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Within the Pure Hair Neighborhood, Inclusivity Is a Transferring Goal

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The pure hair motion, which began to select up steam within the 2000s and was accelerated by tens of millions of YouTube tutorials and hundreds of focused hair merchandise, gave many Black ladies and femmes area to discover their hair exterior the confines of relaxers. Because the daughter of a West African hair braider, I grew up on this planet of pure hair and have had my very own sophisticated journey with it, so how Black ladies relate to their hair has at all times been a degree of fascination for me.

For what it is price, the pure hair motion doesn’t present indicators of slowing down anytime quickly. Nor ought to it. Pure hairstyles like locs, twists, braids, and Afros have turn into synonymous with creativity, symbols of freedom, and advertising instruments for a booming billion-dollar haircare trade. Its reputation has led to necessary laws just like the CROWN Act, which bans race-based hair discrimination in faculties and the office.

For every thing great the pure hair motion has introduced us, the dialog has remained nuanced. Usually instances, going “natural” meant stockpiling an arsenal of recent merchandise and dedicating hours to the artwork of hair styling. However what about those that don’t want to spend a small fortune on services within the hopes of adjusting the best way their hair seems?

Living proof: A Tweet from earlier this 12 months by @TheRealChanee requested her followers concerning the “interesting” resurgence of relaxed hair. Cora Harrington, an creator and lingerie professional who goes by @lingerie_addict, responded along with her take. “The natural hair movement eventually created a lot of pressure around what natural hair ‘should’ look like,” she stated, “rather than encouraging people to embrace their own textures and curl patterns.”

The thread that adopted sparked a passionate dialog across the pure hair motion’s intentions. When you love your “unnatural” hair—whether or not that be straightened, coloured, or bald—is there something unsuitable with that? Can you continue to be a part of the neighborhood? Solely via understanding the frustrations with it may we create a extra inclusive motion.

Tamica discovered her approach into the pure hair world throughout faculty. The Charlottesville, Virginia–based mostly instructional reporter did the large chop throughout her sophomore 12 months after having hairstyles that vacillated through the years between braids, straightened hair, and the occasional perm, which began in eighth grade. “Natural hair was one of the first ways I could express my Blackness. So I did it to be excited. I was excited—I thought, I’m gonna have natural hair and have this giant beautiful, Amara La Negra–like Afro and look so great,” she says. “Then I realized I’m really fucking bad at hair. Like, I have tried giving myself waves, giving myself braids. I’ve tried doing so many different hairstyles, and it always fails.”

Fernanda, who works in digital and marketing strategy, and is based in New Orleans, did not use relaxers growing up, but experimented with them for a bit when she was older. “I used to be born in Ghana, and so once I was younger, pure hair was all I may do. My dad and mom didn’t permit us to chill out our hair or do something chemically based mostly to it. So my decisions had been Afros or cornrows—that was it,” she says. “Then once I graduated from highschool and went off to varsity, the very first thing I did was chill out my hair, like an fool, as a result of I needed that, you recognize, bouncy, luxurious grasp time that every one the women had.” Fernanda’s love for her new hair lasted only two weeks before new growth kicked in. “You fall into the cycle the place each three to 4 weeks, you have gotta get these roots touched up, after which in all probability a 12 months and a half into my new relaxer journey, my hair began to interrupt off.” Fernanda eventually explored dyeing her hair blonde, having an Afro, shaving her head while studying abroad, and trying out braids and twists.

Fernanda’s hair journey through the years.

Celebrities like Solange Knowles, Viola Davis, and Tracee Ellis Ross have helped shape and lead the natural hair conversation around embracing curls, coils, and beautiful, protective braids. But standards of beauty are pesky, even in the most well-intentioned movements. Representation is not one-size-fits-all.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a natural hair ad where I’ve seen just a bald Black woman.

Alkebuluan, a 24-year-old Chicago-based archivist and assistant teacher, has never had her hair chemically relaxed, both of her parents have locs, and like many other Black women, she spent a lot of time on YouTube during the 2010s natural hair movement following the likes of Naptural85. But her hair journey was a bit different. At age 17, Alkebuluan began experiencing signs of alopecia. “I am somebody who has alopecia, and it is step by step beginning to worsen. And so, I typically needed to deliberately observe Black ladies and femmes who rock a shaved head, or they rock very, very low, low cuts or, like, barber cuts,” she says. “I do not suppose I’ve ever seen a pure hair advert the place I’ve seen only a bald Black lady, as a result of even in case you’re bald, you continue to have some type of scalp care. The place are the adverts with a extremely dope fade and designs? And each my dad and mom have locs. I do not suppose I see any pure hair adverts portraying Black ladies or Black of us with locs both.”

Crystal, a Maryland-based communications affiliate for a nonprofit says, “It does really feel like most individuals are pure now, however on the identical time, we’re nonetheless textures and making an attempt to reward one individual’s free curls. Like, my hair defies gravity, you recognize what I imply?”

So where did the natural hair movement start to sour? All signs point to YouTube. As a platform, YouTube presents many possibilities for beginner naturals, but it also fosters unrealistic expectations. There is an unspoken hierarchy within the natural hair world where looser curl patterns or very defined curl textures are considered more desirable. A number of the interviewees for this piece who identified with having coilier or kinkier hair had their YouTube tutorial expectations crushed by a dose of reality.

