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.


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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. 

My box braids

Box braids aren’t my only look. An unde­fined ‘box braid out’ is a favorite. I also rock a mean defined wash and go. 

My unde­fined ‘box braid out.’

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.

bell hooks and Glo­ria Steinem

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. 

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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31 Comments on "Why bell hooks is My Natural Hair Goals"

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My prayers turned to bit­ter­ness when i went nat­u­ral… i had nev­er thought about vol­ume and my only issue before that was length. I went nat­u­ral in 2011 and the peo­ple that inspired me had thick volum­nous hair and when they did twists you couldn’t see their scalp (now i vivid­ly remem­ber not lik­ing my mum doing my hair because she did’t know how to add vol­ume so i looked a lit­tle bald when she did my corn­rows or braids, but for some rea­son i was nev­er that both­ered enough to pray about it… by pray… i mean blame God… Read more »

Thank you so much for this arti­cle! I also have fine hair and strug­gled for years to achieve thick­ness after grav­i­tat­ing to most­ly images of thick-haired nat­u­ral wom­end. Now I’m back to my good ole’ mini twists with a sim­ple rou­tine, and I am lov­ing it.


Great Arti­cle!


Beau­ti­ful arti­cle! I always want­ed to try box braids…I do twist but I now have the courage to try it. #hairtwinin­ef­fect


What a beau­ti­ful arti­cle

Naomi L.

Hey dif­fer­ent Naomi here lol, but I agree who heart­ed­ly with this, I just wished it wouldn’t be so hard to sift through a whole bunch of nat­u­ral haired web­sites to find low den­si­ty and fine haired nat­u­rals.

I just start­ed doing mini twists with­out exten­sions and my hair has been thriv­ing. Hope­ful­ly this spring i’ll rock a wash n go for the first time. I got col­lege it’s reaaal hec­tic.

I am so glad I saw your post! Fine haired peo­ple are clear­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed when it comes to nat­u­ral hair an nat­u­ral hair care. It did take me a while to real­ize that as my hair kept grow­ing it would nev­er get thick­er and the light would keep shin­ing through them lol. I got tired of using exten­sions though. I felt bad about hav­ing to add an afro puff exten­sion to add more vol­ume. Why wasn’t my own hair ever enough? Your post and pic­tures give us a clear and encour­ag­ing exam­ple of how we can feel com­fort­able with what… Read more »
Diane rasbury

Real­ly? Too many words on a super­fi­cial sub­ject. As if this defines you.

Felina Femenina

This site is about hair. If you think dis­cussing hair is super­fi­cial, unnec­es­sary and over­in­flat­ing some­thing that shouldn’t mat­ter, what made you even click on a site called Black Girl Long Hair?


Great arti­cle. I enjoyed read­ing it. Remind­ed of the old bglh and why i kept com­ing back here.
Wel­come back Leila.


Thank you thank you thank you for this. My green eyed mon­ster is ignit­ed by twists. I see wom­en with big beau­ti­ful twists and twist outs and wish I could. I have nev­er been con­fi­dent enough to wear braids with­out exten­tions. I’m gonna give it shot though.


Excel­lent arti­cle! I think even. With nat­u­ral hair we still fight with it to make it “accept­able” I’ve been try­ing to wor­ry less about slick­ing down my edges or work­ing my twist into a neat bun or style.

Cindy Mindy

Oh lady… So nice to hear from some­one who has fin­er hair as well! You are speak­ing my lan­guage. Kudos on this post.


I miss doing my own hair in box braids, in going to do that this week­end, love­ly style and it kept my hair safe


Leila, I’m so glad you’re back to writ­ing on this site. I remem­ber the blogspot, lol, and I used to love all of your arti­cles and writ­ing. Less guest posters and more you! Take us back to those sun­day reflec­tions on this nat­u­ral ish :-)



Victoria Owl
I real­ly enjoyed this arti­cle. belle hooks is amaz­ing wow. I remem­ber study­ing her in col­lege. I wish more wom­en and teenagers wore their hair this way. This sim­ple low manip­u­la­tion hair­style is so prac­ti­cal and allows the hair to flour­ish. I retain all of my length doing box braids with my own hair. Plus there are so many ways to style the braids.  I tried styling my teenage fam­i­ly mem­bers hair in sim­ple box braids and or twist and they refuse. They rather style their hair every day/night, caus­ing so much stress on the strands just for it to… Read more »
Anonymously In Love

The­se braids are indeed best for length reten­tion but at the same time they’re not aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing so I can total­ly under­stand where your rel­a­tives are com­ing from. They either come across as too child like, (which explains why a teen look­ing to appear more grown up and sophis­ti­cat­ed would avoid them) or if they look any­thing like bell hooks’ braids… look like pover­ty.


wow… the arti­cle was try­ing to uplift peo­ple with thin hair to wear their hair in braids or styles that typ­i­cal­ly make the non-exis­tent vol­ume to wear braids… and you just say “child­like” and “pover­ty”? which i assume you wouldn’t have said if their hair was thick­er and didn’t show scalp.

Victoria Owl
See, if you are an adult, peo­ple with this type of men­tal­i­ty are the rea­sons why some chil­dren per­ceive the­se types of hair­styles the way that they do. It starts with the mind. Now if you’re speak­ing about one’s pref­er­ences, espe­cial­ly when it comes to shap­ing the face, then sure I can under­stand why some would not want to wear cer­tain hair­styles. But to say that bell’s hair looks like pover­ty? I think that has a lot to do with one’s per­spec­tive, their mind­set. As long as her hair and scalp are clean and healthy, let her be. You don’t… Read more »
Victoria Owl

Oops sor­ry I meant *bell*

Patricia St.Fleur

I braid my hair all the time like that.I expe­ri­ence the most hair growth when i braid my hair the same way bell’s hair is.Sometimes i put the braids up in a bun,or i wear a head scarf in dif­fer­ent styles and when they get frizzy i either lay them down with gel or wear a wig.Its also eas­ier when i wash and treat my hair and i get wayyyy less break­age.


Total­ly agree. Thank you for rais­ing a less com­mon­ly con­tem­plat­ed aspect of this whole nat­u­ral hair move­ment thing. Your last para­graph sums it up well. To me what bell hooks and any­one else like her is doing, sums up (true) con­fi­dence and (com­plete) nat­u­ral­ness.

Because of Reasons

I real­ly enjoyed this post, Leila: great blend of hair talk, per­son­al reflec­tion and social analy­sis. Plus it fea­tures the great bell hooks!

katren moss

may­be it’s the pic­ture but they look like reg­u­lar braids that need to be refreshed/re-done. The­se are plats that my moth­er used put in my hair on the week­ends to let my hair breathe and get away from the pony­tail holders/rubber bands.

Victoria Owl
bell’s hair looks fine to me. Not every hair tex­ture can main­tain the “neat” look for very long. My sister’s soft, fluffy, cot­ton like hair will only stay neat for a few hours even in box braids but that doesn’t make it messy or unkempt, that’s just the way her hair is. Her hair retains both length and mois­ture a lot longer with box braids. It’s like every few months her braids get longer and thick­er. Yes we can use gel and make her braids tight but she does not like gel and tight braids will cause break­age at the roots. … Read more »