Beyond every braid, curl, loc, and strand is a sacred story for women of color—and even though it’s just hair, there’s so much more than meets the eye. This story is often disregarded by strangers who don’t share the same narrative as them. Often times, people are fascinated by the vast diversity of Black hair, which in turn, garners unwarranted attention. In many cases, their miseducation solicits alienating questions and discriminatory treatment that has the potential to derail their self-confidence and personal growth. Unbeknownst to those less-educated about the subject, Black women’s hair is not an object. Whichever style they choose to wear is deeply rooted in our ancestral identities but it does not define our humanity.
The expression of beauty through hairstyles has been a long-standing signature of Black culture. From the “fro” to hair wraps to braids. Black women use their hairstyles as a personal expression of who they are and to show the evolution of Black culture over time, an evolution which has brought us to a time when more and more Black women are embracing the natural beauty of their own hair. However, it doesn’t escape controversy. Beauty, and specifically hair, in Black culture has been a sensitive topic of discussion for decades with roots all the way back to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.
Natural hair has gained popularity in the black community in recent years. For decades, many black women looked to harsh chemicals to straighten their hair. But these days, an increasing number of black women are omitting the chemicals in favor of a more natural approach to hair care. A 2018 report from Mintel revealed that black women are “most likely to wear their hair natural.” According to the data, a whopping 40 percent of these women have turned to both chemical-free and no-heat styling, while an additional 33 percent of black women still prefer heat-styling, but have cut out all chemicals.
Although the natural hair trend has certainly taken off, donning natural hair is more complicated than it sounds. On top of that, many women who’ve decided to embrace natural hair face daily discrimination and emotional strife. The chief issue in the natural hair movement, as it turns out, is that relatively few people understand all there is to know about natural hair.
To help in understanding the emotional significance hair has on Black culture and identity, one doesn’t have to look too far within our Black communities to understand the effects. Each woman has her own story or “hair journey” often marked by struggles stemming back to childhood.
Join us as we continue to explore our own journeys in understanding our cultural history and how we define our cultural identities in a new series of articles around culture, hair and beauty coming in our next issue soon!