Natural hair had at some point in the late 20th century represented cultural independence to the African Americans. Angela Davis, a human rights activist, regularly sported an Afro. Many other notable celebrities have also been known to wear their natural hair, rocking it with pride. As far as the hair is concerned, history tells us that the immediate previous century had been a difficult one for the African Americans because they had been brainwashed into believing that straight hair was beautiful hair. For this reason, many of them chose to conform, fashioning their hair after the “usual” hairstyles.
One may not be able to accurately provide logical explanations for the Africans at home joining the relaxing and straightening hair trend. Yet one could say that perhaps they felt a need to form solidarity with their brothers abroad. Perhaps not. Perhaps, it was just a bandwagon case of picking up trends from celebrities. Today, however, since the natural hair has gained much impetus and everyone is “going natural”, it is only imperative to ask what this trend is about. Is it a fad that soon will fade away? Is it a movement much like the human rights and feminist movement that will cut across boundaries? Or is it just reminding all women of African heritage of their roots?
I have carried my natural hair on in all my twenty something years, and for as long as I have had hair on my head, I do not remember having got half as much attention as I have got with it now. Natural hair is having a moment again. While I nearly got carried away by the trend, I must admit, although shamefully, that I needed the acceptance at the time, having carried my natural hair for mostly religious reasons that I do not exactly agree with.
I was glad to see that I could finally become part of a trend albeit with totally different reasons from the naturalistas. I had become part of the cool gang officially. Never mind that I never really left my hair out. Just a sneak peek once a while and I got a lot of “oohs and aahs” about how so lovely my natural hair was. Is this what it means to be cool? Are you kidding? I had arrived, friends. I had arrived.
Natural hair (i.e. hair that has not been treated with relaxers or creamy crack) has got a lot of attention in the past few years. It even formed a theme in our “oh so famous” feminist aunty, Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. Needless to say, natural hair has become a political and activist thing in recent times. More often than not, I have caught myself wondering if it is about the hair as much as it is about wanting to become part of a trend. Maybe a lot of ‘naturalistas’ are just thrilled to be part of the cool gang, or maybe it is truly of considerable significance to them. A possible explanation also is that we are interested in keeping our culture alive. We want to embrace all forms of it, our art, our customs, and even our hair despite its presumed triviality.
My dilemma here is akin to the chicken and egg situation. While I confess that there is a huge possibility that I am biased about this movement, I feel it could have been laudable had it not been blown out of proportion. This craze is laughable, trust me, because I cannot forget how I was teased for keeping natural hair as a child. It was an SU thing (what overly serious Christians are called) not cool by any stretch of imagination and definitely not enviable. Never mind that my hair was by far better than the barren land and sorry excuse for hair the jesters had on their heads. Imagine my surprise when they started asking me for my hair routine especially since I was not even using any. However, being an activist for the unofficial movement of letting people enjoy things, I detest the pressure – however subtle – that has been placed on the non-conformists who enjoy not having to make a fuss on combing their hair and making it look presentable enough to look cool.
There is a wide range of tutorials now available on YouTube on how to treat natural hair, product reviews, and hairstyle tutorials. It is not quite clear why and how natural hair became a thing for most African women at home and in the diaspora again. This may or may not be a bad thing but this enthusiasm for natural hair has come alongside a rise in the demand for hair care products which in itself can be considered a problem if you ask some people. Apart from the fact that these products or most of them cost a fortune to buy, there is an unhealthy quest and thirst for really long natural hair. Hence the need for organic products and even vitamins, supplements used to enhance hair growth. We have little or no idea how far this movement (fad?) has gone. It is a craze. All of a sudden, carrying natural hair seems to mean much more than just joining a trend. It is not enough that your hair is natural; it also has to be long.
At some point, I lost it. I did not understand how people were buying natural weaves and tagging it as their hair. I totally lost it. Brethren, these ladies shifted the goalposts every damn time! No, you do not understand. The standards were (and are still) being changed as often as girls change their hairstyles. I kept trying to keep up. This minute, I am sure I have attained the coolest height and the next minute my hair is not long enough because some people were parading natural weaves as their hair. It may be frivolous but I represent a good number. I speak for others whose voices you will never hear. I went through this phase and I admit this with all shame, not understanding why I let all of that bother me. But it did. The bitter truth which I came to face and made my peace with is that one can never have enough of all these hair care products.
Natural hair movement has boomed in recent times and today we can have a full-blown discourse on natural hair, the essence of keeping one, it being a fundamental part of identity and sometimes a form of political strategy for one’s acceptance or the lack of it. Little wonder Chimamanda concluded that had Michelle Obama had her natural hair on at the time Barack Obama had contested for President of the United States, he may not have won. This goes to show that it is now remotely connected to cultural independence and it is not just a fad, at least for some people.
It is pertinent to note also that it is only natural for humans to take concepts and interpret as they would deem fit. Hence, while some people have only decided to go natural – or return natural as the natural hair advocates would rather have it be – because they want to fit in and seem trendy, some others think it means much more. My job is not to make conclusions. My goal rather is for you to draw inferences and make your own conclusions and informed decisions. Look at the two, or dare I say three, sides of the coin and choose. This is just my opinion and if you do not like it, I have others. So what say ye?