The beginning of the natural hair movement can be traced back to the early 2000s in America, when Black women began to embrace their given Afro-textured hair. As more and more Black American women decided to ditch chemicals that altered their authentic hair texture, their actions encouraged other women from around the globe to do the same.
This sudden — yet much-needed — reclamation of our hairitage (hair + heritage) began to travel far and wide, and it certainly made its way to continental Africa, although it was much later on. Still, this made flaunting one’s kinks, curls, and coils popular, but the natural hair movement is fundamentally much bigger than just hair, and here is why:
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Owning a Narrative
For so long, Black people or people of Afro-descent have been demeaned for having nappy, woolly-like hair, but now they are taking ownership of what they have and embracing it with pride. When an individual chooses to wear his/her hair out in all its Afro glory, he/she is in every way taking ownership of his/her roots, heritage, and history.
Normalizing the Afro-textured Hair Aesthetic
Let us not be quick to forget that Afro-textured hair has had a negative connotation linked to it. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie underscored this point when she was asked about the reception former First Lady Michelle Obama would have received from voters had she wore her hair natural when her husband was running for president:
‘It would signify that she is some sort of militant, neo-Black Panther…frightening, angry. And it would somehow signify that she is not mainstream, because we have decided that mainstream hair is hair that sort of falls down. When you have natural hair that is Black, it stands up and it is not really considered mainstream.
As Adichie noted, wearing Afro-textured hair in its authentic form is perceived as being political because it goes against the norm and the status quo. However, now with the surge of nappy-headed women, it is gradually becoming an ordinary thing to see a woman flaunt her kinks, curls, or coils. It is no longer a subversive, bizarre, or unheard of action.
Dismantling Eurocentric Beauty Standards
For most, going and being natural has involved unlearning the deep-seated, ingrained beauty standard(s) that straight hair equates to “good hair.” The existence of this beauty standard dates back to the times of slavery, when the ethnocentric Europeans demonized people of Afro-descent for their physical features, such as skin, hair, nose, etc. And that is why too many young Black children have grown up thinking that they must conform to the Eurocentric beauty standard of straightening their hair.
Thanks to the natural hair movement, more children are aware that there is no need submit to conformity. They are now becoming aware that their Afro-aesthetic is beautiful and it does not need to be mindlessly altered into something else.
Ultimately, there is no way we can refuse to submit to conformity without owning our hair and normalizing its aesthetic. They all go hand in hand, proving that embracing our hair often means embracing one’s self.