A black woman’s hair is subject to much political and social debate. In a time where black women grow old without ever having worn their hair in its natural state, and young black girls’ scalps are slathered with chemical cream from young age of three, deciding to don black hair as it grows is a huge deal.
For those unfamiliar with the common process of “perming” in the black community, let me fill you in. A perm in this context refers to the permanent chemical straightening of African American hair using chemical straightening cream. A black woman or girl might undergo this process as often as once per month, or as soon as more of the natural African American hair texture grows in.
Often getting a perm is painful and itchy, but it is considered a part of the culture. Complaints receive a ‘beauty is pain’ response from black mothers and grandmothers. The straightening of afro hair is considered socially acceptable in the black community, as close to beauty as one can get under those hegemonies without installing fake, long, European-looking locks into the hair. As could be expected, there are multiple consequences to applying chemicals to one’s scalp on a regular basis — strange tingling feelings in the scalp, chemical burns, headaches, hair loss, and many other unfortunate occurrences.
The uncomfortable physical aspects of perming afro hair, as well as a willingness to embrace one’s heritage, has driven many African American women to cut the permed hair from their heads, allowingnatural hair texture to grow in. This has been dubbed “going natural,”, and it’s caught on in black communities in the U.S. Women are embracing their hair and discovering that styling and product uses have changed. To make the process easier, “curly” communities of black women with natural black hair are coming together on YouTube on multiple different channels, as well as numerous websites, namely CurlyNikki.com, LoveNaturals.com, and NaturalChica.com.
This movement inspired me, as a young African American woman, to question my own perception of beauty as well as ask myself why straight hair was the hair I thought of as beautiful. The more I thought about it, I realized that it was a real problem for me that I was afraid to wear my hair as it grows out of my head. It made me feel that every time I endure the itching and burning to chemically straighten my hair, I am confirming an underlying hatred of my real identity as a black woman. And so, after much thinking and research, I decided to cut away the permanently straightened hair from my head and allow my natural afro hair to grow out.
The growing movement of natural black hair and the self-confidence and realization described in multiple “curly” girl blogs will no doubt continue to inspire other black women to look the way they are born to look, and embrace that image as beauty. This occurrence is feminism in its most naked form. The afro hair empowers the black woman, empowering the black community, which empowers the whole American community.As a racial minority, the initial social instinct is to conform as much as possible to majority standards. But when the price to look like the majority is to destroy the beautiful hair that African Americans have already been given, the price is too high.