BHM Blog Series: Those We Lost in the Natural Hair Movement

Post Image - BHM - Those We Lost

During 2014, we unfortunately lost three important women known for encouraging us to embrace our beauty and accept our curls. They each had their own unique style and way of inspiring us based on their personal experiences as Black women. Without them, 2015 will not be the same.

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#HAIRitageHaikus – HAIRitage Definition #1

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To kick off my new feature #HAIRitageHaikus, I’d like to start with a series of definitions I created to help understand all the various meanings behind Honoring Our HAIRitage.

These definitions highlight the many reasons why I named this blog Honoring Our HAIRitage.  In addition, they each represent a central reasons why I decided to go natural.

For the first definition, I was inspired by the history of Black women’s hair and wanted to come up with a phrase that combated our negative past and ushered us into a new movement of reclamation.

HAIRitage Definition 1

Back to School as a Naturalista

As a naturalista going back to school, you might be feeling the anticipation of summer coming to an end, excitement about reuniting with your friends, and stress about getting back into the grind of studying every day.  You might also be nervous about how everyone will react to your natural hair.

Given what we saw Tiana Parker, and Vanessa VanDyke go through simply because they wore their hair the way it naturally grows out of their heads, you might be feeling slightly on edge.  This is completely understandable and is a valid reaction to having to exist within a system that is supposed to nurture individuality, help you find your voice, and support your future dreams.  Instead, schools have done the complete opposite by making hair discrimination official policy.  Tiana Parker was sent home from school because the Deborah Brown Community School she attended had a dress code rule that labeled her loc’d hair “unacceptable.”  Vanessa VanDyke was threatened with expulsion from her Orlando, Fla private school unless she styled her hair differently than the glorious afro with a flower she wore.

These are two hair shaming cases that made the headline news, but there are no statistics for the multitude of other situations many naturalistas experience every day.  Daily microaggressions and outright discrimination are hard to determine.  From my own experience being natural, I am certain the numbers are staggering for those of us who refuse to conform to a Euro-centric beauty standard.

Being socially rejected because of your hair can weigh heavy on your self-esteem.  Hopefully, some of the many online tutorials on natural hair styles themed around Back to School, will help relieve some of your fears around how you will be treated simply because of your beautiful tresses.  There are also some fabulous celebrity naturalistas to look to for inspiration, like Solange Knowles, Tamron Hall, and Lupita Nyong’o.  Even though Vanessa VanDyke was threatened with expulsion, she still knew her hair was beautiful when she stated, “It says that I’m unique…First of all, it’s puffy, and I like it that way.”

I also want you to know that you are not alone, there are many other naturalistas out there going through the same thing you are right now.  What I want you to remember is that your hair is perfect, just the way it is!  But you already knew that being the confident naturalista that you are 🙂  As you walk through the doors of your school for another year of learning, wear your hair proudly and hold your head high! 

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My Experiences with Hair Salons

Keeping Up Mess by Tracey Andrews

Before I went natural 2 years ago, I was a regular at the hair salon.  I would go on Saturdays to get my press n’ curl or relaxer.  I would plan whole days around my hair appointment.  It was a major ordeal.  Today, I have not been to a salon in over 5 years and I must say, I do not miss it at all!

Lately, I’ve been reading and learning about the experiences of other women who spent many Saturdays at the shop just like I did.  They talk about the hair salon as a bonding place where women not only get a fresh style, they get a fresh perspective on life from their sisters who are their stylist and therapist all wrapped up into one.  They relate how they learned about womanhood, relationships, sex, and money.  They describe it like a safe haven for women.

Hair styling can be seen as a personal ritual that is as necessary as it is sacred.  The hair stylist in African cultures was seen as a highly valued and respected person with talents that could not be matched by just anyone.  The person who cared for your hair was seen as special.  Some of us give a similar status to hair stylist today.

As much as other women have truly valued being with their sister-friends at the salon, this has not been my experience.  Most of my experiences have been the complete opposite.  I’m not just being selective either, I’m talking about each and every salon I’ve ever been to.

When I went to the salon regularly, much of my frustrations started the second I entered the door.  I would always be on time for my appointment.  Yet, I would arrive and my stylist would always be in the middle of another client’s style and needed me to wait 5 minutes, which turned into 15 minutes, which turned into 30 minutes before I could get in the chair!  As far as I’m concerned, I should not have to wait 1 second when I’m there for my appointment on time.

Already my time was not being valued, but neither were my opinions about my hair.  I would have ideas for styles and I never felt like I was being heard.  I was even talked into cutting most of my hair off, like the time I got a short bob even though I didn’t really want to.  I never asked for a style my hair could not do because it wasn’t long enough or wasn’t shaped the right way.  I didn’t understand why my stylist could not be creative and come up with a style that worked for me.  I hated paying money for a style that never really turned out the way I wanted it to.

There was a ton of gossip taking place in the salon too.  I heard about other clients all the time.  I knew whose hair wasn’t growing, whose hair was thinning, who asked for a crazy hairstyle, who came in looking a mess and walked out thinking they were Beyonce.  I also heard gossip about other stylists when they were not in the shop.  I knew which stylists came in late all the time, who still owed their booth fees, and whose clients left them for another stylist.  I was not interested in putting down other women and it just made me wonder what they said about me when I wasn’t around.  I stayed out of those conversations all together.

