By Raven Tyler
For many women this word is bigger than its four letters, especially for black women. For some, hair can create an identity, confidence or swagger that one has never witnessed before. While for others, hair exists as a canvas to be able to express creativity. Long hair, short hair ,braided hair, weave, bleached, natural, or even relaxed, black women can rock it all.
As Black women we have always had the unique ability to alter our hair whenever we choose. As little girls, we were forced to sit between our mother’s legs with tears in our eyes from the pain of our mother’s comb raking through our hair as she combed the knots and naps out of our heads. From our youth, we were taught that our hair must be laid and slayed at all times, and that it is important to keep it maintained.
However, the ascension of the natural hair movement is starting to put to rest these old ideals of what is “presentable” black hair.
The natural hair movement originated in the 2000s, and has inspired women of African descent to keep their natural curls and Afro-textured hair regardless of the European standards that are portrayed as, “beautiful,” by traditional media stereotypes.
For many black women with naturally curly hair, going natural and embracing our curls is unequivocally more of a political statement than an aesthetic one. We grow up being told that our hair is, “unprofessional,” and are constantly brainwashed to believe that we must relax or straighten our hair to obtain a desired career or to attend an important event.
This perpetual social stress on black women not only forced them to assimilate their hair into a society that deemed it unworthy but it also had damaging effects on the strength of black hair.
As a result of societal pressures, relaxer creams that contain alkali, ammonium, and lye were commonly used for black people with curly or coily hair to help straighten it. From young ages, mothers relaxed their daughters hair to “manage” it better. Since relaxers contain lye, they can potentially damage hair and scalp, and cause hair loss. The process also leaves the hair weak, brittle and liable to breakage. Relaxers may even burn skin and lead to permanent hair loss. With all these pejorative consequences that are arise from continuing to take part in this social norm, as black women must now ask ourselves why even consider this as a method to obtain beauty?
“I wanted healthier hair and to see what my curl pattern looked like, because I had been getting relaxers since I was in the second grade, “ said naturalista Kayla Diallo,a junior multimedia student at North Carolina A&T State University. “I was definitely influenced by Youtubers because when I went natural, it was not quite as popular as it is now. It changed my life by making me more conscious of what I was putting in and on my body. It also taught me resilience because I was teased when I first began wearing my natural hair out, but now that my hair is flourishing naturally, the people that had something to say back then can barely make a ponytail without struggling,”
Other ways that some women try to achieve healthier hair is through transition or the “big chop.” Transitioning is simply growing the relaxer out of one’s hair by getting regular trims until it is all grown out. The big chop is completely cutting off all of the relaxed hair, which could mean shaving one’s head for some people.
While it may seem rudimentary, whether it is transitioning, or getting the big chop, changing your hair path can be a hard and emotional journey for women who are accustomed to their hair being straight.
Over the Summer, I got my second big chop. My hair was damaged from too many trips to the Dominican hair salons along with overdoing it with braids without letting my hair breathe. It was a taxing decision because my hair had so much length that people started to know me for my afro. This feeling that i experienced this summer is not uncommon for many black girls with unconventional hair journeys. I found myself worrying about how others viewed me instead of focusing on what I needed to do for myself.
After chopping my hair off again, fortunately, I began to like the short cut and decided to keep it for awhile. Now, I have decided to let my hair grow back completely so that it will be healthier and stronger when it does.
Being natural is unique and special because everyone has a different hair texture and curl pattern. The Natural Hair Movement has also encouraged and inspired younger girls of color to wear their natural hair and be proud of it. This is the first generation in decades where the public perception of natural hair seems to be more positive. Girls are actively wearing their natural hair, regardless of the curl pattern in higher numbers than recently reported.
“I think it is great that women are deciding to embrace the natural hair that they were born with and deciding to make healthier choices for their body,” .stated Ali’ce Batten, a junior Social work student at North Carolina A&T State University. “ It shines a light of positivity on the African American community, our women specifically, and I think that this can only boost young black girl’s self esteem and confidence. My only concern is that this seems to have started out as a trend, and I do not want it to die out like other trends have.”
“I went natural because I wanted an Afro. I always wanted one but my mother did not want to have to deal with my natural hair. By the 7th grade, she started letting me do my own hair, and I was free to make some decisions, so I decided to cut out the perm,” Batten further states on her journey to becoming a naturalista.
The power in hair seems to inescapable for Black Women. In 2016, 13 year old, South African student, Zulaikha Patel, led a protest against her school for banning “natural, untamed” hair being worn at school. Obviously, this is a form of discrimination. Patel and her classmates held a fierce demonstration that led to not only a change in the school policy, but an inquiry into allegations of racism at the school and still in society, as well.
While some black women still purchase and use relaxers, the sales are down for them and millions of women across the nation and world have embraced their natural hair. Many natural hair products are flourishing and bringing money into black owned businesses, such as, Carol’s Daughter and Creme of Nature. Natural hair is something everyone should embrace as a way to take pride in the uniqueness that we all possess.