While the natural hair movement has begun to become embraced in the workforce and schools across the nation – even leading some states to pass laws prohibiting discrimination based on hair – some women say they still face stigma for deciding to be natural.
In a recent Sonoma State Star report, a group of college women have spoken up about their experiences as women who choose to wear their hair naturally.
Olivia Blades, a fourth-year psychology major, recalled being ridiculed in elementary school for wearing her hair in pigtail afro puffs.
“They were just pointing and laughing at me and I cried,” she told the publication. She said it was her mother’s support that helped her accept that her hair was beautiful just the way it was. “My mom told me that my hair was beautiful and that they were just jealous.”
Another woman, Amari Houston, said that she decided to ditch perms and other straighteners after seeing the excessive damage it was doing to her tresses. She said learning to embrace her natural hair was one of the best decisions she ever made. She credits her relationship with God for helping to learn how to love the hair she was born with.
“In order to love yourself, you have to love every part of yourself, including your hair,” the second-year psychology student said, adding that with natural hair she is still able to express her style and personality.
“I like trying out different hairstyles with different colors that sometimes express my mood.”
And while some have learned to love their natural hair, others are still on a journey to embrace it – an honest sentiment many women of color deal with.
“To be honest, I’m still learning to love my hair,” Taneesha Porter, a fourth-year sociology and women gender studies student said.
Before the natural hair era arose during the beginning of social media days, the movement gained traction in the 1960s and 1970s after leading women in Hollywood began wearing their hair in Afros on movie sets and red carpets. Famed actresses like Pam Grier were one of the first women to embrace the natural style, and helped to cement an iconic look that would be remembered for decades to come.
“In the 1970s, natural hair was essentially like a resistance to Eurocentric standards of beauty, kind of in line with the social and racial justice movements that were happening at that time,” said Quani Burnett, an inclusion strategist and creator of beauty4brownskin.
There are parallels between then and now. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, more women have begun to embrace their natural hair as a symbol to represent Blackness and Black identity.
But there was resistance from some, including one woman, who admitted that the natural hair movement came at an impressionable time in her life. She was in college and wasn’t sure if she was ready to make the transition at the time, she recalled.
“I think once the natural hair movement started, I was in college and I kind of felt a little pressure to go natural,” she said. “I was at an HBCU, you know? I would get to see a lot of women who wore their natural curls and all the things and I wanted to, but I was like, ‘college doesn’t feel like a good time to transition.’” When she graduated, she says, “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna go natural.’”
Of course, some women have decided to continue relaxing their hair. The reasons vary, including the time and upkeep that comes with managing natural hair. Others simply prefer how looser curl patterns and straight hair frame their faces.
“The past year, I was just like, I do not like being natural,” another woman said. “I work out every day. I also have work events every day where I have to have my hair done and all the things, and it just stopped making sense for me.”