A woman’s hair is considered to be her crowning glory. It creates beauty, pride and confidence. It comes in all textures, colors and styles. Question is, what does your hair say about you? Whether it is short, long, kinky, straight, curly, natural, or in braids, it plays a big part in who you are and how you feel about yourself. Lately, there has been a rising trend where African American women are ceasing from using harsh chemicals to straighten their hair and are going all-natural, exposing their natural roots.
For people of color, hair tells a story that unwraps their past. A deep seethed issue arises when hair is discussed amongst African Americans. It dates back to the slave trade where Africans were sold into slavery. European and Arabian slave traders would shave the heads of their new slaves, ridding them of so-called germs and diseases. This was a complete violation for Africans because hair was valued; it identified their origins and their rich culture. “Given the importance of the hair to African, having the head shaved was an unspeakable crime; it was the first step the Europeans took to erase the slave’s culture and alter the relationship between the African and his or her hair” (11) wrote Ayana D. Byrd, author of Hair Story.
With the impact of the slave trade and adapting to a new environment, black slaves had to rely on products that would be ludicrous to the contemporary generation. No longer having their palm oil used for hairdressing, slaves used “household items such as butter, bacon fat or goose grease to shine and straighten hair and a butter knife heated in a can over a fire as a crude curling iron” (Byrd 17).
Hair epitomizes culture, identity and authenticity. With the desire to have straight and manageable hair, African American women slaughtered their hair with chemicals to alter their hair texture. A relaxer is a chemical treatment that turns kinky or tightly curled hair straight. It is a product that must be applied to the newly growth hair to avoid damage and breakage. Chemical relaxer poses as a potential danger to your hair and health because the “caustic nature of the chemicals can damage the hair and or the scalp and permanently alter the texture, length and volume of any future growth” (Byrd 141). Perm hair requires a lot of patience to obtain the desired look; maintenance can be costly proven in our current economy. However, it is less time consuming than natural hair.
“I had my first perm at 16 years old,” Shauna Allen said. “I remembered crying each time when my mom had to wash or comb my hair and if I didn’t sit still, I would get licks, it became unbearable and my mom decided she couldn’t manage it anymore so I secretly had my friend relax my hair which was the worst decision ever because I got plenty wounds to my scalp I was in pain,” Allen said jokingly playing with her short Afro because she is in the transitioning stage.
The beauty and hair industry changed for black women when the first self-made African American female millionaire, Madame CJ Walker invented a line of beauty hair products suited for women of color. Born as Sarah Breedlove in Louisiana, 1867, Walker “struggled with scalp disease and baldness” (61) A’Lelia Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter of Madame Walker and author of, On her Own Ground; The life and Times of Madame C.J. Walker, wrote. Walker invented the pressing comb also known as the hot comb. “This device was the first of its kind to be marketed by a black woman to other black women, and it completely changed the hair game,” according to Cheryl Thompson’s blog, Black women and identity: What’s hair got to do with it.
The status quo is that women of color are turning heads with their new trend of rocking their natural kinks and curls. Natural hair wasn’t socially accepted because “un-straightened looks that display black hair textures are generally perceived as too ethnic, too black or an aggressive challenge to middle-class American Values” (Byrd 177). The stigma on black hair made it impossible for women of color to embrace their natural hair because it was perceived as unacceptable and unattractive.
Usually, comedians use black hair as a form of humor. Whether it was about wigs falling off, weaves, and nappy hair or getting a perm, comedians used hair in their jokes that was usually kept a secret and was a touchy and sensitive topic. Linguistic anthropologist Lanita Jacobs-Huey and author of From the Kitchen to the Parlor, believed that comedians “expanded our understandings of how and why hair matters in African Americans’ everyday lives” (72).
The rising trend of transitioning from chemically relaxed hair to all-natural is now socially acceptable. On most street corners or in some college classrooms, you are likely to spot an African American woman either in their transitioning stage or wearing their natural hair. Reasons for embracing the natural look are for political reasons, fashion statements or the unwillingness to continue damage the scalp with harsh chemicals.
“I got tired of it and wanted to give my hair a break from all the chemicals and I’ve been natural for almost two years,” Nicole Foote said, a former student of John Jay College. “I love my natural hair even though it is time consuming, but it allows me to be versatile with my look,” Foote said as her eyes lit with excitement.
Beyond the political stigma that black hair is socially unacceptable and unattractive, women of color are uniting and they are doing so through hair. Sharing ideas and styles are bringing them together. There are tons of books, blogs, and YouTube videos, social network sites with pages devoted to natural hair all to educate those who desire to go natural and support and inspire those who have been on the journey of this growing trend.
Chemical Relaxer used to straighten hair
The process of chemically relaxing hair