I've been "napptural" for 20 years now, but I had never heard the word before a few weeks ago. Here's an informal definition that I lifted from somebody else's blog:
Napptural is a black woman who proudly wears her hair in it's natural curly, coily, or woolly state.
I've been spending an inordinate amount of time now at the newest addition to my list of links: www.nappturality.com, a site for black people who embrace their "nappy" hair. There are some awesome hairstyles on there that I'll soon be trying, and I'm loving being a part of a whole community of women who are proud of their natural glory, since napptural women often feel very alone in their choices.
For all of us, and especially for women, our appearance plays a big part in how we are judged by others. Making counter-cultural decisions about what we think is beautiful and how we want to look is not encouraged by mainstream society. For black women, this becomes a huge issue. Believing that you look great just the way God made you is very liberating.
For anyone out there who is unclear about what the heck I'm talking about, the continuation of this post explains from the very beginning what it is that the vast majority of black women in America do to their hair, and what it means to be a part of the minority that doesn't.
OK, this is what it's about.
99.9% of the time, when you see a black woman whose hair looks like this,
or even this,
she has done one of three things to get it to look that way:
- She used a chemical hair relaxer to permanently straighten the hair (this is the most common method). The hair will remain straight, but as it grows, the new growth will retain its natural texture, making it necessary to get touch-ups, usually every six weeks, so that the relaxer can be applied to the new growth. Chemical relaxers are damaging to the hair and can also cause scalp irritation and burns, hair loss, and other health problems.
- She used a metal pressing comb, heated up as hot as an iron, to temporarily straighten the hair. Pressed hair will stay straight until it comes in contact with moisture, at which point it will revert to its natural texture. Women with pressed hair must take care not to get their hair wet, so they must scrupulously cover every bit of their hair when showering or swimming or on rainy days. Their hair will also need to be pressed again any time they wash it, so typically they will not wash it themselves, but instead will have it washed at the hair salon every couple of weeks. Even if the hair is not washed, exposure to the humidity in the air will cause it to get a little bit frizzier every day, so frequent salon visits are a way of life. Pressing also weakens the hair and can cause breakage, but some women prefer it to using harsh chemicals that go through the entire body.
- She has extensions, which are strands of human or synthetic hair that are weaved onto her own hair. This added hair can be bone-straight, wavy, braided, or whatever other style the woman wants. As the hair grows and more of her natural hair can be seen at the roots, the extensions have to be removed and new ones put in.
With either method 1 or method 2 (and probably method 3 also, if human hair is used), once the hair is straightened it can be curled with rollers or curling irons to achieve just about any mainstream hairstyle.
There is infinite diversity among human beings, so there are a few black women who have naturally straight or almost straight hair, but most of us do not. When black women do not use one of the three hair-altering methods above, our hair typically looks like this,
(I doubt that that's her natural color, though)
There are ways that black women braid, twist, and otherwise arrange their hair without changing its true texture. And sometimes they make even more elaborate styles, but they're not going to make it look like Beyonce Knowles unless they do something harsh. (I'm told that Beyonce uses the pressing comb; if she used chemical relaxers on top of all the bleaching and dyeing, she would have no hair left.)
Some people appreciate the beauty of natural black hair, but some dislike it, and they dislike it loudly. "Nappy", "tore up", "unprofessional", "when are you gonna do something about that stuff?", etc. I had an employer once who required me to "do something" about my hair in order to work in her office. Rather than undo my braids and straighten my hair, I wore a wig to work.
There is a racist slant to this line of thinking. Black women are told that they look bad unless they force their hair to look the way white people's hair looks naturally. For black men, the short afro has become accepted as completely mainstream, but for women, racism and sexism join together to tell her that she has been "cursed" (that's the actual word some people use!) with "bad hair." Many black people have internalized this standard. Napptural women face much more criticism from other black people than they do from the white majority, many of whom are clueless about the whole subject.
Fortunately, the tide is slowly beginning to turn. Even though most black women still relax their hair, more and more women are beginning to embrace their God-given beauty.