Natural Hair Isn’t a Trend: 4 Women Bucking the Narrative

For generations, Black women have been told that our natural hair is unacceptable in one way or another: Tignon Laws dating back to the 18th century required “gens de couleur” to cover their hair in public, literally making natural hair illegal. The army enforced a strict ban on natural styles up until last year. And black children around the world are still routinely punished for wearing braids, afros and locs to school as evidenced in LouisianaBostonFloridaSeattleSouth Africa and the Bahamas — I could go on. And despite the fact that natural hair is having a “moment,” the supporting imagery we see focuses much more on waves and curls than kinks and coils. Nappy, it seems, is often still dangerous territory.

But not for me. Not anymore, anyway. I may have had a panic attack the first time I ever wore my natural hair out in public — shoutout to 24 years of internalizing racist beauty standards! — but that’s a story for a different day, because I’ve spent the past year slowly learning to love my hair and the way it grows out of my head. And today I’m here to CELEBRATE highly-textured hair.

If there’s anything that being natural has taught me, it’s that a silent nod of acknowledgment from another sis rocking her fro is enough juice to get me through the day. Below, my attempt at turning those silent head nods into something more: The natural hair stories of four women, myself included. We really dig into the kinks, so read on for a discussion of why we went natural, the joys and pain points of doing so and even some styling tips. Afropik not included.

Taylor K. Shaw

Taylor, 23, is the founder & CEO of Black Women Animate. She has been natural for four years. 

When did you first start wearing your natural hair?

Near the end of high school my long, straight hair reached the center of my back and was truly my crowning glory. So much of my self-worth was wrapped up in my hair’s ability to be as flat as possible. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college while I was battling a serious bout of depression that I started making a conscious effort to wear my hair natural. One night after washing my hair, I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t feel beautiful. That’s when the journey began. I wanted to feel and know that I was just as, if not more, beautiful when my hair was in its natural state.

When you first went natural, what were your biggest concerns?

My first obstacle was that my hair was heat damaged, so I was working with multiple different textures. I had no idea where to start and, honestly, it was overwhelming. I wore my hair in two strand twists for about a year or more during this awkward phase. It allowed my hair to retain moisture and gave me a style solution.

Confidence was also a huge struggle for me because my idea of beauty was based on what I looked like with straight hair. But just like I learned how to straighten my hair, I had to learn to style my curls.

What are your thoughts about the way natural hair is (or isn’t) currently represented in our day to day lives?

Do you type your hair? If so, where would you say you fall on the spectrum?

I don’t type my hair. I think hair typing can be valuable for those just starting out, however, typing can also be harmful because there is stigma around which types of curls are “easier” to manage. I personally don’t type my hair because I want the women who ask me what products I use to understand hair type doesn’t matter. Your commitment to caring for your own hair is what helps you achieve the look that works for you.  

What’s something you love about your hair?

I love how my fro commands a room, but I had to learn to let it. There is so much power in my hair and wearing it natural. I always tell people who are going natural that one day, it just clicks. You suddenly feel comfortable rocking your fro and being in your own skin. I spent nearly two years being uncomfortable with it, so it’s not easy. But when it clicked, I felt my hair giving me life and giving other people life as well. If you allow it to — if you give your hair your love and wear it with confidence — your natural hair lets others know that you are powerful and that a part of you quite literally defies gravity.

Lastly: Hair is just hair. I will continue to cut and color my hair. I will wear weaves. I will likely go bald at some point. I will never stop allowing my hair to express my mood and where I am in life. That confidence is 100 percent founded upon my love for my natural hair and the commitment I have to always being me. Loving your natural hair is a crucial part of loving yourself.

Brea Baker

Brea, 24, is the program and youth engagement coordinator at The Gathering for Justice. She has been natural for six years.

When did you first start wearing your hair natural?

I was exposed to kinky, natural hair for the first time during my freshman year in college — while my hair was still permed. My best friend also permed her hair but way less frequently and she was doing things I had never heard of, like co-washing. I was moved to dabble in the middle ground between permed and natural right before I had the salon experience from hell: The stylist applied relaxer to my freshly dyed, wet scalp and it felt like someone took a blowtorch to my head followed by a squirt of lemon juice. Afterwards, I indeed had the straight hair I wanted, but coupled with a scalp full of scabs to show for it. I vowed that would be the last time I ever chemically straightened my hair.

After being natural for six years, do you still struggle with any hair hang-ups?

I still struggle with consistency. Back when I was permed, hair maintenance was so easy! I wrapped it at night and unwrapped it in the morning with a little sheen and oil. Now that I have multiple textures, my hair doesn’t do well with wash-n-gos and it’s difficult to preserve twist outs overnight. Essentially, I need to redo my hair every evening, which doesn’t really happen. Unfortunately, I’ve been suffering from breakage lately because of that.

