The natural hair movement, or the black hair revolution as we know it today, exists across the U.S. and other parts of the world, has become quite mainstream in the past decade or so.
However, if we were to really look at it, especially in America, we’d be able to trace it decades back, especially in the 60s and 70s, existing side by side with major historical movements including the Civil Rights movements, feminist movements, the hippie revolution, and of course, the Black Power Movement. The return to natural started long before many of us even knew what it meant, growing on to become bigger and more mainstream to what we know it as today.
Hair as a form of oppression
Hair has always been a central aspect of black identity. But following colonization and the horrific slave-trade, where millions of black people were brought to American colonies for labor in the 1600s, and seen as nothing more than commodities, the dehumanization process began.
It started with head shaving, which was a way of erasing cultural ties and history, while stripping them of their individuality, and thus, humanity.
In the centuries to follow, other ways of oppressing black folk were introduced, including the Tignon Laws, that mandated head covering for Black and Creole women.
Soon, relaxers and hot-combs became hot selling tools as a way to assimilate. We see a brief look into the world of black hair through more mainstream content such as series like Self-Made, which delves into one of the biggest black hair enterprises and entrepreneurs.
Madam C.J. Walker was a revolutionary, becoming the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S., exemplifying black excellence, but her legacy is confusing for many.
Today, even within the movement, we see people struggling to find acceptance for natural hair that doesn't conform to Eurocentric beauty standards. Women with tight, kinky curls and braids are still fighting the fight that doesn’t come easy.
The resurgence and reclamation
The 1960s, in particular, saw a different kind of reclamation. Black identity separated itself from that which was created by its oppressors and colonizers. Elements of black culture and personhood that were stomped on became symbols of power.
From the color of our skin to the texture of our hair, everything that was criticized became a cause for celebration in light of these movements. Clothing, hair, jewelry, everything became part of a complex, culturally loaded aesthetic.
Simultaneously, African immigrants from across the diaspora brought in their cultural and social practices, including the way they wore their hair, paying homage to their unique cultures and histories. This was a way of rejecting white-approved assimilation.
Eventually, however, sporting natural hair, curls, protective styles such as braids, was popularized by celebrities and public figures. However, corporate America wasn't ready for it.
The natural hair movement right now
While we are light years away from true racial, gender, ethnic, and religious equality, especially in the United States, given the ongoing BLM protests and horrific injustices, we have made progress.
Beyond just celebrities and public figures, ordinary folk have begun to reclaim their hair textures and take charge of their legacy. The early 2000s saw a resurgence of natural hair once more, with economic recession and an air of rebellion, as women began going natural before it was popularized on social media.
Black hair care is worth billions of dollars, and hairstylists and changemakers are helping black women feel beautiful in their natural hair.
As a celebrity hairstylist and artist, I have worked with Beyonce and Tia Mowry, both of whom have sported and spoken about natural hair. Tia Mowry sported her natural hair on the Netflix series, Family Reunion, exploring the importance and history of it on screen.
Together, we need to celebrate black womanhood, and our hair is a significant part of this. To know more about hair-related matters, styling appointments, and more, you can contact me. Learn more about my work as a hairstylist and beauty consultant for celebrities here.