Since the invention of the hot comb, women of color have been straightening their hair for centuries. In the African-American community, having long straight hair was an accomplishment—the longer and straighter the hair the better. Females of all ages would have their hair either chemically or heat straightened because it was easier to maintain. Straight hair was considered to be “good hair” and beautiful, while natural kinky curls were known as nappy, and undesirable.
In the last few years things have changed. Women are beginning to abandon chemically and heat straightened hair and are embracing their natural curls. In the African-American community this is known as the Natural Hair Movement. Participants range from Michelle Obama to young women on the University of West Georgia campus.
In 2009, comedian Chris Rock released a comedic documentary entitled Good Hair, which challenges the theory of what constitutes good hair in the African-American community. The film explores what is considered to be acceptable and the extents women take to obtain such approval. Rock interviews several celebrities, beauticians, barbers as well as others in the hair care industry.
Joyce Smith, a student at UWG, has recently decided to commit to the movement. Smith has been natural for approximately five months.
“I wanted to go natural so my hair would be healthy,” said Smith. “I’m also an athlete so it’s hard to keep straight hair when I sweat all the time.”
The first change Smith made is what the natural world calls “The Big Chop,” which entails cutting off all chemically straightened or heat and color damaged hair. Smith cut off two inches during the process. An alternative to the cut is transitioning, which allows the relaxer to grow out on its own.
Additional steps naturals take include taking vitamins such as prenatals or Hairfinity to expedite their hair growth. Others get their hair sewn in weaves until it is of desired length and texture. Protective styles and twist outs are also very popular ways to style hair in the African American community.
“It’s frustrating at times, but there is more knowledge about our hair, and products specifically made for us so that’s a plus,” Smith said.
The women that are participating in the movement can also find tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest for inspiration. In addition, there are vloggers (video bloggers) and bloggers offering advice and encouragement through the journey.
The movement is supposed to be about embracing what one is born with, but not everyone sees it that way. In 2013 a student in Florida was almost expelled because her natural hair was considered a distraction, which broke the school’s dress code. She was given a week to cut and restyle her hair, but because of the media attention the school’s administration reconsidered.
Another controversy associated with the movement is whether or not Caucasian women should be allowed to participate. Essence magazine had a poll in July 2014 asking just that; 57 percent of voters said no. The reasoning many African-American women said no was because this is their journey to self-acceptance. This is their way to accept what society has constantly told them is not acceptable. Caucasian women in commercials or advertisements are depicted with perfectly bone straight hair, which many cannot relate to. However, there are Caucasian women who participate, not for their own benefit but for their bi-racial children.
The movement is beautiful, and to have so many people from all walks of life dedicated to one purpose is phenomenal. It is not just about hair, but empowerment. Hopefully women will continue to break stereotypes and embrace the beauty they were born with. Women who can empower and support one another are the true leaders of tomorrow.