It grows against gravity with curls and coils that reach for the sky. Black women’s hair is more than a fashion trend. It is a statement that holds history and importance. Whether a woman is rocking cornrows, an Afro, or braids, natural hairstyles have influenced women over the past six decades. Women wearing their natural hair is an act of self-love and proclamation of identity. Here’s a brief history of how the movement has evolved and how it impacts millions of women across the world.
The natural hair movement has been documented back to the mid-’60s as part of the “Black is Beautiful” movement. It was a way to celebrate and embrace the beautiful physicality of Black women such as facial features, skin tone, and hair. Soon after there was the rise of the Black Panther movement. Activists such as Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, and Bobby Seale were photographed with their fists held high and their Afros even higher. Natural hair then became a political statement.
The Afro held strong through the ’70s and into the disco era. Women such as Pam Grier wore their Afros in movies and on television, and the symbolism behind the Afro started to change. It transformed into a symbol of sexuality and femininity. As the decade progressed and music started to become more of an expression of culture, other hairstyles started to emerge. When Donna Summer released her album cover, she gave wind to a new style. Almost every woman at the time was walking around with rollers in their hair, trying to achieve those big and loose curls. Towards the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s, locs became popular through movies and music.
Locs is a hairstyle that comes from locks of hair becoming entangled. Within these entanglements, the hair grows without brushing or combing. Although this may sound like poor hair care, this style requires frequent upkeep with regular washes and maintenance. CNN has reported that historians have found evidence of locs being worn in many different cultures, such as ancient Egyptians, the Aborigines, New Guineans, and early Christians. Yet most people are familiar with this style because of the religious movement Rastafarianism. Within this culture, the style is referred to as “dreadlocks.” On the pop culture scene, women such as Whoopi Goldberg and Lauren Hill helped make this style even more impactful in the United States.
Movies, such as Poetic Justice, further began to popularize Black hair in the ’90s. Almost every millennial remembers when Janet Jackson came on the scene sporting her box braids. Other iconic hairstyles from this decade include the Jheri curl. Comer Cottrell is credited for starting this style, which consisted of big curly wet hair and asymmetrical cuts. Also during this time, many Black barbers delivered specialized fades. Celebrities such as Grace Jones and Will Smith made the fade iconic.
Technological advancements at the turn of the century introduced more digital platforms. On places such as blogs and YouTube, more women began to speak about and showcase natural hair. This was far different from the ’60s and ’70s, when those who wanted to wear their Afro crowns would have to hide them in fear of facing police brutality. In 2006, Patrice Yursik created Afrobella, an award-winning blog focused on natural hair. Afrobella is a space for discussion and glorification of natural hair. With more information, women have turned away from harsh chemicals and texturizers. Instead, they have embraced their natural curl patterns.
2010 to present day
In the past decade, more and more women are embracing the “big chop.” This is where you cut off any dead ends or chemically affected parts of the hair to allow it to regrow in its natural curl pattern. Also, with these shorter hairstyles, many women have boldly taken on the buzz cut. Most recently we’ve seen Willow and Jada Pinkett Smith displaying their shaved heads with confidence and pride. And let’s not forget Indie Arie, who in 2018 did a buzz cut and received criticism that her edges weren’t straight. She replied saying that she liked her edges soft and stood in her truth by saying she only cared about the opinions of people who liked her hair.
The power behind popular hairstyles
The power of the Afro: Wearing the Afro holds great power because it carries the message of the brothers and sisters of the past. The way our hair grows from our heads isn’t unprofessional but beautiful. Even though European standards of beauty still populate the mass media, Black hair and Black people are stunning.
The power of locs: Locs is a tribute to how amazing and versatile Black hair can be. Countless people wear locs that go all the way down their backs. This shows that when you care for Black hair and allow it to grow with minimal manipulation, it grows to amazing lengths.
The power of cornrows and braids: Cornrows and braids have been an important part of African American history. It is believed by many that cornrows were once used as maps to help runaway slaves find safe ground. Wearing braids is not only a great summer style, but it carries a piece of history.
The power of the buzzcut or big chop: Buzzcuts or big chops can symbolize rebirth or renewal, whether women choose to cut everything off to start over or as a way to mark a transition in their lives. Cutting off hair is a way of shedding the old and embracing the new.
As someone who has battled with insecurities around the coils and length of my hair, I understand that hair isn’t just hair. My hair is not who am, but it is a representation of my personality, my history, and my style. No matter what, this movement has taught me to love myself the way I am.
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Kiersten is a freelance writer and coach. As a writer, she has written for Travel Noire, Passion Passport, BAUCE mag, and various travel and lifestyle blogs. As a writer, her goal is to write content that inspires others to take action. As a coach, her goal is to empower women to be their most authentic selves. In her free time, you can find her dancing to any song any where.