Curls, kinks and coils, oh my! The natural hair phenomenon is sweeping the nation; over the past few years, hair relaxer sales have decreased by at least 26 percent. It seems that African-American women are ditching their relaxers and chemical straightening kits to embrace their naturally-curly hair textures.
But what exactly does “going natural” mean? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word natural as “not having any extra substances or chemicals added: not containing anything artificial.” The meaning of the phrase may differ from one woman to the next, but most agree on this: natural hair is hair that is no longer straightened through the use of chemical relaxers. The hair is as close to its original state and texture as possible.
Donning an afro and natural styles like it is no new concept of course. Natural hair was especially popular back in the 1960’s and 70’s. According to “The History of Natural Black Hair,” an article published by Bustle.com, the afro was about making a political statement. Within that statement was the goal of reclaiming black power and reiterating the message that black is beautiful.
But why are afros, rolls, and two-strand twists making such a comeback among black women? Why now? And how does this new wave of “naturalness” differ from that of the 60’s and 70’s?
“I feel that the reason people wanna go natural now is because they just wanna be themselves and feel more comfortable in their own skin,” said beauty and natural hair blogger Jasmine Spells. “As African-Americans, we’re known to get perms [or relaxers] because our hair is ‘nappy.’ Our hair is not nappy!”
“I feel that people are now seeing how healthy and how pretty their hair is being natural,” she said.
With the decision to ban chemical straightening agents from the hair came the hopes of having healthier tresses altogether. Another catalyst in the shift toward natural textures was the want by many women to remove previous damage to their hair caused by relaxers, hair extensions and heat.
“I wore a lot of weaves growing up,” said Shnequa Mixon, who has been natural for almost three years now. “I just kind of got tired of always having to put in a new weave to cover up my hair, so I just cut it all off. I just wanted to start over.”
Unlike maintaining relaxed or straight hair, naturally-curly hair needs to be tended to much more often. “What You Should Know About Natural Hair” by Blacknaps.org suggests that natural hair be handled delicately and moisturized daily, as curly hair tends to lose moisture faster than straight hair.
“Trying to figure out what to do with my head was the most difficult part,” said Akosua Wiafe. “It’s time consuming and my hair never dries. It needs about two days.”
Although styling hair in a way that’s flattering when dealing with uniquely-textured hair can be difficult, many women are still opting to rock their natural locks.
“I think that people are starting to realize that we don’t have to submit our hair to a certain standard,” Mixon said. “I think people are starting to embrace that their hair grows towards the sky. It doesn’t fall.”
Not only has the natural hair phenomenon affected the way African-American women view their hair, but it has also affected the hair care industry and the number of products available for those with ethnic hair. A number of hair care brands like L’Oreal, Pantene, Crème of Nature and Dark and Lovely have created collections tailored specifically for curly and natural hair textures.
“No one is really losing here,” said Tai Carter-Roman, a hair stylist in the Atlanta area who has experience doing natural hair. “It [natural hair] has only affected the stubborn hair companies; the companies that only used to make relaxers. Now, they have products that cater to all hair types and textures.”
Roman also reiterated that this new wave of naturalness simply isn’t fueled by fascination or the “black is beautiful” mantra.
“Women are starting to realize that with a flat iron and a blow dryer, they can achieve the relaxed look without all the chemicals,” she said. “It’s more of a health concern thing now.”
No matter the reason for going natural or the negative stigmas that come with it, African-American women have found a love for their kinky, curly hair like never before. Whether it’s a passing phase or one that will stick, it’s sure to have a lasting impact on the traditional standards of African-American beauty.
“I love my hair ‘cuz I’m happy to be nappy,” said Wiafe with a giggle. “It grows out of my head. I have no choice but to love it. If you don’t love it, you’re stuck with it, so you might as well learn to.”