The natural hair movement has truly gained momentum and it’s time to unpack it.
By: Zanele Kabane
Black people’s natural hair has always been viewed as untidy and unmanageable, and many have turned to hair relaxer to contain the ‘beast’ that is ‘nappy hair’. Hair relaxer has formed an integral part of many Black females’ lives. From brands such as Dark n’ Lovely to Soft n’ Free, I personally don’t remember a time where I didn’t use hair relaxer. In fact, I can still feel the merciless chemicals eating away at my helpless scalp as a means to completely rid my natural hair of any trace of African-ness. Many argue that the reason hair relaxer is so popular among black women, is the fact that it gives a silky texture which resembles a white person’s hair. Others argue that the popularity stems from the issue that natural hair is simply too difficult and painful to maintain.
As popular as hair relaxer is, studies have shown a drastic decrease in the sales of hair relaxer products. Mintel’s research estimates the relaxer segment will reach $152 million this year, down from $206 million in 2008. Furthermore, in the past 12 months, nearly three-fourths (70%) of Black women say they currently wear or have worn their hair natural (no relaxer or perm), more than half (53%) have worn braids, and four out of 10 (41%) have worn locks. Does this mean that Natural hair is back? Here is a closer look at why it is that the nappy coils of African hair are finally standing up for themselves.
Hair texture forms a big part of what it means to be Black. Even during apartheid, one of the ways in which they would distinguish between a White person and a Black person was the ‘pencil test’. What hair relaxer has done, is it has consciously stripped Black people of their own, natural hair and pushed them towards a more Eurocentric hair type. This is problematic because we find that slowly but surely, whether it be skin tone or hair texture, Black people are forced to apologise for and ‘fix’ the things that make them Black in the first place.
I took to the streets of Mowbray where hair salons form the heart and soul of the buzz, in order to find out what the deal really is with natural and relaxed hair. I went to my favourite and trusted salon “Bright and Beauty” in order to hear from my reliable hairdresser, who always has the latest news and gossip, Suzy. I asked Suzy whether people are relaxing their hair less. She told me that she has even had to cut down on the hair relaxer orders because they were just not getting used quickly enough. “Of course, I still have many, many clients who come and relax their hair, but I must say, that number has dropped quite a bit” said Suzy. She said that she suspects it has to do with celebrities having their natural hair and people looking up to those celebrities. She had a point, because recently, celebrities such as Solange, Raven Symone and Thandie Newton have started exhibiting their natural hair. Thandie Newton, in an interview, even spoke out about her hair, saying “the stigma with some black women seems to be that “nappy hair” (natural Afro hair) is almost as bad as loo roll trailing from your shoe.”
The prevalence of natural hair on international runways now is also an indication of the ‘natural hair comeback’. Also, when people see these runway models showcasing their natural hair, it then could also be a factor which has encouraged black woman to start ‘rocking’ their natural hair.
However, many other Black girls, including myself, have only ever known their hair in its relaxed state. Does this mean that we have not truly expressed our African identity? Was India Arie wrong? Are we our hair? The ‘hair issue’ is something many Black women struggle with, as hair is something we have to deal with every day. I do however, strongly believe that the way in which we choose to wear our hair should never be a measure of our ‘Blackness’. If anything, we should bask in the variety of hairstyles that we all possess, something which is very unique to Black women specifically. With that said, however, it is evident that the ‘natural hair comeback’ is quite interesting and encouraging, as it represents a strong sense of rebellion against societal norms.
In the midst of all of this hair talk, it suddenly dawned on me that I have to make an appointment to get my hair done. I’m probably going to get my Indian weave reinstalled – I guess it’s going to take some of us a little longer to jump on the new movement.