The Afro hair is a mystery that many are fascinated with. Distinct from many other hair textures, the Afro grows upwards and is attributed to people of Africa descent. Why are we talking about hair? More importantly why is there an ongoing discussion on the natural hair narrative across the globe? The natural hair movement is aimed at encouraging women of African descent to embrace and celebrate the natural characteristics of the kinky, curly hair texture, leaving behind the mentality that relaxed hair is more beautiful.
Obviously there is an existential crisis faced when it comes to the matter of the Afro hair. During the era of slavery, Black Americans used different methods to straighten their hair through methods such as hot combs and relaxers to “cure” their curly hair. It was perceived to be abnormal as well as their skin colour. To fit in, your mane must sleep! A revolution started quietly when a movement started with Black Americans going back to their natural roots, embracing their identity and defying the standards of beauty.
It became a trend with the introduction of cultural music, art and fashion seeping into the mainstream. This brought the disco era and the “Soul Train”, which popularised the Afro hair and lifestyle from the likes of Diana Ross to Jackson Five. The phase fizzled out as the option of using weaves and extensions took over. The cream crack (relaxer) was back and with it the expensive weaves and extensions all in the bid to fit in.
“Don’t touch my hair” – Solange Knowles
Going back to their roots, many women of African descent have embraced the “The Big Chop” or transitioning movement. A process that is a healthier option for women as the health issues surrounding relaxing and straightening your natural hair are endless and to what end? In 2009, Solange Knowles cut off her relaxed hair and started flaunting her natural hair. In that year, Chris Rock released a movie “Good Hair”, which explores and criticises the dependence of chemical straighteners and explores what really goes into making these products that became the definition of our hair existence.
The culture is changing, more women are embracing their natural hair as we have more influential people rocking their natural hair like Janelle Monae, Fredrique Tietcheu, Erykah Badu, Lupita Nyong’o, Solange Knowles, Tracee Ellis-Ross and Viola Davis etc. Over here in Nigeria due to the incessant need to imitate and keep up with trends, we have also started this journey and joined the conversation of one of the pillars of identity in the community – hair.
“I am not my hair” – Indie Arie
The fact that there is an ongoing conversation does not limit the fact that people out there are still being shamed because of their hair. In 2016 Zulaikha Patel from Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa sparked a nationwide protest in response to school rules that primarily affected girls with natural hairstyles. According to Daily Mail UK, Lara Odoffin was sacked after her company told her she would have to take her braids out of she wanted to continue as a an employee. Perhaps, issues like this are the reasons certain women do not feel confident wearing their natural hair because of society’s perception of normal and acceptable.
Regardless of this, the African culture that seems to pose inner conflict for Africans themselves is being appropriated by the Western culture, with recent trends like the box braids to dreads popular with the Kardashian sisters and some would argue twerking which has been a dance step that didn’t become mainstream till Miley Cyrus did it. It goes without saying that the uniqueness of the African culture be it in our hair or lifestyle is worth emulating and most of all we should embrace who we are, roots and all.