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Natural Hair Movement: Embracing the Kinks

| Thursday, October 29, 2015

NaturalHair_Banner_WebJanice Chung | The Observer

Everyone wants what they don’t have, right? Actually, that’s not always true, especially when you consider the natural hair movement of the 21st century. Black men and women across the United States have chosen to rock their curls as opposed to chemically altering their hair to straighten it or wearing “safe” and “acceptable” hairstyles. Cultural anthropologists started to notice the black community shifting to natural hair in the early 2000s, and this trend is quickly becoming a norm.

Why does hair matter? Hair matters because it is read like a text. You can learn a lot about the person sitting in front of you in class based on their hair. Did they just roll out of bed? How long has it been since they showered? Gross, but it’s true — hair gives us a lot of information about another person. On a deeper level, hair is even a racial and gender signifier. Our identity is mixed into our hair just as much as fruity-tutti-smelling conditioner.

We can thank the black activists of the 60s and 70s for laying the groundwork for ‘Hair Reform’ by gracing the world with the space-filling afro, which has come back as a popular culture phenomenon. Women and men all over the world are following suit and wearing their hair “natural.” Natural hair is more than “just a way to wear hair,” it’s a way to fight the pressure to assimilate to an unrealistic standard of beauty.

This movement is inspiring critical cultural work concerning beauty standards. For a long time, straight hair has been a key component to being beautiful because it is rare to see celebrities or billboards promoting naturally curly hair. Think of Victoria’s Secret model’s hair flowing in the wind as the unrealistic standard for most people across racial boundaries. From an advertising standpoint, images of natural-haired beauties are starting to pop-up in advertisements by Dove and Pantene. There is nothing wrong with straight hair, but the point is that curly hair should be embraced in its bouncy glory too.

This specifically matters for the black community. By carrying out this movement, beauty standards are not changed but opened up to more standards. If black curly hair can continue to go mainstream, many people will no longer feel the pressure to straighten their hair. Some people believe straightening curly hair makes it more manageable. This is not true, however, as chemicals and hot tools used to straighten hair can be detrimental to your health and your checkbook.

In most cases, the chemical perming agent of choice is ammonium thioglycolate solution. If this perming solution is kept in the hair too long, it can lead to burnt skin, broken hair and a lot of tears. The tears might also come from the burn in a person’s pocket after paying up $50-75 for a perm every four to six weeks. Going natural is a cheaper alternative to hairstyling as products associated with it cost $10-15 and can last as long as a perm. These examples shed light on the practicality of natural hair and make it an option to consider.

The natural hair movement is about redefining beauty in relation to hair within the black community. This movement builds community and fosters bonds through the sharing of the latest hair secrets and styles. The versatility of curls on the heads of black people is paving a way toward greater acceptance and understanding of ourselves and even each other. The power of wearing your hair in the natural state is empowering to women and men not only in the U.S., but also globally. There is something cosmic about embracing what you do have and not worrying about what you don’t.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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