I grew up during a time when you didn't get picked on for having "nappy hair," but Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye for a reason. Black people have felt pressured to conform to European standards of beauty for a long time.
I remember how, as a little girl, I hated getting my hair pressed — the process of getting your natural hair straightened with a hot pressing comb. Young girls, even grown women, flinch when you get too close to their scalp with a pressing comb — it almost always ends with some part of your scalp, neck, or ear being burned. If I flinched, I got reprimanded. If I cried, I was told I'd get something to cry for.
I was just 9 years old when I got my first chemical relaxer to straighten my hair. I felt like a doll when I left that salon. I'll never forget it. We had bible school that night. My Sunday school teacher told me that my hair was beautiful. She touched it, and I remember her hand falling to the middle of my back. My hair is so long, I thought to myself.
But it comes at a cost. Research suggests that, besides damaging your hair, the process can be dangerous. The latest update from an ongoing study called the Sister Study, which looks at medical records and lifestyle surveys from 46,709 women between the ages of 35 and 74, found that Black women who dyed their hair frequently, every one or two months, were at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
For that reason alone, a lot of women have made the decision to do a "big chop" and embrace their natural hair. And once they see how beautiful their natural hair can be, going back to chemicals isn't even an option.
Many people of African descent have embraced the natural-hair moment, which became popularized and politicized in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights era. In the '60s, Black people began to embrace their Blackness. We took on a new identity — one that not only accepted our natural hair, but celebrated it.
"The reason for it, you might say, is like a new awareness among Black people that their own natural appearance, their physical appearance, is beautiful," said Kathleen Cleaver, of the Black Panther Party, in 1968. "For so many years, we were told that only white people were beautiful."
In the '70s, the style was popularized in films such as Cleopatra Jones (1973) starring Tamara Dobson, but it faltered when the Afro, the preferred hairstyle of activists, became a target for arrest, giving the police an excuse to profile Black people.
The natural-hair movement has since made a comeback. All over the world, Black people are returning to their natural roots. Just turn on your TV. Open up a magazine. Look at the runway. It's everywhere!
Go into any beauty-supply store, and you'll see that there are now aisles dedicated to natural-hair products. And if you're unfamiliar with a product or brand or if you're on the fence about the price, all you have to do is head over to YouTube, where a resourceful and informative natural-hair community thrives. There are tons of channels with tutorials on how to detangle hair, how to braid hair, and more. And users leave their honest reviews on products and brands. I won't even purchase an item for my hair before I get a YouTube confirmation.
Natural hair is on the move, especially here in Detroit. For anyone starting or embarking on their natural-hair journey, these local brands, stylists, and events have got you covered:
4147 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-4771; texturesbynef.com
Local stylist and salon owner Nefertiti says that while working as a model in Chicago in the '70s, she felt like having natural hair wasn't encouraged. That's when she began dedicating herself to empowering African-American women. She's been a hair stylist for the last 27 years, and for 17 of those years, she's been doing business in Midtown as Textures By Nefertiti, where all the stylists specialize in natural hair. Recently, Nefertiti says, she's seen an increase in the number of women who are embracing their natural hair. Nefertiti believes that when women embrace their natural hair, the mind, body, and spirit all align. In March, the shop is moving to a new location in the New Center area at 6525 Woodward Ave., in Detroit.
16824 Kercheval Ave, Grosse Pointe; 313-350-4438
MarkQuisha StClair and LaDonna Sims are the owners of the salon Hair Goals 313, and hosts of "My Natural Hair," a podcast that shares educational information about natural hair. Podcast topics include the movement, styles, and tips for growing natural hair, and also serves as a guide to meeting other people who are part of the natural-hair culture and movement. The duo has more than 30 years' combined experience doing natural hair, and whether you rock locs, twists, or curls, the ladies are committed to using natural, non-toxic, environmentally friendly products.
22441 Gratiot Ave. St. 303, Eastpointe; 313-888-1520; keyessentialshair.com
Key Glover is a licensed master cosmetologist, hair educator, and natural-hair enthusiast. This year, Glover was a featured stylist at the annual Curl Fest. She's been in the hair industry for more than 12 years and is passionate about hair care and creating the perfect look for each of her clients. When asked about the big chop, she says, "Sometimes it's time to just let things go so we can receive the new."
While going through her own natural-hair journey, Detroit-based cosmetologist Genevieve Anyiah started Embrace the Natural You as a blog to share natural-hair tips, tutorials, and hair product reviews. Anyiah's obsession with finding the perfect blend of carrier oils, essential oils, butters, emollients, and humectants led to the creation of Embrace the Natural You as a hair-care brand. The products are naturally crafted and include cleansers, moisturizers, satin bonnets, shower caps, and satin-lined beanies. The brand's mission is to educate women on how to conquer and embrace their natural tresses by instilling confidence in every customer, influencing women to be themselves, and inspiring self love.
Founder and CEO Gwen Jimmere started Naturalicious in the kitchen of her Detroit home after struggling with the troubles of wash day. As a natural woman herself, Jimmere knew she was onto something when she created a product that took her style time down from five hours to 30 minutes. With a mission to eliminate the frustration, time, and expense that comes with maintaining natural hair, the Naturalicious brand has become one of the nation's fastest growing hair-care companies. Jimmere is the first African-American woman to hold a patent for a natural-hair care product. Naturalicious' easy-to-use products include gels, styling creams, and moisturizers.
Entrepreneur Eonica Smith created her luxury natural-hair-care brand with family in mind. When Smith was a child, her mother would relax her hair to make it manageable, which led Smith to believe that she had awkward hair. After giving birth to twin girls, Smith vowed to use the best products in her daughters' hair. Her extensive research led to the creation of Onie Organics. The brand's black soap cleanser, leave-in conditioner, thickening oil, edge control, and hydrating mist can be used on all natural-hair types. The products are handcrafted with natural, organic, and vegan ingredients, and are made in Michigan.
July 18, 2020; venue TBA; detroitnaturalhairexpo.com
This annual event is curated by Naturals United, a company dedicated to educating people around the world to love and embrace their natural hair. Launched in 2017, the expo provides a platform for people to have real conversations about what being natural means to them. Natural-hair enthusiasts from all over the world come to watch hands-on demonstrations, attend blogger panels, and meet YouTube influencers.
Naturally FLYY Detroit presents: WE ROCK DOPE HAIR! A Natural Hair Experience
2020 date and venue TBA; instagram.com/naturallyflyydetroit
Sisters Espy "EttaFLYY" and Jennifer Thomas, owners of the boutique Naturally FLYY Detroit, have been providing a space for natural hair meet-ups in the city since 2010. Their signature annual event is a natural-hair experience created to inspire, encourage, and empower women, men, and children to be who they are naturally, starting with their hair. The event features pop-up salons, live big chops, traditional African head wrapping, and more. The sisters believe African-American hair isn't something to be modified or tamed into submission, and they aim to offer the practical and social support needed for individuals to step out with confidence in their natural selves.
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