Black women are often made to feel that way in professional and casual environments that subscribe to rigid European beauty ideals. I am not European so there’s no sense in chipping away at my self-esteem to fit a mould that was never created for me.
I decided to reclaim my natural hair before I discovered there was a ‘Natural Hair Movement’. The decision was an emotional calling rather than a deliberate political stance, or an attempt at trendy fashion (How can one’s inherent DNA be fashionable?).
On a brief stop-over in London in July 2009, from the States, I saw a Matalan sign featuring a beautiful Black model. She sported her huge, free-form Afro with such joi-de-vivre, that I grew jealous. I was jealous of a model on a billboard.
But I quickly snapped out of it, realizing my own hair could do that! By the time I returned to the States, I had resolved to stop relaxing the roots of my sleek bob. Four months before moving permanently to the UK in April 2010, I had my hairdresser cut off the relaxed hair. I was left with a short crop of curls, what we in the natural hair community call a Teeny Weeny Afro (TWA).
I discovered the natural hair community online shortly after settling in Birmingham, UK. Wanting to know how to properly take care of my growing mane, I searched the internet for whatever information I could find. The mostly Black and mixed race women who comprise the natural hair community have been generous in sharing individual journeys and experiences, scientific and historical knowledge of Black hair care, and entrepreneurial spirit. The intrepidness of these women has, in the last six years, significantly expanded the marketplace of British natural hair brands, including my budding hair and body boutique.
No one ever taught me to properly nourish the kinky hair that naturally grows out of my scalp. I was taught only to tame and manipulate it, as if it were some scary beast. And, to be honest, Black women are often made to feel that way in professional and casual environments that subscribe to rigid European beauty ideals. I am not European so there’s no sense in chipping away at my self-esteem to fit a mould that was never created for me.
What the Natural Hair Movement does best is remind us that our kaleidoscope of African kinks, coils and curls is a standard that exists independently of (and before!) established European aesthetics.
‘Movement’ is a suitable term for the expanding constellation of natural hair care gurus, businesses large and small, hair care videos, fashion and accessories spawned from the ingenuity of Black women. There is an economic advantage that has come from all this, but most movements are inherently political, as they involve people working together to advance shared ideals. The foundation of the Natural Hair Movement is that the hair curling from our heads is innately beautiful and should be free to exist that way. Black people being themselves is almost always perceived as ‘being political’. But being is political. Full stop.
About: K. P. is a PhD Researcher and Assistant Lecturer in Sociology. She is passionate about her two dogs, writing, and natural hair. She is owner of Bourn Beautiful Naturals, handmade hair and beauty products. (http://bournbeautifulnaturals.uk/)