All That Glitter by Annie Lee

Sadly, whenever I did open my mouth to speak, someone inevitably would make fun of the way I talked.  The last straw for one salon was when another client called me “white girl” because according to her, I “said words completely.”  Really, I said the whole word so I sound white?  Okay…I never came back to that salon.

Around the time I decided to go natural, I stopped getting relaxers, but would go to the salon for a press n’ curl.  With more and more new growth, my roots were getting thicker, and my stylist was getting more on my nerves about it!  She would constantly make comments about it while pressing my hair.  Being told 50 times how thick my natural hair has gotten made me want to scream, “I know it’s thick, you don’t need to remind me every 5 minutes!  Do your job and work with it!”

With all of that, it just made it even more aggravating that every 20 minutes, someone would came in the shop and try to sell me something.  Everything from purses, to body oils, to clothes and appliances have been offered to me.  Some people at the salon encouraged this by bargaining prices down and asking for more inventory to select from.  My opinion is this, I’m at the shop to get my hair done, not to buy your stolen items (Okay, I don’t know if they are stolen or not, but seriously though…).

All of those experiences have amounted to me developing a growing hatred of the hair salon.  It is sad but true.  I am not trying to bash hair salons, I’m simply sharing my experiences.  Maybe I’m missing the point of all of it, or not appreciating the space.  Maybe I took the gossip and personal insults too seriously and needed to take it easy.  Maybe I should have brought extra cash and purchased that stolen set of earrings.

What I do know is that I feel better now that I do not have to dread my trip to the salon.  I am my own stylist and I never give myself a style I didn’t want, I never get angry with my thick hair, and I never call myself names.

What were your experiences with hair salons like?  Did you hate them like I did or love them?

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Rihanna Calls Her Bantu Knots “Ghetto”

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Let me start by saying that I have been a fan of Rihanna since she first came on the scene back in 2005.  I’ve danced to her music since Pon de Replay!  Over her many years in the music industry, she has developed various brands to call her own: pop singer, fragrance developer, fashion designer, and actress.  In my opinion, she hasn’t been afraid to challenge our ideas about “appropriate” womanhood with her edgy fashion, hairstyles, choice words, and music videos.  She has also shown great strength in the midst of publicly experiencing domestic violence and thriving in spite of it.

Recently, Rihanna has been criticized for her recent statements about her bantu knot hairstyle she wore during the iHeartRadio Music Awards.  She posted a picture of herself on Instagram describing them as “ghetto.”  As much as I am a fan of Rihanna’s, I am disappointed with her.

Bantu knots are a popular style among naturals and is an effective protective style for curly hair.  It has also been a popular style within many African cultures for centuries.  Bantu knots should not be linked to a word that is used to demean people surviving poverty.  Using this type of offensive language to describe common natural hairstyles is nothing new.  Unfortunately, Rihanna is feeding into the same negative messages that have fueled opinions of black hair for centuries.  In my previous blog post, I gave a few examples of how negative ideas about Black hair have spread and existed for a long time.

This is just more of the same, but it cuts deeper because it has come from a fellow sistah.  Further, it has come from a prominent figure in pop culture and among black women.  Rihanna has many fans, including young girls who look up to her as an example.  When they see that she views a common natural hairstyle as “ghetto,” it discourages them from possibly going natural themselves.  It also undermines a deeper understanding of Afro textured hair and hairstyles that work for our natural tresses.

I am not expecting celebrities to solve all our social ills or save us, I am expecting them to have a small amount of knowledge enough to know the responsibility of their words and actions.  Rihanna may not have understood the weight of her words and how it would influence others, but intention is not as important as impact.  The impact has been a reinforcement of the idea that black hair is inherently wrong, and a growing amount of Instagram members swiftly un-following her (Rihanna’s Instagram account is now closed!).  Now that people have been vocal about how misguided her words were, I hope that Rihanna takes this as a lesson learned, gain some pride in her HAIRitage, and do better next time.

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Lupita Nyong’o and Black Beauty

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People magazine has just named Lupita Nyong’o as #1 on the “50 Most Beautiful” list!

I am thrilled that an African woman AND a woman with natural hair, makes this list!  Lupita has been outspoken about her journey towards accepting and loving her natural beauty and the challenges she faced growing up in a world that defined beauty as light skin and long straight hair.  Lupita is not just amazingly beautiful, she has enchanted us with her grace and courage.  I am proud of Lupita for her bravery and honesty in sharing her experiences.

Having a woman of color on People’s 50 Most Beautiful list, let alone being acknowledged in a popular mainstream magazine does not happen often.  Since 1990, there have only been two African American women (Halle Berry in 2003, and Beyonce Knowles in 2012) who have made the #1 spot on the list.  Magazine covers and other major media outlets play a huge role in influencing how we all think about beauty and what beauty looks like.  Traditionally, those same major media outlets have not recognized African American women’s beauty.  My hope is that People magazine continues to recognize women of color for their beauty, talents & compassion and use their massive platform to contribute to redefining beauty standards.

Congratulations to Lupita Nyong’o!

Photo by Lanigirod Photograhy

Photo by Lanigirod Photos

 

Source: The above drawing is provided by Lanigirod Photos.  He is available for commissioned work and is able to create using almost any medium of art requested from graphic design to visual artwork to photography to videography.  He’s amazing and also created by blog’s banner.

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