Kinks, Coils and The Culture

The Natural Hair Movement: then and now

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My natural hair is my favorite part of all my African American features, and it provides me the bliss I need to combat daily bigotry.

“Going natural” is a way for people of African descent to reconnect with their roots and embrace their kinky hair texture. The natural hair journey consists of ceasing to modify yourself to fit the white criteria of society and gaining confidence and empowerment through the melanin you were born with.

Illustration by Lizzy Choi

I was born into a world that denies me basic human rights because of my Blackness. However, as I got older, I decided my greatness would no longer be limited because of others’ perceptions of my brown skin. My Black life is a book that others refuse to read because the content makes them uncomfortable, yet I still receive unacceptable treatment.

It is important to recognize that natural hair in the Black community historically sustains a negative stereotype, and straight hair is still valued over kinky hair today, because of anti-blackness.

It is also important to recognize that natural, afro-centric hair texture should not be advertised as an easy target for objectification. Validation and acceptance are not required to proceed with your journey. No one can define parts of you they do not experience or understand.

Natural hair has absorbed various interpretations over decades, all of which has introduced new perspectives. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans were forced to adhere to white expectations, including white hairstyles. Straight hair that resembled white people’s was the only socially acceptable look. But in reality, these societal white standards of beauty haven’t changed.

Let me be the first to say, straightening Black hair is not an easy, nor timely, activity. In fact, it is quite painful and damaging. Black hair typically isn’t naturally straight, which requires applying harmful chemicals, also known as a perm, which damages hair in the long run. Black people are forced to put themselves through this difficult process just to look “normal.”

Illustration by Lizzy Choi

To this day, natural hair still receives backlash as the Black community is consistently discriminated against and demoralized. This happens not only in social situations, but also in professional environments as well. Even in 2018, the standard workplace etiquette is that only “straight and kept” hair is acceptable.

If a white woman curls her straight hair, it is considered stylish. As opposed to a Black woman embracing her natural curls, which is considered unprofessional.

Individuals with kinky or curly hair experience bias or stereotype in the workplace, according to a 2016 study by the Perception Institute. The coils that lie upon my head should not cost me equal opportunities or my paycheck.

It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement that the Afro restored cultural identity and took a societal stance. For the first time, natural hair took a major political standpoint that fought for equal rights for the African American community.

Illustration by Lizzy Choi

This coincided with the Black is Beautiful movement that blew up in the 1960s, rebutting white standards that created an internalized belief that being Black and being beautiful are not synonymous. This movement empowered a positive perception of African Americans, shedding light on Black beauty and aesthetics such as hair, skin and fashion.

Many famous African American icons echoed the Black is Beautiful message. Soul Train, a popular television series from the early 2000s, especially conveyed that Black people can and will be comfortable in their beautiful skin with or without permission.

The African American community today still has to fight to prove themselves. This is intolerable because we are beautiful and unique. Instead of being appreciated and acknowledged, our culture is constantly stolen and showcased as a “trend.” Most situations of cultural appropriation go unrecognized and unaddressed everyday. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Miley Cyrus are prime examples of ripping off Black culture and style.

To be Black is to walk through a world that believes it knows what it’s like to be you. They don’t. But they use their assumptions to judge you anyway. To be Black is to conform to others’ restraints and be expected to say nothing.

If you had to hold back the words the average African American person does, it would taste bitter on your lips as it tries to escape. The Black is Beautiful movement is important because it fights the same battle we fight today, and it verifies why the natural hair journey is so personally effective.

Within the last 10 years, natural hair has become less of a statement to society and more of a statement to ourselves. Hair care industries are flourishing, as well as the health, happiness and confidence of the Black community. Natural hair maintains the same goals and aspirations as the Black is Beautiful Movement, but shifted to be less political and more about personal empowerment.

The natural hair journey stimulates self-love and I fully support it. It is time to let our people stand tall and proud with the crown that is their natural hair.

My natural state is beautiful, and it should be recognized and never forgotten.