In 2009 I did what the natural hair community calls “the big chop”. I grew out my tiny fro and discarded the relaxed hair attached to it. It was still one of the best choices I have made for myself. In my personal life I was having self esteem issues and when I went natural, it was my light on the path to a better self. As cliché as this sounds, it is the truth. However that is my personal journey. It is not the same experience for every black woman and their feelings (or no feelings) towards their hair.
Over the years I have noticed trends and arguments for and against calling this new wave of kinky and curly haired women a movement. I have a few arguments that leans towards calling this new wave a political/ideology shift.
Whether or not you felt like going natural was political, arbitrary, or somewhere in between for you; it was political regardless.
We live in a construct where everything black is automatically negated, skewed, or appropriated. Especially when it comes to Black women. Yes, your job may have not have even noticed your big chop. You may have just wanted to “try something new”. Or you felt completely liberated. Yet you did something that you weren’t supposed to do by the standards of white supremacy. You weren’t supposed to show who you are and that you like it. That right there, is a shift and a signal. A signal that you like yourself, is unfortunately, very rebellious according to the society we live in.
Our demands shifted an entire market that spent years exploiting the selfhate and lack of knowledge we had of ourselves.
A Mintel Consumer Trend Report had shown in September 2013 that in the past five years, relaxer sales dropped 26%. Also, brands that are popular among ‘natural women’ are brands started by black businesses. I do not have the concrete data to show this, but I have a hunch this is the widest support of black entrepreneurs in an industry in quite some time. Brands like Carol’s Daughter, Shea Moisture, Kinky-Curly, Karen’s Body Beautiful, and Oyin Handmade are black owned and major brands. They were first on the scene to provide the products that black women demanded. Not only more products, but better quality ingredients. So even if you are still chemically processing your hair, you too can benefit from the fact there is a wide array of better products for our hair more than ever before.
Major producers of the popular brands of relaxers, saw the demand a little late in the game. Companies like L’Oréal came into the natural hair game with their Au Natural line. Despite the already well connected chains with immediate access to wide distribution, the companies that were there in the beginning have something a big brand like L’Oréal lacks with this market segment: authenticity and trust. Also, recently Oyin Handmade and Carol’s Daughter made it to Target’s shelves, tapping into wide markets who have been supporting them with online sales for years.
Our demands and our reaction to our own needs have literally shifted money out of the hands of exploiters of internalized racism to the hands of our own communities once again. The economics are undeniable. That is a powerful signal.
The DIY Economy
Even though natural hair doesn’t necessarily mean less money spent, it definitely has been a trend for black women to make their own products for their hair and even their skin. From the “mixologists” of the internet to the numerous tutorials on YouTube on styling, it has impacted me information wise about my own hair. Especially when it came to things I was never taught (like braiding). I was able to actually not have to rely on a stylist for every little thing. I was able to learn my hair and try new things. My hair excited me. These days I go to a professional once in a while (Carol’s Daughter Mirrors Salon in Harlem), but if I needed to do it myself, I can. Something I wasn’t really able to do with my protein deficient relaxed strands. I also make my own body creams now, which is something that came as result of this journey.
In conclusion, I don’t see this as just a trend as some may argue. I have seen it as something that has been welcomed back to our culture. Maybe not under the pan-Africaness of the 60’s and 70’s, but more so as a invitation to the black woman who may not have the same ideals of another. Something politics of respectability can no longer justify as “uncivilized” once this invitation is received. An open invitation to express a side of us that has been blocked for years.