“I used to be a little bit bit like a Rhodes scholar at YouTube College with all of the movies I watched on hair, however truthfully, within the nicest approach doable, I felt prefer it was a lie,” Tamica says. “I believe the largest disappointment was once I tried to do the wet-curl look. I watched, like, 4 movies. I am like, ‘You simply gotta comb out your hair, put gel in it, after which comb it out.’ My hair by no means seemed like that. I’ve the identical hair because the YouTuber! I might be like, ‘We each have 4C hair, however it’s simply not working.'”

Jess, a content creator from South Carolina who is based in Italy, had a similar experience. “I at all times joke to my associates that I am 4Z, as a result of my hair doesn’t appear like theirs. I did watch numerous YouTube movies, and I’d purchase the merchandise, and I’d by no means get the identical outcomes. And I am like, ‘Why?'” she asks. “Even simply washing my hair, I am like, ‘My curls by no means seemed like that,’ or ‘I by no means get that type of definition.’ So I by no means felt like I noticed anyone with hair like mine, though they stated they’d 4C curls.”

natural hair community in 2022

Jess’s hair journey through the years.

The problem isn’t with any one hair type or texture, or a missed step in a follow-along tutorial, but rather one of time, money, and access. What’s really going on when the ring light is off? “Illustration issues. So in case you see individuals who have an analogous hair texture or kind to yours, who’ve these enjoyable and bouncy seems, you need to have the ability to duplicate that. However what numerous the YouTube women do not present you is all of the work that goes into manipulating their hair,” Fernanda says. “So that you’re seeing these natural-hair women with these attractive waves and you do not know that it took them six days sitting in perm rods beneath a dryer for 2 hours every day to realize that.”

I would find someone on YouTube and buy the products they were using, and it still wasn’t working.

The women and femmes I speak to all agree that they found themselves spending more money in pursuit of going natural. “Again within the day, it was so many steps. You have to pre-poo, then you must shampoo, and then you definitely want this conditioner, after which you must use this leave-in,” Jess says. She became a big fan of Shea Moisture’s products through watching tutorials. “I’d discover somebody on YouTube and purchase the merchandise they had been utilizing, and it nonetheless wasn’t working. I at all times had a cupboard filled with half-used issues. I assumed, Effectively, I should be utilizing the unsuitable factor.”

Salon upkeep and maintenance is another factor to consider when going natural. “I believe, particularly for lower-income Black women, it is undoubtedly not as accessible as folks make it appear,” Maimuna, an Atlanta-based senior program management coordinator, says. “Folks carry up these hair salons which are like, ‘Oh, we solely cater to pure hair’—you recognize, ‘Embrace the curls,’ all of that. Even issues like protecting types and braids aren’t low-cost. Generally it is cheaper to go get that $7 field of perm, perm your hair, put your hair in a ponytail, and that is it, reasonably than spend $200 on braids.”

Jess continues, “It is at all times been overwhelming, and I am at all times like, ‘Is it me?’ I am a kind of Black women who cannot braid. So my fingers aren’t blessed with the abilities, and I have been tempted to get, like, a perm or one thing, and I by no means have. I really feel like lately there was a dialog of ‘pure hair isn’t that onerous.’ I imply, I haven’t got that many types I can do. So I really feel prefer it’s arduous for me to get a method that I really feel assured in.”

Everyone I speak with recognizes the importance of the natural hair community, but hopes it becomes a more welcoming, inclusive, and understanding place. Going natural is a choice of which there is no right or wrong answer, and staying natural requires resources like time and money. There is no one recipe or formula for great hair.

Crystal says that her hopes for the natural hair movement include the idea that “you do not have to purchase 100 merchandise as a way to really feel like a ‘good pure.’ When you solely take a look at magnificence provide 3 times a 12 months, you are good. There isn’t any unsuitable option to be a pure.”

natural hair community in 2022

Tamica’s hair journey through the years.

Reva, a New Jersey-based artist and assistant to the president of a nonprofit, says, “I’ve excessive hopes for it. I believe it is as a result of I’m into Afrofuturism. Like, even with TikTok now, the truth that it is, like, shorter content material and persons are doing types that you simply usually would not see on an on a regular basis foundation, like, extra architectural issues. I really feel like persons are going to get extra inventive with what they’re selling as the usual for pure hair. I hope we’re strolling round and searching bizarre.”

With Reva’s vision for how the natural hair movement may look in the future, there is the goal of straying from the respectability politics within natural hair and using “weirdness” as a way to individualize our own approaches.

Alkebuluan says she hopes to challenge the idea that hair has to be a certain length to be acceptable. “Sooner or later, I wish to see all hair sorts represented and plenty of extra hairstyles represented, however notably, I believe there must be extra type-4 illustration throughout the motion, for positive.”

Fernanda’s sentiment might be ambitious, but it speaks to the heart of the movement. “I believe it is simply hopefully going to evolve to the purpose the place all of us inform ourselves the reality and we begin appreciating the hair that we’ve got and dealing with it, versus making an attempt to vary it on a regular basis.”

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Houreidja Tall is a New York-based freelance writer. 

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