Who is the Natural Hair Movement really benefitting?
By: Zoe Postman
According to Curl Centric, a website about all things natural hair, the natural hair movement “is focused on encouraging women with African ancestry to celebrate and enjoy the natural characteristics of their kinky, curly, hair texture”. The natural hair movement is represented by African women that provide encouragement, advice, product reviews, hairstyle tutorials and much more to other women that are interested in going natural.
Why is this type of movement important? Because as womxn of colour, we’ve been told that our natural hair is “untidy”, “unprofessional” and ultimately, “unacceptable” all our lives. These sentiments followed us from pre-primary school into the professional environment. Not only do we hear it from our teachers and fellow classmates or colleagues, we also hear it from our very own families. These sentiments are rooted in a hatred for all things associated with black and brown people, even within our own racial groups.
As a coloured womxn, I have had a life-long love-hate relationship with my hair. In primary school, I would have to straighten my hair every Saturday so that it looked “neat” for school on Monday. Little did I know, this was a form of assimilation to whiteness that was intrinsically problematic and damaging. Even after I was no longer subjected to the hair dryers, straighteners and rollers, I always felt that I needed to tie my natural hair in a tight bun if I wanted it to look neat. Leaving it loose and curly was never an option.
Fortunately for me, both my mom and I set ourselves free from that mindset while I was still in high school. My most recent experience was just last year, when I had a coloured man tell me that I don’t look after my hair because I don’t straighten it (which does not make sense because heat damage is a real thing).
Just like any movement, the natural hair movement is nuanced and needs to be questioned. Is it an actual movement towards embracing and loving black and brown people or is it just a new trend that people will get over once it stops being profitable (see Miley Cyrus’ talk about her black phase)?
A few years ago, you would never see a black womxn with her natural hair on the cover on anything. Fast forward to 2017, major corporations like Adidas, Woolworths, Vans, Nike and many more are embracing natural hair in their campaigns and billboards. However, what some of these companies do not understand is that it’s more than just a trend for black and brown people. It’s much deeper. It’s a validation of our existence as human beings in a society that hasn’t acknowledged black and brown people for centuries. If companies do not see this perspective, we might as well call it all off.
Trends are shallow and temporary. Black and brown people need so much more than just a trend to dismantle a society that was never made for our success. Some people may argue that these “trends” may inspire other black and brown girls and womxn to embrace their natural hair, even for a little while. I tend to disagree.
If this is a profitable trend for predominantly white owned companies, then we should call a spade a spade. We should not be fooled into thinking that we’re living in a progressive society. We should realise that we are being used by a society that ultimately hates us. Once we can accept that, we can figure out a way to embrace our natural hair on our own, without allowing ourselves to be used for profit.