Natural Hair: Fad or Not?

“Oh! Your hair is ‘natural’?”

“Yes it is.”

“How do you people do this natural hair thing? It can look so awful! Don’t you think you should get a relaxer treatment? Anyway, I’m sure you will soon get tired of it. It’s just because it is popular that you are doing it, abi?”

This was my sister’s neighbour, expressing her dislike of ‘natural hair’, wondering aloud how ‘you people’ do it, and in the same breath, informing me that I wear my hair in its natural state because it is the ‘in thing’. I had just met her, and could hardly believe that she just offered me her unsolicited opinion about the state of my own hair.Her reaction is one of many that I get from wearing my afro-textured hair in its ‘natural state’. Reactions range from supercilious and disgusted, to genuinely curious and admiring. Over time, I have found that measured, even responses are best for comments like these. One cannot afford to get riled up every time one receives comments — negative, positive, or otherwise- about how One wears One’s own hair. It’s often a terrible waste of temper.

Everyone has ‘natural’ hair, to the extent that it grows out of their heads. People of different ethnic origins — Caucasian, Mongoloid, and American-Indian, for example — have natural hair. What we in this part of the world call ‘natural hair’, is actually afro-textured hair; that is, hair that has not been chemically treated or altered by use of hot combs or flat irons and or, perming/relaxing. Afro-textured hair is peculiar to people in most parts of Africa, the West Indies, the Caribbean.

Many people in Nigeria consider the ‘natural hair’ concept a fad, made popular by the natural hair communities in the United States and the United Kingdom over the past five to ten years.

Wikipedia defines a fad as “any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed enthusiastically for a period of time, generally as a result of the behavior being perceived as popular by one’s peers or being deemed “cool” by social media. A fad is said to “catch on” when the number of people adopting it begins to increase rapidly. The behavior will normally fade quickly once the perception of novelty is gone.

The thing of it is this: women grow their hair out in its afro textured state for different reasons. Some women grow their hair out simply because it appears that it is the popular thing to do, or because their friends do so as well.

Some women do so because for them it is a political statement, an open rebellion against chemicals made to ‘tame’ hair that should be left to grow up and out, wild and free, and a way to take ‘power’ away from the industries that produce these chemical treatments. For some other women, it is a lifestyle change. They simply want a healthier, more natural lifestyle. Along with stripping their diets of processed foods, using all natural/organic products on their skin, they cut off their permed ends and grow out afro textured curls.

For another group of women, it’s about a ‘Beauty Revolution’. Hair worn in large afros, pineapple buns, cornrows, flat twists, and so on, challenge mainstream ideas of what a beautiful woman should look like. For others still, it is simply a fad to follow; something they do because their friends.,for most it is about new beginnings and a change in lifestyle. A lot of women get chemical treatments for their hair because it is easier to do so. They may also feel that they cannot care for their own hair in its natural state.

However, with much more research into hair care, more accessible and richer information about hair care products, techniques and education on versatility in hair styling, as well as large companies willing to make products that support care for afro textured hair, more women find that the possibilities for healthy hair are endless. They lean toward growing their hair and wearing it out in its afro textured state more permanently.

Then there are the powerful, influential African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean women who wear their natural hair proudly and sometimes as a statement. Women like Graça Machel, Corrine Bailey Rae, Jill Scott, Viola Davis, Yeni Kuti, Solange Knowles, Lupita Nyong’o, make natural hair a statement of beauty, poise and power.

The discovery that I could wear my natural curls out and be beautiful with them, that I could care for my own hair, make some of my own hair care products at home in my own kitchen, and style it beautifully, stripped me of self-consciousness and brought me a new awareness of my beauty as a person and pride in my abilities.

Things don’t crack a whip when you find out how well you can control their effects on you; things like salons, stylists, relaxers, chemical hair treatments, hair extensions, and the need to have the ‘relaxed look’. I handle my hair, and control my own look, so these things don’t give me pause anymore.

I don’t know that natural hair is a fad. With a fad, you just do something because it’s popular to do it. Natural Hair is more. It is a choice, a lifestyle change. It requires thought, and the making of a firm decision. It is a conscious effort, and over time, it is an exercise in personal empowerment.

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