Inconsistent or endless possibilities? Always beautiful but also underrepresented, natural afro hair invokes a range of different emotions. For so long, straight hair has ruled the roost. Not just in terms of beauty but survival too. However, with celebrities ditching the straightening solutions and power films such as Black Panther hitting the screens, not to mention the growing prominence of World Afro Hair Day on the 15th September; it seems 2018 is finally the year where acceptance rules and afro hair is alwaysbeautiful.
Afro hair is not just a fashion statement or a thing of beauty. It is a representation of ourselves. For black people, hair is a part of who they are. It represents so much more than personal style, but culture, history and celebration of identity.
So, why is it so important? Because black afro hair still doesn’t have it easy.
In the slave trade, race was often decided by hair. Straighter, more ‘tameable’ hair was your chance of survival. Individuals with thick, tightly curled, dense hair were disadvantaged against those who had straighter hair that adhered to European standards of beauty.
In the 1700s black hair was simply referred to as wool. For slaves, hair tests were conducted to prove the race of an individual, if it was uncertain. A comb or pencil test involves placing the object in the hair. If it could fall out, you passed in a sense that you were believed to have Caucasian ancestry. If it didn’t, then you were deemed ‘officially black’ and to have fewer rights than a white person. For slaves with straighter hair, a higher price could be commanded.
Despite slavery ending in 1865, the pencil test continued in the apartheid regime in South Africa. It was not until 1994 that apartheid and its hair test officially ended. However, still hair and the pencil test are a symbol of racism, and worryingly the tests still occur today by mobs.
When Beyoncé released her album, Lemonade, social media went into meltdown trying to uncover who ‘Becky with the good hair’ is in her song, Sorry. The speculation ranged far and wide to uncover who ‘Becky’ was and if she was a person with whom Beyoncé’s husband has an affair with.
However, ‘good hair’ is actually a long-standing term in regards to black afro hair culture. ‘Bad hair’ since the times of slavery has been seen as the thick, dense unmanageable hair. Whereas ‘good hair’ is hair that passes the pencil test and conforms to the European standards of beauty with straight, pliable hair.
Surely in this day and age, racism can’t be legal? It can, and it all comes down to hair.
As recently as 2016, US Circuit Court of Appeals, decided that it was still legal to ban dreadlocks in the workplace. While the court agreed that a “hairstyle can be a determinant of racial identity.” The court still upheld that black people can be reprimanded and indeed lose their jobs for wearing their hair in a way that identifies with their culture.
There is no other race that suffers from this type of ‘legal’ discrimination because of their hair.
Since 1845, there has been a commercial market in transforming black hair into styles and textures that are perhaps seen as more favourable. In 1845, the ‘pressing comb’ was introduced to the market. This was a comb that could be heated on stoves and ran through hair to straighten and smooth (as well as damage) black hair.
From heated appliances came relaxers. Relaxers being chemical solutions to straighten hair permanently. Relaxers have been available since 1909. However, in 1954, the Ultra Wave Hair Culture by Johnson Products Empire hit the shelves, and since then, hair relaxers have dominated the hair care products marketed to African-American women.
However, chemical relaxers have shown to be incredibly dangerous. As well as scalp burns and infections, hair relaxers have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Studies have also shown they can cause reproductive problems and disrupt hormones too. What’s worse is that one in every 12 beauty products marketed to African-American women in the US contains highly dangerous ingredients.
More than ever now is the time to ‘transition’ and start celebrating afro hair. However, what damage-free products are available to celebrate and embrace natural afro hair?
Whether its to compensate for the damage of relaxers or straighteners, or just to adopt a hair-kind regime, these are some of the best products on the market to maintain beautifully natural afro hair.
Know Knot is a conditioning spray that works as an excellent detangler for those troublesome knots saving your valuable time when combing your hair. The formula is super-hydrating with both macadamia and argan oil.
Keep your curls naturally bouncy and healthy with a silicone-free co-wash treatment. It has curl memory technology, to help natural curls to stay defined and frizz-free. It also works to repel humidity for long-lasting definition.
This natural hair product contains pure shea butter which helps to penetrate the hair follicles for deep conditioning. It also contains many other natural oils that are all designed to help naturally curly, coily and kinky hair. Simply work into damp hair, style and go.
This is a firm favourite shampoo, especially if people have dry hair as it is super-nourishing. Its eco-friendly formula contains coconut oil, shea butter and extra virgin olive oil too. Free from mineral oil and parabens, this shampoo leaves hair clean, soft and completely manageable.
Cotton sadly absorbs moisture from your hair, making it snag on the fibres and become dry and brittle. However, a silk or satin pillowcase helps your hair to retain moisture, and as it is non-abrasive, it won’t encourage breakages or hair damage either. A silk scarf can also work wonders too.
While you should celebrate the afro every day, World Afro Day still stands proud to encourage normalisation towards Afro hair and culture.
Now is the time to embrace the afro, enjoy the style, culture, heritage and identity that goes with it. The more natural hair is welcomed, the more it becomes the norm, and every single hairstyle is an art form that is cherished, encouraged and admired. A Statement of Pride is an excellent example of how 2018 is changing the traditional beauty standard.
No good hair, bad hair about it, just beautiful hair to embrace and love. Make 2018 your year of pride and beauty.
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