Deeper than hair: The evolution of natural hair

Guest blogger Lawrencia Amfo-Asiedu looks at the rise of natural hair

Lawrencia Amfo-Asiedu

Growing up as a young black girl, I constantly saw images of beautiful girls with long, straight hair. The misconception was in order to have desirable hair, it had to be bone straight and long. The indoctrination of believing straight hair was far better and signified beauty. From TV programmes, adverts and in the school playground ‘being different’ was rather complex. Beauty was categorised as having a lighter skin tone and straighter hair was the ideal. I rarely saw images of natural hair represented in the media, yearning for straight hair I vividly remember putting t-shirts on my head and swinging it from side to side pretending I had long beautiful hair such as Disney characters we adored like Rapunzel or Jasmine from Aladdin.

As hilarious as it sounds, it is horrifying to think now why I believed or was made to believe my own hair was not seen as worthy or pretty. It was more than hair, this was me questioning my identity as a child in a world where your looks are heavily scrutinized. It was the year of 1996 when Spice Girls hit the music scene with their infectious song Wannabe. Finally, there was a brown girl with a full head of glorious curls that was sometimes teased out in an afro. Better known as Mel B (Scary Spice) finally, a racially ambiguous young woman who was neither black or white but who still possessed ‘black hair’ unlike her other female counterparts in the girl band. Someone we could claim and represented ‘us’.

My own hair journey has been a rather interesting one, I cannot remember when exactly my hair was relaxed but I do believe it was at a tender age. An age where I could not decide for myself, the relaxer would irritate my scalp and leave me with burns, however I adored the outcome. Finally, like the other girls in the playground,  I had straight hair that I could swing from side to side and it moved when the wind blew.

Sister Sister’s Tia and Tamara

Growing up, I had a full head of thick hair, however I felt my mother did not really know how to maintain it and felt an alternative style would be much easier and less time consuming than dealing with my natural hair. It was perceived as a hassle, getting a relaxer was an easier option. At the time, the popular TV show Sister Sister, which featured the identical twins Tia and Tamera. The mixed-race twins had such divine, luscious jet black curls, then suddenly a few episodes later they had long straight hair. I remember my mum enthusiastically telling me once ‘when you relax your hair ‘it will be like Sister Sister.’ Again, reinforcing that straighter longer hair was deemed as prettier.

Fast forward to a number of years later, and many black and mixed-race women have transitioned back to natural hair or have done the big chop. Some have labelled it a trend, but others see it as a ‘movement’. Relaxer sales declined as women became tired of the ‘creamy crack’ and the damage it was doing to their hair. The false ideology of Eurocentric features that was once seen as attractive for so long was becoming a distant memory as our full lips and hips became ‘fashionable.’

More women are shifting from relaxed tresses to their natural hair which was once considered as ‘unruly or nappy’. I personally decided to transition in 2016 and big chopped last year, I have not looked back. Currently enjoying every inch of my ‘fro and every kink and curl. To be frank I wish I had transitioned a long time ago.

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We are living in a time of transformation and major discovery with a plethora of products catering for black and mixed-race women. Products such as Cantu, Shea Moisture, Aunt Jackie’s and a host of others have made it easier for women of colour to look after their natural hair. There are countless Youtubers who are inspiring women to go natural and sharing their haircare regimes to achieve healthy, growing afro hair.

Celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Lupita N’yongo and Michelle Obama are now opting to wear their natural hair, showing the world that they are comfortable with their natural tresses. Recently, I noticed a number of billboard advertisements with women with natural hair to think this was non-existent only ten years ago. As the rest of the world is starting to pay attention to natural hair and come to terms with it, I spoke to six different women to discuss their natural hair journey and the evolution of natural hair over the years.

Real life women share their natural hair stories…

Eileen Carmel – Editor, shoe designer and model

How long have you been natural for? If you did transition, what was the reason behind it??
I’ve been natural for about 5 years now. I got my first relaxer at the age of 5 and was relaxing my hair every 6-8 weeks ever since so I just reached a point where I was tired of doing this; my hair was thinning and my scalp was constantly enduring burns all because my hair was supposedly ‘unmanageable’. I started to see videos and pictures of women with beautiful natural hair and I just preferred how it looked in comparison to relaxed hair, so I grew more curious to see what my own natural hair would look and feel like.

