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.

Goddess.

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

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Marra

Thank you for this! I have medium/almost shoulder length fine hair that I am trying to grow long after a “life crisis” pixie cut lol twists outs never work for me but I’ve finally found comfort in wearing my own hair in simple straight back cornrows, no hair added. It forces me to realize I am not my hair!

Lela

Thanks for this article. There is a wealth of info for the thick hair naturals, but us fine hair naturals seem to get lost in the mix. I haven’t been able to achieve a twist out with the volume I desire since most products seem to weigh my hair down, but the wash and go seems to be working well. I get the defined curls and as the days go by my hair tends to get bigger.

Panda
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 »
Nichelle

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.

TWA4now

Great Article!

TWA4now

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

Bf

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.

Naomi
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?

Lala

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

Diva

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.

Ashley

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.

Klee

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

Nicole

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 🙂

kristina

Yass!
I KNOW THIS FEELING! THIS IS MY HAIR!

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.

Panda

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.

Kay

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… Read more »
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