The natural hair craze has been taking the world of Black hair care by storm. Over the past couples years I’ve seen the dialogue and topics surrounding this movement range from: ‘celebrating women who’ve gone natural’, ‘how awesome it is to be natural’, to ‘more sisters need to be natural’, and most recently, ‘I’m tired of hearing about women who’ve gone natural.’ The growing number of sisters transitioning from relaxed to au naturale, has inspired a strong sisterhood of within the haircare community, yet it has also spawned slight divisions between those who opt not to stick with chemically-treated hair.
In the mix of all this, I think there is something being overlooked. Instead of debating about relaxed vs. natural hair, we should discuss how this movement is bringing about an important cultural change in attitudes towards our hair.
For starters, my hair is natural. But not in the commonly held sense of what that means. I usually wear it straight, although it’s not with the aid of chemicals. My Sunday afternoons are often spent washing, sectioning, blow drying and flat ironing. And through my adolescents and college years I had every hairstyle you can imagine from braids, sew-ins, highlights, to a mohawk–some styles inspired by convenience, others impulsive experiments of self-expression. Yet, I never thought of this as a big deal because I’ve worn my hair natural most of my life–before it was trendy. If anything it was a challenge.
Growing up my mother never permed my hair–much to the dismay of aunts, cousins, and hairdressers. Yet she cared for my hair. Weekends were spent over the sink or tub, washing hair that curled up into tight coils, sometimes blown out into a soft cotton like fro, followed by braids, berets or every once in a while a hot comb pressed it straight.
And although my hair was healthy and maintained, at times, family members and others made it seem like my mother was breaking some holy covenant that mandated all Black girls must be primed and permed or suffer the kinky consequences. Sometimes my peers added to this as well. I’ll never forget, going to school on picture day in fourth grade with a fresh press, only for it to become a frizzy coif by the time the bell rang due to the humid weather that day (common natural hair dilemma). Other girls in my class, hair in bouncing bobs or slicked down ponytails, didn’t get why my hair had changed so quickly. Upon explanation, they wondered how my mother could be so cruel. No perm, at age nine? Blasphemy.
That was then.
Now, with so many sisters sporting naturals hairstyles, I can’t help but wish it was like that when I was growing up. With natural hair options becoming more socially accepted and popular, it’s offering young girls and women a variety of examples, inspirations, and resources on how to take care of their hair. They don’t have to feel pressure to wear their hair relaxed, straight, or weaved in order to fit a certain ideal. They’re blessed to grow up in an era where we as women can simply view a youtube channel on styling natural hair and choosing the right products. This is quite a change from growing up in the 90s. Of course there were women with natural hair, but it wasn’t as widely accepted. Most Black salons expected clientele to relax their hair, and it was hard to find services if you didn’t fit the bill.
This change within our culture and attitudes about hair is what I believe is missing from the conversation surrounding the natural hair movement taking place. It’s not about condemning one hairstyle choice or pigeonholing another. Our choice of hairstyle isn’t always political. Whether you wear your hair kinky, curly, or straight, or even if you choose to pop in a few tracks here and there, it doesn’t automatically make you more self-loving or self-loathing. We all have different ways to feel beautiful and I don’t advocate for either hair care choice. I believe healthy hair that makes you feel great is what’s most important. Instead of debating on what’s better, let’s applaud the fact that we now have options in hair care that will inspire the next generations of Black girls to embrace their hair in ways that suit their preferences, and not imposed social ideals.
Photo Credit/Model: Madisin Bradley