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GO NATURAL OR NOT?

When people ask me how long it takes for me to straighten my hair, I can tell they expect me to say, "Oh, 45 minutes, maybe an hour."

But when I tell them it takes a whopping four hours to get my hair from crazy curly to sleek and straight, they look at me like I'm insane.

For people with anything other than African hair, it can be hard to understand why African-American women invest so much time and energy in their hair. Some people see it as complete vanity and conceit, while others just see it as a silly waste of time. In a society that holds straight hair as the ideal, it can be hard to walk around proudly with the hair nature gave you.

Among my African-American and mixed race friends, I am not alone. I'm not the only one who has been asked, "Why do you always keep your hair up? You look so much prettier with it down!" by people who don't understand that the slightest amount of humidity will make me look like I've been electrically shocked. I'm not the only one who has been asked if my hair is fake, or why I don't wash it every day. African-Americans females are judged constantly for taking such meticulous care of their hair.

In conversations with other girls at St. Petersburg High who have hair similar to mine, I gained more perspective on how to go about living with African hair in a society that seems to reject it.

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AMANI HOLDER, JUNIOR

Have you ever felt the pressure to have straight hair?

Yes, everyone around me has straight hair.

What do you think about the "going natural" movement that is currently trending?

I think it's awesome. I also think some people don't understand the amount of work that goes into going natural and maintaining healthy hair.

What is the most ignorant thing anyone has ever said about your hair?

Does it soak up water like a sponge?

What is the longest amount of time it has ever taken to do your hair?

Probably 12 hours. It used to take forever to get my hair braided.

* * *

JAILA JOHNSON, SENIOR

Have you ever felt the pressure to have straight hair?

Yes, definitely! Our society pretty much caters to having straight, manageable hair, so anything that does not fit that description is seen as unruly. When you think of society's perception of beauty, you usually don't think of someone with curly hair! I wrote my entire EE (4,000 word extended essay) on a related topic, how cultures with African origins (specifically Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latina women) feel the pressure to suppress their African ancestry, usually by straightening their hair. For me personally, I sometimes get the urge to straighten it just to see the length. Curly hair usually shrinks up so much when it dries!

What do most people not understand about African-American hair?

A LOT! The fact that curly hair is so unique, it is like its own person. It's SO much harder to manage than straight hair because the curlier your hair is, the weaker/more prone to damage it is. The fact that there is no such thing as "nappy" hair. That you don't have to be "mixed" to have loose curls or long hair. That hair is super important as (part of the) culture . . . we will sit (at) a hair dresser's for hours getting our hair done because traditionally it has been a symbol of pride and status. The list goes on.

Least favorite thing about your hair?

My hair gets frizzy, frizzy, frizzy, but I'm learning to love it.

* * *

ELEA MCLAUGHLIN, JUNIOR

Have you ever felt pressure to have straight hair?

Yes, because most of the people I'm around have straight hair. But I have never chemically relaxed my hair, mostly because my mom wouldn't let me.

How long does it take for you to care for your dreads?

Once every few weeks, I have to take a hair gel and twist them one by one from the roots. It can take several hours, but on any other day, it takes almost no time for me to do my hair.

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