There is no shortage of hangups when it comes to black women and hair. Most of us are conditioned from birth to believe our hair is problematic. But while the process of hair acceptance often centers on texture and length, my journey has centered on volume.
My hair is not thick. It never has been. My hair idols — Janelle Monae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Teyonah Parris — all have the high volume hair I never will. Popular braid and twist extension styles almost always involve adding hair for thickness as well as length. These styles are creative and gorgeous but they are, in their own way, pushing a beauty standard that is inaccessible to me. ‘Volume worship’ is right up there with texture and length worship.
I’ve been natural for 11 years now. When I started back in 2006 twist outs and the twist n’ curl were the most popular styles. Both aimed to create a looser curl pattern and give the appearance of volume. I tried both dozens of times, but my hair was indifferent. As soon as the twists came loose and the rollers were undone my strands shrugged off my efforts, returning to their cottony, undefined comfort zone.
After several years of almost perpetual frustration, I came to my peace, realizing that these styles were just no good for my hair no matter how many tutorials I tried. Instead my hair loved to be woven and bound in styles like cornrows and small braids.
I started doing box braids using my own hair, and it thrived. Every 4 to 6 weeks when I took the style down I was met with more length and a healthy scalp. Maintenance was minimal — daily spritz and a deep conditioner every couple weeks. Trimming was easy because with my hair in braids I could isolate and eliminate thrashed ends.
Box braids aren’t my only look. An undefined ‘box braid out’ is a favorite. I also rock a mean defined wash and go.
But my box braids are my go-to. And they’ve become more than hair care, now they are ritual. Every 6 weeks I travel to my Haitian-Nigerian braider in Crown Heights. We talk about relationships, business and motherhood as she patiently sections off and binds my strands.
Even as my has hair thrived I’ve noticed that not many women my age wear their hair like mine. At this point I’m used to being the only black woman rocking box braids when I go places.
Enter bell hooks (who stylizes her name in all common letters.) I watched a YouTube video of her speaking at an event and took immediate notice of her hair — long, slender braids sectioned and spread all over her head. I was struck by the nakedness of her presentation. There were no styles or tricks to conjure up more length or volume. Just a woman and her hair. I would soon learn that, like me, braids (using her own hair) are one of hooks’ go-to styles.
The natural hair movement is heavily focused on ‘the slay’. After years of being told that our hair is not good enough there is freedom and catharsis in celebrating a beauty that was lost.
But there’s a quieter element of the natural hair movement that appeals to me. It is the idea that a black woman can love, care for and accept her natural hair as is — thick or thin, long or short, tight or loose — without hiding. bell hooks represents that for me, and that is why she is hair goals.