Going & Staying Natural

For some of us, it is easy for us to wrap our heads around the idea of going natural. Big chopping, transitioning, and getting to know our new found natural locks is exciting rather than intimidating. However, for some of us, it seems like a harder task to stay natural. Why is it so difficult to stay natural once you have gotten over the hurdle of the big chop? Once you go back to your perming ways, does it change your view of yourself or the natural experience all together? Patricia Miles, a natural diva 5 times over, answers these and many more questions about going natural and why it can sometimes be hard to stay natural.

Youngfabulous&natural: So let’s start with how many times you have gone natural?

Patricia Miles: 5 times. (laughs)

YFN: Would you like to elaborate on that?

PM: Well the first time I big chopped was 3 years ago and I cut it all off because I was tired of being in the salon all day. I just wanted an independence from weave. I took my weave out and I didn’t know what to do with my hair and I had to go to work the next day and I called out of work, washed my hair, and said ‘welp; I’m bald’.

YFN: The reason you decided to big chop and go natural the first time was to gain freedom from weave and the salon; but throughout the years of bouncing back and forth between perms and natural hair have those reasons changed or expanded?

PM: Yes. Every time I perm my hair I remember the original reason I cut my hair and the original reason was to gain independence from weave. I had a big dependence on weave and I think black women in general have this big dependence on hair in general. They think that their hair is what makes them and growing up that’s all that it was; your hair is you. So that was the initial reason. Every time I would perm it I would get so angry and ask myself why I was doing it and realize I was just doing it to conform. The whole purpose of going natural was to appreciate me naturally because I am never going to be anyone else but me. That feeling became stronger and stronger after every time I permed my hair. Then I would cut it a week later.

YFN: Well now you have a buzz cut. Do you think, no matter the length, that you will keep it natural?

PM: Yes, because when I first went natural I didn’t have any goals. I wanted to appreciate myself as a black woman but I didn’t have any hair goals. Now I realize it is a healthier lifestyle that goes along with it. I also read something that talked about having hair goals which I didn’t have in the past and really understanding that I need to feel sexy all the time. Do I want to have a short crop cut or long hair or locks? So for right now it seems like I will be keeping it short and if I want to lock it up I will do that then. But goals are important.

YFN: Do you think when you are natural, oppose to when you have a perm, that you have more racial pride?

PM: No I don’t because you have a lot of people out there who are poets and righteous that don’t know anything about their history and they just know bits and pieces of it. I think it’s very shallow to say I’m more black than you are because my hair is natural. That is not the only thing that constitutes to black pride. It’s a restriction I feel like. Everyone has their own reasons [for being natural or permed]. Not only that but hair is a fashion statement; it’s not just cultural anymore. I mean it is unfortunate that all cultures have conformed to the European standards of beauty. However, especially in the African American community, even if we are getting a straight weave, we [are] bumping it in some kind of way, we [are] crimping it in some kind of way… it’s highlighted. We have our own style so to restrict it because your hair is natural is bologna.

YFN: Do you feel like natural hair makes a statement? When you see a woman walking down the street with her hair natural, no matter the length or texture, what do you think?

PM:  I feel like they are comfortable because we are living in a society where, and it’s always been that way, where people don’t understand why they got their initial perm or why their hair was ever straightened to begin with. I think it’s a bold statement when you decide to big chop, you’re wearing your hair in an afro or a twist out. It’s a crown of glory and you can’t blend perfection with weave.

YFN: I hear natural hair being referred to as nappy and it has such a negative connotation. If someone asked you why your hair is so nappy, would you take offense?

PM: I wouldn’t take offense to that because I know some people are just ignorant because the real term nappy if you look it up comes from a 19th century term that was used to describe a diaper or a napkin used for babies. So I don’t take offense, I just know some people are ignorant. I have gotten that from family and friends. The longest I have gone without cutting my natural hair was about 8 months and I wore two strand twists or a little fro and people would say my hair was nappy. And I would respond ‘no, it’s just my hair’.

YFN: I hear a lot that going natural is not a big deal and should not be too politicize because it is just hair. Do you think it is just hair or it goes deeper than that?

PM: It definitely goes deeper than that. If it didn’t go so deep than why do we straighten our children’s hair? And when I ask parents that, they don’t have an answer. They say it makes it easier to manage. But you never took the time to know your own hair. They don’t understand that it really is a psychological shackle. It’s deeper than just hair because if that is the case, go to an interview with an afro. Or go to an interview with cornrows; versus going to an interview with a blown out hairstyle or a doobie or a pulled back bun. [You will get] a very different reaction. Having worked in corporate America for four years, I can tell you that there is a definite difference in the way people approach me or how they treat me. And I am not saying it is always demeaning but there is a difference.