How would you describe your hair type?
My hair is super coily, each one with a mind of its own! My texture and density varies; in certain areas it’s more tightly coiled and dense whereas some areas are looser. I hate using the hair typing system but if I am to, then I’m definitely somewhere in the type 4 category.

Growing up did you encounter any challenges with your hair in terms of a lack of representation in the media, school etc?
As a child, I grew up only seeing straight blonde-haired princesses and played with silky haired White dolls, even the one Black doll I owned had silky loose curly hair. I know for certain this contributed towards my negative views on afro hair. When I reached my teens, I noticed that all the Black women in the media that were hailed as ‘beautiful’ all wore their hair straight or had very loose curly hair and this was also the case at school. Even my mum, all my aunts and a majority of Black women I would see in the streets all seemed to have straight hair and mostly wore weaves; I really didn’t have much positive examples of Black women embracing their natural hair growing up. For the most part of my life I had internalised the idea that there’s something ‘wrong’ with Black women’s hair and that it wasn’t attractive.

Why do you think natural hair has become so popular over the years? Do you think this is a trend? 
I definitely don’t think it’s a trend, I just think more and more of us are realizing that our hair is actually beautiful. We entered an era where we didn’t have to heavily depend on what the media decided to show us; the internet age has given us more control of what we want to see. For so long we were brainwashed to believe our hair is unmanageable and unable to grow long etc but we now have access to a wealth of information on Black hair care and beautiful images of Afro hair at various lengths and textures that we didn’t really have many years ago.

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Recently, I have noticed images of Black women with natural hair on national billboards which is amazing. Do you think the standard of beauty(hair) in the media has changed or do you think we still have a long way to go?

It’s great that we are seeing more of these images but I think we still have a long way to go. Most often, the Black woman representing natural hair in these ads has loose curly hair often accompanied with fair skin. Tightly coiled hair like mine, especially non-defined, still isn’t as prominent in the media and unfortunately even within the natural hair community. I like to wear my hair in an Afro but I sometimes feel pressured to define my curls to give my hair a more tamed look so it can be perceived as kempt; I still battle with trying to make my natural hair look more ‘acceptable’.

Are you perceived differently with natural hair in terms of work, the opposite sex?
I’ve had the fist gesture and Black panthers reference before but I think those people are just ignorant who associate a Black woman wearing her hair in an afro with being pro-black and has Erykah Badu on repeat! Things like that made me aware that there would be political connotations with me rocking an afro so I made a conscious decision to wear my hair in a slicked back bun for work to look more ‘professional’ but now I don’t care to make people feel more comfortable with my hair anymore. With regards to men, contrary to what I had believed, I find that they admire my hair and I’ve had many tell me that they have a lot of respect for me for rocking my natural hair. I’ve learnt that men just appreciate a well-presented woman regardless of the texture of her hair; if it looks good then they are cool with it.

It is easier to manage natural hair now due to a plethora of natural hair products. Which three products can you not live without? 
Well I’m not a product junkie so this is easy! I always need: my
? Tresemmé Conditioner (the blue one for dry hair)
? Jamaican Black Castor Oil
? Currently loving the Castor Oil Eco Styler Gel

What advice would you like to give to anyone who wants to be natural?
Learn from other naturals with similar hair textures about hair care techniques and absorb more images of women with natural hair to keep you motivated in your journey because it’s not going to be smooth sailing; there’s a lot of learning and unlearning to do. Also, remember that your hair will be YOUR hair so don’t expect another’s hair routine to work splendidly for you and don’t hope for your hair to look like anyone else’s otherwise you’ll be slapped with huge disappointment! Love, embrace and do what’s best for your hair.

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  1. Pingback : Afro haircare tips to promote healthy hair and scalp |

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