What are your thoughts about the way natural hair is (or isn’t) currently represented in our day to day lives?

I definitely think we’ve seen natural hair more celebrated in mass media with films like Nappily Ever After, or even advertisements, so that’s been a huge bonus, but there’s still an over-representation of looser curls and multiracial people as opposed to an embracing of purely kinky hair or curls on darker-skinned women.

Any life-changing hacks/tips that have upped your curl game?

Steaming! Whenever I’ve neglected my hair for too long and need to revive the girls (curls), that’s my go-to. Afterward my hair ALWAYS feels like butter.

What’s something you love about your hair?

Everything! It’s corny, but even when I hate it, I love that my hair looks the way God intended.

Lohen Parchment

Lohen23, is the executive assistant to the VP of Production at HBO. She has been natural for a year and eight months.

What prompted you to go natural?

I went natural for a couple of reasons. For starters, the natural hair movement empowered me. I spent the majority of my time in predominantly white institutions and being natural feels like a small yet significant way of taking up space and holding onto my roots. The second reason, honestly, was that I was fed up with being burned every time I got a relaxer, touch-up or even a blowout.

How did you go about transitioning?

While I was transitioning from permed to natural, I mainly wore my hair in protective styles like braids, goddess locs, and weaves. I took short breaks between each style to let my hair and scalp breathe. I was too nervous to really touch my hair because I’d been warned about the high chances of breakage during this stage.

It’s only recently that I’m wearing my hair out and learning more about what works and what doesn’t. That’s probably the hardest part for me, figuring out what my hair wants and which products will actually give it that. I also have work to do when it comes to styling.  

Do you type your hair? If so, where would you say you fall on the spectrum? Tell me more about how you feel about hair typing.

I tried to type my hair because I thought it would help me with finding the best products, but when I went for a hair consultation my stylist told me she didn’t believe in typing hair. She explained we tend to have different textures all over our heads and she’s absolutely right. The front of my hair behaves differently than the back of my head. I guess technically you could type all three sections of your hair.

Watching hair tutorials on YouTube and Facebook is my favorite bathroom pastime. Sometimes I’ll watch videos right before bed. I’m also very thankful for my generous and wise coworkers because they hook me up with advice all the time.

Any life-changing hacks/tips that have upped your curl game?

Sometimes I like using regular conditioner as a leave-in product and massaging a few drops of jojoba oil into my scalp before I go to bed. Also, using a spray bottle is fun-da-men-tal.

What’s something you love about your hair?

It’s mine <3.

Simedar Jackson (Me!)

Simedar, 24, is the partnerships strategist at Man Repeller. She’s been natural for two and a half years.

Styled with Spring Street hoopsStyled with Spring Street hoops

Why did you decide to go natural?

The short answer is that weave got too expensive. Installs themselves can be upwards of $200 every six weeks, not to mention the price of hair itself. My bank account was not having it. The longer answer is that I’d been grappling with the reality that I hands down did not feel beautiful sporting the hair that grew out of my head and that really really bothered me. I told myself I was easing my way into natural life by wearing weave, but truly I was using it as a crutch. I was technically natural because I wasn’t using chemical relaxers, but I wasn’t embracing it. Only about seven months ago did I really drop weave and commit to wearing my curls.

What do you struggle with the most when it comes to your hair?

The two things I struggle with the most are moisture and self-perception. On a technical note, my hair is low-porosity, meaning it’s like a broken heart carrying baggage – she craves moisture but isn’t great at letting it in. Beyond that, there are still many days where I hate my hair. I don’t feel beautiful and I can get emotional about it. Other days are great though and my repertoire of styles that make me feel confident is expanding, no matter how glacially.  

What are your thoughts on curly hair as a “trend”?

Any life-changing hacks/tips that have upped your curl game?

This is mostly because I’m lazy and rarely have four hours of uninterrupted time to wash and style my hair, but sometimes I’ll wash my hair in the morning and wear deep conditioner throughout the day. Then that evening (or the next — yikes) I’ll do the second half of the process. This saves me time and my arms don’t scream as much. However, be careful which deep conditioning products you’re leaving in. Some, like protein-laden options, are only meant to be left brewing for the recommended amount of time.

What’s something you love about your hair?

My curls make me feel more like myself. It took some time to click (as Taylor said), but when it did, I felt like I couldn’t go back. Now when I look at photos of myself wearing weave I’m like, “Who’s that girl?” Also, I’ve noticed that when I see other natural women on the street, we tend to give each other some type of acknowledgement, whether it’s a knowing smile or a full blown gas up. It’s kind of amazing to be a part of this group of women choosing to do something radical by just being ourselves. It also helps to steel your resolve on a day you’re not feeling that twist out.

Photos by Emily Malan.

Hair Styling by Monae Everett.

Simedar Jackson

Simedar is the Partnerships Strategist at Man Repeller.

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