YFN: Do you feel that in the African American community you are judged a lot more by your hair? Does the African American community judge natural hair more harshly than other races?

PM: No. White and Hispanic people are more intrigued and want to know more. They always want to touch my hair (laughs).  But I just think black people are afraid to be themselves and they really need to reflect on who they are and who they are trying to be. When you are perming your hair, who are you trying to be? Because a lot of the time people aren’t just making a fashion statement, because I mentioned they earlier. A lot of times they are trying to be someone. Are you trying to be Beyonce or Naomi Cambell? Whose mold are you trying to fit into? In the African American community when they say your hair is nappy or you’re trying to be so pro black, I say no, I am trying to accept me the way that I am. The world has already thrown me ways to hate myself. I am never going to conform to anyone’s standards of beauty ever, so why not accept me in my most natural state possible.

YFN: The term going natural is a hot button topic in the African American community. A lot of celebrities are going natural and the show “Reed Between the Lines” on BET starring Tracee Ellis Ross portrays a family with all natural daughters. Do you think that is positive reinforcements or it is just a fad that will be a thing of the past like jerry curls?

PM: Well I’ve never seen that show but it does seem like it is positive reinforcements. What I do find and what I have even read in the latest issue of Essence magazine was the color black people. That also contributes to the hair of black people.

YFN: Well it is a blended family and one daughter is fair skinned like Tracee Ellis Ross and the other is darker skinned. It does show both sides.

PM: It does sound like a very good show that does provide positive reinforcements. And people need to know that what we have is the best. Again, the world has trained us to hate ourselves so positive reinforcements are necessary. There is a struggle for every shade of person. There is the fair skinned natural that feels like everyone hates them and they have been through some trying things. And then there is the darker skinned sista that is scarred to be who they are because they feel like they have to be accepted in some type of way; so positive reinforcements are necessary.

YFN: So do you think it is a fad?

PM: I don’t think it’s a fad. I think it is a revolution. I’m not sure in regards to men how much of a revolution it is, but I know for the women it is a revolution. It is like an awakening; a renaissance where we just really are coming out and learning to appreciate our self and realizing we will never be anyone else so we only have to be us. Even with “Black Girls Rock” on BET, we do rock. We are the best. At first it seemed taboo in the 80’s and 90’s. Like oh gosh you’re being black in public! As if your skin is not black when you’re outside (giggles). I feel like now it’s more of a pride thing that we are black and we are beautiful. I think it is progressive not a fad.

YFN: Do you have any advice for anyone out there that may be newly natural or natural for a year or more and may be considering going back to perms?

PM: I would say to that person that is thinking about perming their hair, ask yourself why you are perming your hair. What are you going to do with it? Is it because it is hard to manage or you don’t have time? How did you get to know your hair? Are you having an esteem issue because a lot of the time it is an esteem issue. To repeat myself again, the world will give you different ways to hate yourself and for me it is a personal thing. It is a black pride thing and really it is identifying me. I will never be anyone else. It is something you really need to identify. Why do I feel like I look better this way? Is it because you are used to seeing yourself this way? What is wrong with [you] in your natural state? And for those newly naturals, hang in there and be patient. Natural hair takes a lot of time [to get to know your hair]. Don’t be a product junkie. Really get to know your hair. Be intimate with it. You will fall in love with it.

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2 comments

  1. Wow I love this interview. You asked some GREAT questions and she had some EXCELLENT answers. I agree with her. I think “going natural” isn’t a fad, but a revolution. I’ve had friends that were natural and only 1 woman in my family. I originally went natural because of economic reasons. Reading this interview made me really think of why I was relaxing my hair….I guess I’d have to say the main reason was because my 1st relaxer was at age 3. So it’s all I’ve ever known. Even when I was relaxed…I’ve always known that I didn’t want my daughter’s (1/2 black & Indian and 1/2 Puerto Rican) hair straighten or to come near chemicals. So reflecting on my transitioning journey (6 months in) has kept me focused on my goals to becoming completely natural 🙂

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  2. Your hair was permed for the first time at age 3?! That says a lot about our society. My hair was permed fairly young as well and I truly believe that took away my chance to get to know my hair and love it as a part of me and to not see it as a flaw that needs to be ironed out. You are such a positive role model for your daughters who can take value in aspects of themselves that go far beyond hair and understand that their hair is simply another thing that makes them who they are but its not who they are. It so very important for young girls to have that in their world. If I was brought up in a society where natural hair is normal and permed hair is uncommon, I think I would have been natural from the start!

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