Ahhh, I remember it like it was yesterday. I had recently turned 21 and it was time to take full advantage of my adult freedoms; and by adult freedoms I mean live it up after hours on the social scene while indulging in adult beverages (responsibly and irresponsibly) of course.
It was an autumn night, a Friday to be exact, and I was heading out with a few of my college compadres to a popular nightclub venue downtown. There was electricity in the crisp night air, but that anxious feeling more likely had something to do with it being my very first time attending an actual nightclub. Until this night, my evening social experiences were limited to college parties held in student centers and gymnasiums with other students. However, this night, I was going to be partying it up with the grown & sexy crowd. In other words, grown and sexy fine @ss women.
As we made our way towards the club and turned the corner, our brisk walk slowed to a cool urban music video pace as the venue entrance came into view. There were several noticeably attractive women standing in line, however my eyes skipped over them like tossed pebbles on quiet waters, finally settling on her – the woman with the illustrious crown standing at the back of the line. She was different. She was majestic. She was…an aesthetic anomaly of sorts.
A tall chocolately sistah adorned in all black like the omen, only she didn’t know meh. She donned a waist length fitted black leather jacket, a black skirt that stopped just above her knees, and stood in a pair of tall black boots that hugged her calves better than a farmer with a sick fetish. Yet what captivated me most about her was what sat nestled atop her head. It complimented her facial features. It completed her look. It captured her essence. It was a voluminous untamed afro, vibrant and rich in it’s thickness, and she rocked it well; better than L.L. could ever rock bells.
This young lady was far from bohemian or earthy. Rather, more reminiscent of what you would envision a stereotypical Black Panther freedom fighter to look like, infused with a touch of high fashion. Stylish. Confident. Self assured yet demure. Sexy as fcuk. She was it. This moment right here ninja, was the first time a young woman proudly wearing her hair in its natural state and in such wild abundance graced my eyes. Little did I know it would also be this woman that would redefine my aesthetic prototype, forever.
Such a look was highly uncommon at that time, primarily among the young adult crowd here on the northeast. See, this was still during the reign of creamy crack era. Sure the likes of Erykah Badu and Angie Stone had established a presence in urban pop culture with their earthy wraps and bantu knots, but they were entertainers. And although the neo soul music genre had gained ground in urban media at that point (which in my opinion helped usher in the natural hair revival), it was still long before the hair movement had taken hold in the way we have come to know today.
For more decades than I care to tally, our sistahs in aggregate have maintained a long-standing and well earned reputation for trading in their naturally tightly coiled tresses for the more ‘manageable’, straighter, Europeanesque flowing hair.
In bi-weekly rituals, appointments were made and 9 hours of any given Saturday were willingly sacrificed to chemically process away that pesky new growth. And before coming of age to make trips to the salon on their own, it was the hot comb and the tub of Vaseline on the hot stove and reddening skin tone accompanied by sizzling sounds of singeing hair as the burning scent permeated the atmosphere in yo mama’s (or somebody elses mama’s) kitchen. How many of us can relate?
Mothers and elder sisters grooming their young one’s to abandon their home grown kinky coils for straighter silkier strands of that ‘good hair’. It is what most of our young Black girls were accustomed to doing, and what I and many other young Black boys were accustomed to viewing. So engrained was the message and that message was clear: Natural black hair, you’re not welcomed ‘round here.
See, it wasn’t that I never had an appreciation for the natural do, it’s that I (and many other brothas) weren’t given the chance to; and neither were our young sisters. Our community had spoken, which is what made this Naturalista standing in line with the storm cloud above her head an outlier, an anomaly…but an undeniably beautiful and captivating one to me.
I was hooked on her look. Fcuk phonics. More importantly, I was hooked on what her look stood for (at least to me). So much so that thereafter while dating, I found myself encouraging every Black woman I met to embrace their natural hair and give up their sick addiction, creamy crack affliction. You might even say I was daringly bold, encouraging them to put down their weaves and pick up their souls.
Flash-forward time to present day and I can say it pleases me to see that a growing number of our young Black women have done just that. They have warmly with nervous but open arms embraced what they have been taught for generations to hate and reject- themselves. Out of this acceptance came self-love, which then gave rise to a growing sub culture of other self-loving natural hair cultivators. A community was born. That’s right, a community. There are literally thousands of Websites, blog sites, and Vlog channels dedicated to sharing product recommendations, homemade concoctions, hair care and styling tips. Even videos documenting personal hair journeys from the anxious moments leading up to the BC (Big Chop) to the inspiring weekly updates thereafter. From NYC to Washington DC and other metropolitan cities with large concentrations of brown skinned folk, Natural Hair Conventions are held attracting [natural] hair enthusiasts from all over.
At these engagements, an assortment of young Black women boasting all shades of brown and beauty come together showcasing various styles of twists, curls, pompadours, afros and half fros in celebration of not only their own hair, but your hair, your ancestry, your biology, your identity, YOU. Their presence endorses the love of self as they participate in this modern day ritual fostering sisterhood and communal love. It is here one can bear witness to the Daughters of the motherland congregating, bonding, appreciating one another’s [natural] beauty through tales and stories of their respective journeys. The sea of smiles, the elated greetings and hugs, the hundredth time someone exclaims, “Oh my God, your hair I love!” and then hugs you as if she’s known you for years.
Our sisters are learning to love themselves, and through this are able to love one another, now being able to see themselves IN each other. And to think they were brought together in this atmosphere of positive energy by the love for their naturally Black hair – a sign of the heritage they share.
Alas, in spite of all this appreciation, I find myself conflicted with bittersweet adoration. As much as it warms my heart to stroll past a sistah adorned with her natural do, I often find myself asking, “How long will this last”? Is this hair here to stay or is it like most other things past, a passing trend no one is yet willing to admit? Is natural hair today’s finger waves of the 90’s? Are the well-manicured locks, flat twists, fro hawks today’s Cross Colors, Skorts, and Jellies of Black hair? Much like the afros of the 70’s, the Pan African movement of the early 1900’s and even its pseudo return as Afrocentrism in the early 90’s, they all came by storm, had their moment in the sun and disappeared over the horizon; and so too will this current appreciation for natural hair. The perm will return. The creamy crack will come back. Such is the circle of life.
Yet amidst my pessimism, there resides a glimmer of hope. Deep down I know a novelty ‘natural hair love’ does not have to be. Collectively we have the power to ensure its longevity. Not only for our present generation, but for future generations to come. Starting by altering our own perceptions of beauty we can universally redefine beauty for and of ourselves, thus reshaping the mindset of our culture entirely. And by our culture, I mean OUR culture, not mainstream society’s ‘rendipulation’ of OUR culture.
The rise of the Natural hair bloggers, vloggers and hair expos promoting the adoration of what protrudes naturally from within our follicles is an excellent start. If successful in this endeavor within our community, natural ‘Black’ hair may have a fighting chance at becoming a fixture and not simply another cute novelty with an expiration date.
**Stands behind podium, taps mic**
Friends, mothers, fatherly men, lend me your ears. Teach your daughters to love the versatility of their natural hair, even if you don’t love your own. Teach your son’s to love and adore their fellow sistahs by showing them that tightly coiled hair is just as glamorous and elegant on a woman as its more looser curled and straighter flowing counterpart.
After all my people, if we can’t see the beauty within ourselves, how can we expect the rest of the world to?
So my beautiful OM family, what say you? What are your thoughts on the natural hair movement? Is it a fashion fad or a sign of change? If it’s a fad, how do you feel about it being one? Also, will you encourage your own children (girls AND boys) to appreciate natural Black hair? Do you even give a damn?