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

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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.

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 »