And for me, the fact that my hair became the backdrop for my face, rather than the other way around, was so satisfying. The impact of the natural lasted about a decade. Then straight hair came back with a vengeance, while I kept my own hair natural, except for one or two times when I used a relaxer just for a change. But the chemicals always damaged my hair.
The natural revealed, in ways that more traditional styles did not, what I now had come to know was an attractive face.
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It fit my busy lifestyle, and I liked the way I looked and felt wearing a natural—free and comfortable in my skin. Whatever Black women do to their hair is controversial. The straightening of Black hair was controversial when first introduced at the turn of the 20th century. The technique was loudly criticized by the Black elite, even though many of them had straight hair that afforded them higher levels of acceptance by Whites than other Blacks received.
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Fast-forward half a century, and the Afro and natural were in some corners criticized as unkempt and uncivilized. Even today, many feel that natural hair is questionable as a legitimate hairstyle. The talk show host Wendy Williams criticized the actress Viola Davis so virulently for wearing her hair in a natural style to the Oscars in , you would have thought she had attended the ceremony with a bag on her head.
Recently, I was invited to speak to a group of high school girls who wanted to wear natural hair and who had formed a support group to sustain them in their decision.
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They shared heartbreaking stories of parents and friends who questioned their judgment because of this choice and predicted all manner of ruin and disaster for these girls. But the CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns, wears a natural, and the real world of corporations has learned to make room for constantly changing expressions of racial and ethnic beauty, even as there is ever-present pushback, attempting to enforce a unitary beauty and hair standard.
This twixt and tween is simply called reality. Black women never really win the hair wars. We keep getting hit by incoming fire from all sides. Today our hair is as much of a conundrum as ever.
The politics of black hair
While Black women spend more on their hair than anyone else, they are routinely less satisfied with results. Weaves, wigs, and extensions are mainstream, from the heads of high school girls to those of TV reality series housewives. While clearly the cover was meant to parody mindless racism, many across the political spectrum took offense. As first lady, Michelle Obama has been crowned, quite justly, an American queen of style and glamour.
She is considered by many ordinary folk, as well as those who are the arbiters of fashion and style, to be beautiful and elegant and a premier symbol of American female beauty, as influential as Jacqueline Kennedy. OK, the revolution just got televised. Yet the controversy continues generation after generation. The cultural tumult is inspired, I feel, by the questions that continually haunt Black people. Questions that years of activism, protest, and progress have failed to answer in ways we can uniformly accept: Who are we?
The politics of black women's hair: Why it's seen with skepticism -- and a need to discipline
What is our standard of beauty, and where are the roots of that beauty to be found? These questions spring from our position as both central to American culture and perennially marginalized by it. And there are the other questions that hair leads to as well, about femininity, questions that haunt women of all shades, hues, and races.
Especially when real beauty, the kind that can light up a room literally and figuratively, radiates from within? Black women, like women all over the world, live imprisoned by a cultural belief system about beauty and hair whose time should have passed. Today my natural is full of gray hairs, and I love it and my face more than ever, as the battle about Black hair rages on. People walk around with purple hair and no-one really says anything.
That was the only time I hesitated about relaxing it, but I went through with it anyway. They decided I had to tie it back. And because I was so young and needed the job, I went with it. Lou, 22, says her decision to start wearing her hair naturally was driven by her desire to be "liked just as who I am". ABC Life helps you navigate life's challenges and choices so you can stay on top of the things that matter to you. Posted 1 Oct October , updated 17 Sep September Australia's beauty industry is failing women of colour.
Each civil rights struggle unique in its own right, but all of which shared a renewed sense of belonging that displayed itself in a kinky crown called the Afro.
Natural hair has always been political. Amongst African tribes, hair was not just hair but an external representation of belonging. The Himba women of Namibia have always covered their hair in otjize, a thick, red, and protective clay that reflects the beauty of the earth. Colorful beads and gold adornments lightly frame the bright faces of Ghanaian brides whose smiles meet you before they do. Similarly to the women of the Masaai tribe in Kenya, the fictional and proud Dora Milaje women of Wakanda wore their bald heads in a shiny declaration of belonging.
Ever common Bantu knots , are a sweet nod to the history of African hair as a unifying tool of freedom in blackness.
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Natural hairstyles share a story of identity that represents belonging in the face of separation. We have watched natural hair disrespected with spit and milk at the Woolworth Counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The world has seen the sheen of afros scurrying past television cameras as the youth of The Congolese National Movement fought back Belgian regimes and young Afro-Colombians stood up to a government that refused to recognize them.
How Did We Get Here?
The braids and plaits of the black Canadian children who walked into segregated schools to change history are all connected through strands of time. In the face of social and cultural, and political oppression, natural hair is an unbroken thread of unity amongst the black diaspora, a beacon of affirmation and belonging and therefore political. An act as simple as wearing your natural hair became brave, revolutionary even… The freedom of wearing natural hair liberated generations who were told their individuality and humanity was not allowed, crushing their right to live as free as they were made to be.
To the children of Pan African liberation, natural hair will always be political because it will always mean freedom.
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