While some women had already transitioned into a natural lifestyle, the new millennium brought in the Comeback of the natural ‘do. Or as I like to refer to it, the ‘NatFad (natural fad)’.
Rapper Lil’ Kim wears a platinum blonde weave, while singer Macy Gray sports a new-school Afro. Some black women perm, some press, others go with natural twists, braids and locks. Just about any style (save for the jheri curl, although still worn by those very few hangers-on…lol) is now accepted and all kinds of shapes and colors can be found all cultures and races.
Journey to Natural Hair
But the natural had come full circle and was now being rocked by women of all ages and skin tones. Natural Hair Journeys, Big Cuts, and TWAs (tiny weeny Afros) take YouTube by storm, as young Black teens and women teach each other their hair maintenance and styling techniques.
Having black skin and kinky hair is no longer so disgraceful, as women and men of color are discovering that there is beauty in how they look. The mainstream media catches on and publicizes being black as acceptable. The “My Black Is Beautiful” tour, organized by several cosmetic companies, including Pantene and Olay, travels to major cities including Atlanta, discussing the ideals that shape Afro-textured hair, and offering free styling and information on hair care. Being natural means using more natural products – products without the harsh detergents and drying ingredients that were acceptable for chemically-straightened hair. Now having and caring for natural hair becomes a trend, as companies seek out ways to maximize their money-making potential using this quickly-growing natural hair trend. All of a sudden you begin seeing ‘sulfate-free’ shampoo’s and ‘silicone-free’ conditioners; added oils and natural ingredients line the shelves as the world seems to turn towards a more greener way of life. Every brand now has a “natural line” where none existed just a few years prior. The hair care industry is growing at the speed of light and will soon become a billion dollar industry. Even afro and natural-textured weaves and wigs are now being sold in black beauty shops, as those women with straight hair want to sport the natural style without doing the big chop. What a 180° turn, huh?
There are still some, however, who cannot accept natural hair and black hair styles as either ideal or professional. In a rash of stories and events, many of these same situations still taking place now, black hair stays at the top of the discussion board in the news, on radio shows, and on television, whether negatively or positively:
2003: New Bedford, Mass. Dance teacher Amy Fernandes’ refuses to allow 4-year-old Amari Diaw to participate in her ballet dance recital along with the other children in her class who have been practicing for the exciting event because she requires the girls to pull back their hair into a bun. Amari’s mom put Amari’s very curly hair into cornrows and pulled it back into a bun. Fernandes, however, insisted that the braids be removed and that Amari’s hair be pulled back straight into a bun.
2006: Baltimore Police Department’s new, more rigid professional appearance standards prohibit such hairstyles as cornrows, dreadlocks and twists. These natural hairstyles are deemed to be “extreme” and a “fad” by the department. According to General Order C-12: “Extreme or fad hairstyles are PROHIBITED, including but not limited to: cornrows, Mohawks, dreadlocks, and twists, as well as designs or sculptures using the hair and/or cut into the hair.” When asked to explain the reason for the change, the Department explained that the police were blending in with the criminals. (!!!)
2007: MSNBC Radio Host Don Imus loses his job when he calls the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team “some nappy-headed hos.”
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2008: “The New Yorker” draws heat when a cover photo portrays Michelle Obama with an Afro and an AK 47 machine gun and and Barack Obama in a turban doing the fist bump. Many felt the cartoon reinforces negative stereotypes about both Muslims and natural hair. I feel that it is less about natural hair and more about the blatant and continued disrespect of the President of the United States and the First Lady. I will admit, I had to get up and take a few deep breaths – nothing angers me more than this type of propaganda. But if many people in the country view my President this way, that means they view me this way. Being black in America is still an issue, and it is because of the initial election and then re-election of President Barack Obama that this distaste for Blacks turned hostility of late, that has always existed in this country has seeped from the depths and come into the light. But that is another post for another blog! Back to hair…
2009: Comic Chris Rock unveils “Good Hair” at the Sundance Film Festival, exploring the way black hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships, and self-esteem of black people; and searching for the origin of thoughts that hair is either good or bad. On his journey, he shows the corrosive strength of relaxers as they dissolve through aluminum cans, and questions the disinterest in purchasing Afro-textured weaves and wigs, verses Indian or Asian hair extensions. This hilariously but very insightful look into the hair industry brought to light the still-existing view of black hair as being good or bad, and the affect of this ideal on the black community. If you still haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. This will open your eyes!
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2009: Tyra Banks takes out her weave and shares her regular relaxed hair fresh out of the shower on her TV show in front of her audience and all TV viewers to show that none should be ashamed of their hair. Meh. It wasn’t all it was hyped up to be – she was still hung up on length and excessive heat usage, in my opinion.
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2010: The popular children’s show “Sesame Street” airs a skit featuring a song entitled, “I Love My Hair”, showing an African American puppet with natural hair. This video STILL makes me smile!
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2011: Overall, chemical relaxer brands noticed a 67% decline from the previous year in Black women purchasing their products.
2012: News anchor Rhonda Lee is fired for defending natural hair on air.
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2012: Gabby Douglas, Olympic gold medal winner, is criticized via social networking about her hair not being straight enough and neatly done. Countless news stations and others on social media quickly support Gabby’s beauty and remind others to celebrate her accomplishments.
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And the debates, criticisms, firings, and expulsions continue even in 2014. Natural and ethnic hairstyles are seen more than ever in the workplace with and without discrimination. Again, with the help of YouTube, naturals can find any kind of natural professional hairstyle to sport in the office.
During this decade, hair styles from almost every era in the past 400 years have reemerged and flourish at the same time,including but certainly not limited to Afros, finger waves, relaxers, weaves, high-top fades, braids and twists with and without extensions, hair wraps, and dreadlocks. Both fashion and style are exact replicas of those that were worn in the ’20s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and (sigh!) ’80s. According to the Nielsen Black Consumer Report, African Americans spend more on hair care than other life necessities, like food and hygiene products. And today, natural hair care for African American women is one of the biggest growing industries in the world. Compared to over 10 years ago when I first cut off all my hair to today, there are blogs, hair care web sites, more natural hair products than I could use in a year, and YouTube vloggers all sharing their natural hair journeys and experiences. There is no shame in the natural hair game; and it is not as uncommon or controversial as in the past.
It took us a while, but natural is back and it’s here to stay! The natural roots that began in the tribes of Africa are no longer history.
Byrd, Ayana D.; Tharps, Lori L. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2001.