Girl
By Stacy-Ann Ellis
It’s hard to forget the day radio personality Charlamagne Tha God tried to find out if I was a “real” natural. I was in a Manhattan theater, snacking on fancy hors d’oeuvres and free bubbly before covering a screening of MTV2’s show, Guy Code. The event coordinator was trying to help me overcome my inherent networking phobia by shuttling me to tables where the show’s stars sat. I ended up at Charlamagne’s table first. I’d brushed shoulders with The Breakfast Club co-host once before, but a reintroduction was necessary (I’d done no more than take a quick picture with him).
After a very brief exchange of names and occupations and a compliment on the cottony puff sitting atop my head, the next thing I knew, he very bluntly asked me if I maintained my body hair or if I kept it au naturel down there. By that, he meant chucking scissors aside to fight the good fight against self-hate on my God-given state, even down below. You know, because that’s what we natural girls do…
To be fair, while his inquiry caught me way off guard, Charlamagne was actually very polite the rest of the evening. Had I not been knowledgeable about his candid yet controversial nature of interrogation, I would’ve been red-faced and flustered. He was just curious, as are most people when they spot a ‘fro in the crowd. I simply had to laugh it off, because it wasn’t the first time I’d deflated someone’s preconceived thoughts of girls with natural hair, and it wouldn’t be the last.
For scores of women, going natural was a marker for something. After years of slapping relaxer onto my scalp and watching my ends and edges wither away, enough was enough.
However, my decision to ditch the creamy crack came not from wanting to purge my body and spirit of toxins. Not because I was worried my ancestors wouldn’t approve of my “idolization of European beauty.” At most, it came from a bout of boredom, laziness, and me being cheap. Who wants to deal with finding a new hairdresser and funding your own hair TLC when you’re prepping to start college in a whole new town? Not me.
When I first transitioned via braids (I was convinced I didn’t have the right head shape to rock the teeny weeny afro), my only goal was to be able to one day mimic a braided updo I saw in some beauty magazine. My hair was in terrible shape with a relaxer— I suffered from wispy, struggle ends and the inability to properly use a scrunchie— and I just wanted to be able to take a decent picture at any angle. I didn’t really expect to turn into a spokeswoman for #TeamNatural, nor was I prepared for the assumptions that came with the territory. I distinctly remember chatting with a friend about going to spend a day in the park, one in which I didn’t remember there being benches. “So, where are we going to sit?” I asked. The look I got back made me shrink a few inches. “Um, in the grass, duh,” she retorted. “Don’t you like that kind of stuff?”
Pump the breaks right there. I don’t want to huff and puff about it, but come on. My disregard for a straightened look does not make me a tree-hugger. Other than New York City strolls and beach bumming, I’m not too fond of the great outdoors. I don’t smoke ganja or light incense. I have absolutely no idea how to meditate or do yoga. Tofu freaks me out. I am a carnivore. I don’t hate people with relaxed hair. Please, please, please don’t call me Rasta or African queen from a distance and expect me to come hither. While I like Erykah Badu and India.Arie, I can’t spit their entire discography to you. I write, but I don’t do Def Poetry Jam type stuff. I absolutely hate politics. African masks and paintings don’t blanket the walls of my home. I’ve never been to The Motherland nor am I planning a great pilgrimage any time soon (I’ve visited family in Jamaica many times, though). My hair isn’t full of secrets, just full of kinks. And I shave my body as regularly as the next 20-something-year-old woman.
Now, unlike Solange, I have no problems being the assigned confidant for all curly-haired qualms. For once, a spontaneous decision I made actually turned out to be a good idea and caused an awesome ripple effect in my circle of friends. It feels good to be credited with the discovery and confirmation of natural beauty. But please refrain from making sweeping generalizations and asking questions that clearly put me and many natural-haired sisters in a wooly box. It’s just hair.
Stacy-Ann Ellis is a New York-based writer and photographer whose work has been featured in VIBE Magazine, VIBE Vixen, Hearts Converse, The Root and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/stassi_x).