“Nappy”…”Kinky”…”Dense”… “Poufy”… “Wiry”… “Wild” – a short list of the adjectives that have commonly been used to describe black people’s hair. It isn’t until about ten years ago that black women fully began to embrace the resistant coil of their afro-textured hair, what with the big hype surrounding the Natural Hair Movement.
Let’s take it back a few centuries to understand the origin of this movement. The word “Nappy” was derived from a small cotton-ball like entity which grows on the inside of the cotton plant, which is referred to as a “nap”. It was considered then, that this cotton ball somewhat resembled what ungroomed Afro-textured hair looked like, and from thence came the term.
Afro textured hair was a common reality for the black community; and then the birth of mixed race children took place during the slavery period, altering this phenomenon. Thicker, coarser hair became a feature that was undesirable, despised; while straighter and curlier textures were praised and admired. Slaves who were of a lighter skin tone and had curlier hair sold for a higher price at auctions than those of a darker shade, with the more kinky hair textures. Thus, it became internalised that Afro-textured hair and or dark skin equated to ugliness, and there the standard of beauty (which, many centuries later, still presides) was set.
Since then, black women have gone through extensive treatments and unbelievable practices to straighten and smoothen their hair, to make it more “acceptable” and “neat” in society’s view. In the 1880’s, the metal hot comb was invented by the French: one would heat the comb and use it to temporarily straighten the kinks out of the woman’s hair. In 1954 a chemical hair straightener was introduced, which was still very temporary, but whose effects lasted longer than those of the hot comb.
Today, these chemicals have been well modified and are commonly referred to as relaxers, or, more informally, “creamy crack”. This nickname emanates from how addictive the effects of the relaxer tend to be, and how, when you do sign the contract to be in a relationship with the chemical, there’s seemingly no turning back from that creamy crack. No matter how many times you get burned.
All of this hassle and strife and effort and science; a seemingly tireless battle to fight the natural form of our creation: the natural elliptical bonds and the firm tightness of the coils that spring from our own scalps. My people, indeed, we have been through the most.
“Black woman, remove the kinks from your mind, and not your hair.” – Marcus Garvey
The 2000’s, however, displayed a complete turn around from this. The market for natural hair care grew into a billion dollar industry, as several women threw out their relaxing kits and welcomed back their long lost kinks, resulting in a 25% decline in the sale of relaxer chemicals. Black women all over began to learn more and educate themselves about how to care for their hair types, and would, in turn, share this knowledge on social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook group pages.
The Science surrounding our hair became more focused on digging deep into what practices would better it, and not those that would ultimately change (straighten) it. In 2010, Sesame street featured an African-American puppet on their YouTube channel, singing a song called “I love my hair”, in which the girl listed all of the styles she could do with her hair: from braids, to locs, to cornrows, to a classic old afro.
The movement has inspired so much positive discussion surrounding our roots as a people, and black women all over the world have even taken back the word “Nappy” and refined it to mean “Natural and Happy”. My own “nappy” journey began not so long ago, when I was convinced after just two conversations with my aunt (shoutout to Bree) to ditch the chemical lifestyle. At the time of these conversations, her own relaxed hair was just past waist length, and I honestly thought she was a little insane for wanting to chop all of that luscious, silky, long hair and exchange it for a Fro.
Before you ask, no, she does not have any white blood in her, and no, there aren’t any tracks in it either (Lol). Too frequently, women like to attribute long, natural hair on black women to them being “mixed race”, and this isn’t the case. She simply found good hair care remedies that worked for her hair, and stuck to them.
“I don’t need a relaxer; my hair isn’t stressed.” – Unknown
The volume of afro-textured hair is unmatched! I later realised that she was actually exchanging that long, smooth texture, for healthy, thick hair. I was obviously hectically inspired, and so I figured, who was I to hold on to my ‘sort-of-shoulder-length-when-I’m-in-a-good-mood’ strands of relaxed hair??
The two of us therefore began our transitioning process at the same time, and I hit my one year mark in July of this year. I felt no remorse whatsoever when I chopped off my relaxed ends and said goodbye to dealing with two different hair textures: the straighter, low-maintenance, relaxed ends which were constantly in competition with the more demanding, thirstier roots springing up (that new growth, sigh).
My big chop was met with several different reactions – from looks of adoration from my mother who felt I looked more beautiful without all the hair that used to cover my face, to speculative comments from relatives who were unsure that this look was for me, but would ‘love me either way’.
I also soon realised just how insatiable human beings are! A few weeks into wearing my TWA, (Teeny Weeny Afro) I had a few people asking me what my next hairstyle would be, and when I’d be getting my hair braided or weaved again. THEN, when I did get my hair braided right before the school semester began, I was greeted with (verbatim): “Oh, I thought you went natural? Looks like you went back to the white side”, in reference to my braids. Despicable.
This journey is my own. My own to define and my own to fulfill. Whether my hair is compliant and my twist-out finally succeeded; whether it wakes up the next day in an angry state and refuses to be restrained; whether it is in a protective style or not, it is mine. Oh, and I schooled that individual about how to address me the next time he decided to speak on my hair choices.
Thank you for reading all the way through my first post.