If we can’t grow it, we’ll buy it

Have you ever thought about how much your kinky coils mean to you? Or was it not until the Sheamoisture advertisement started circulating on social media a month ago that your attention for your hair developed?

Let’s talk about hair. It is no secret that for women, regardless of their ethnic background, hair is imperative. Hair is political. Hair can get you a job one day and get you sacked the next day.

Whether you are black, white, Asian or Latin American, questions surrounding how to style your hair, what colour to dye it next and the maintenance of it, are always on your mind.

And for some reason, women never seem to be content with what they have been blessed with.

Those with thick hair want thinner hair, those with curls want straight, whilst those who fear grey because they perceive it as a sign of ageing, voluntarily bleach their locks lighter to achieve this trending look. Undoubtedly, hair plays an incredibly vital role in every woman’s life, to the point where some may even consider a bad hair day equal to a bad day altogether.

However, it seems that hair means immeasurably more to a black woman than any other woman. Why is this so, one may wonder? As the thick and kinky locks grow from the scalps of black women, whether covered up under a wig or unleashed for the entire world to see, black hair tends to be the elephant in the room whom everyone stares at but nobody dares to talk about or even worse, touch.

The uncomfortable experience of having someone pet your hair whilst asking if it really is your own or better yet how ‘it’ can be washed as if ‘it’ is something out of this world, has been and currently is a microaggression that many black women can relate to.

For women of colour, hair is so much more than just keratin, the tough protein, which hair is made of growing out of follicles. Hair is part of their identity, the identity their ancestors formed during and post-slavery. Breeny Lee a digital influencer and Youtuber, believes that black women have a certain attachment to their hair that many other women do not have.

“I had always worn my hair braided and hidden under a weave and a wig so my hair didn’t feel like ‘mine’ or it wasn’t something I really had to worry about or pay much attention to. I didn’t realise the power of black hair till I cut it off one month ago,” Lee explained.

This feeling of power was also experienced during the slave era, where black slaves would have their head forcefully shaved by their slave masters. Then, black hair was seen as a powerful tool, which to the black slave symbolised freedom. Naturally, the shaving of their heads meant a sense of their culture and identity was taken away from them.

Since then and more so after the emancipation, the ‘taming’ of black hair never seemed to go out of fashion and almost became a competition for so-called entrepreneurs to create the next big innovative tamer of kinky, frizzy hair.

In the 1900s, the first African-American self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker invented the hot comb, a straightening tool to help straighten afro hair. The only issue with the hot comb, although it could keep black hair straight for an x-amount of time, was that once the hair got in contact with any type of moisture it would curl back to its natural state. While blacks never stopped using this tool as its more advanced successors still remain in contemporary black hair salons, another successful attempt was made to create a formula to help tame the kinky locks.

This time it was in a chemical form. George E. Johnson, an African-American entrepreneur created a chemical hair relaxer for women in 1957, which could be applied at home. Ever since, it is safe to say that the black hair industry, which according to Mintel is worth approximately £596 million, has been doing its best at introducing new ways to tame the mane. This includes the introduction of weaves in the 1980s, as well as wigs.

Fast-forward to 2017. A time when black women seem to be going back in time with regards to how they keep their hair as more and more women choose to go natural. As of right now in the United Kingdom, the black hair care and beauty industry only makes up five percent of the overall hair care and beauty market.

It is additionally safe to state that, although no studies have been made on a number of black British women going natural, the amount is undoubtedly increasing. This is seen in the forms of black British beauty bloggers and vloggers declaring their love for their ‘fros online.

For most women of colour, going natural seems to be something that is forced upon them. However, for Jamelia Donaldson founder of TreasureTress a UK-based subscription box tailored to young girls with kinky, curly or frizzy hair, going natural is a journey, which should not be forced on anyone.

“All women when making their journey back to natural should do it at their own pace,” Donaldson explained.

Explaining her complex relationship with her natural hair, Donaldson used to disregard the natural beauty of black hair. “I sacrificed the health of my hair trying to fit into an image of beauty which wasn’t natural for me,” she said. This sacrificial act was not only what inspired her to create the business that she owns today but also led to her now intimate relationship with her hair.

For other black women, going natural does seem forced and is at times perceived as a form of ‘peer pressure’ within their ethnic group. Business consultant Nana Attobrah raises the question of what ‘going natural’ really entails as according to her, going natural is more of an ongoing trend better yet, a so-called ‘marketing hoax’ to confuse the average black woman.

Going natural or also commonly known as ‘back to your roots’ for some women of colour means that they have to do the big ‘chop’. The big chop is shaving off the entire head and growing out the natural hair from scratch without applying any chemicals to it.

However, some women only cut off the chemically treated bit of their hair and start growing it out from there, whereas others ‘outgrow’ the chemically treated part of their hair, which means that they, in reality, have two different textures of hair on their head.

Just as for most women, getting a haircut or a trim can at times be an emotional process, however, for women of colour, this process is often on a deeper level than just emotional. “Women should expect to feel uncomfortable, expect to go on a physical, spiritual and emotional journey. It is underestimated just how much energy, memory and meaning is held in our hair,” Donaldson added.

Fashion PR and natural hair advocate Natonya Medford links the process of going natural to religion and said: “Going natural has made me more confident in the way I was born, I like my hair and I like the way I look with my natural hair. Waking up every morning and not being afraid to walk out the door with an afro and people staring brings this inner strength that I can do anything because I do not care what people think.”

As any other transitional journey, going natural is a thought through and well-considered process. Often triggered by black women who want to get to know themselves better, the natural hair journey is always embarked with a result in mind and is rarely solely experimental.

Read the rest of the story in print…..

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