When it comes to beauty and more specifically hair, black women have always been educators, innovators, and trendsetters. Just think about America’s first self-made millionaire: Madam C.J. Walker, whose update to the hot comb made the tool’s popularity skyrocket and changed the hair of black women everywhere as a result.
But for all of our modernization in the hair space, there’s been almost an equal amount of issues, as Eurocentric beauty ideals have left little room for black women and other women of color with textured hair to develop the kind of self-confidence and reassurance that comes with ample representation.
Fortunately for all of us, that balance is shifting and the natural hair movement has played a major role in that change. The simple act of wearing our hair the way grow out of our heads has prompted a whole new wave of self-love in the industry this decade.
And for those women who envelope their curls and coils in braids and weaves, as well as those who wear their hair straightened, relaxed and texturized, the empowerment itself lies in being able to making that choice.
For myself, that choice meant a transition from relaxed to natural: When I realized that my hair was a living, beautiful thing with goals of its own and unparalleled strength.
Read on for more stories.
The “ah-ha” hair moments
“I chopped off my hair in college, wanting to be free of my relaxed ends. The growing-out process felt like forever and I definitely got my share of mean comments. I remember one jerk called me a ‘broke Tina Turner.’ But then these little curls started emerging, these inquisitive little coils. Over time, I figured out what products my hair liked, what made the frizz go away, what made my coils feel the most healthy and nourished.
“My blog’s beginnings were inspired by that initial journey to figuring out my favorite products. One of my first ‘YES!’ hair memories is going to my first celebrity event for my blog. I had to meet Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter and Mary J. Blige was going to be there too. I was nervous, but I had figured out my short, natural hair needs. I didn’t have the fanciest outfit there but my hair looked adorable!“
— Patrice Yursik, founder ofAfrobella
“Growing up, I was always fascinated by the little springy curls that would pop up at my roots when I was days away from getting a perm refresh. I wondered, ‘What would my hair look like if I let it grow free? Would it be Diana Ross big or super curly?’ At the time, my mother didn’t have the patience for press outs and braid ups. So, a relaxer was convenient.
“But in college, I made my own hair decisions and decided to grow out my natural coils. Let me tell you—it was nothing like I imagined. I was so confused about what to do, totally uneducated in how to deal with my type 4 hair. It was a struggle. I didn’t truly fall in love with my hair until I moved to New York City after college.
“One day, a woman stopped me on the subway and asked me so many questions: What products do you use? Do you twist out or braid out? When did you go natural? I was shocked that she wanted to know about my routine.I was usually the one watching YouTube videos to get inspiration. But when that woman saw me as her natural hair inspiration, I finally realized that this hair is my signature. My natural hair is a visible representation of my personality—big, unique, and attention grabbing.”
— Jessica Cruel, senior beauty and style editor at SELF.com
“I wish I could say that I’ve always adored my hair, but truth be told, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my hair over the years. My hair was straightened with chemicals at a young age, (seven to be exact) and subconsciously I thought my hair wasn’t good enough unless it was long and straight—just like the women I constantly saw in magazines and on TV.
“I fell in love with my hair the moment I did the big chop (December 2014) and saw my natural curls for the first time. Prior to the chop, I had no idea how my hair would look. I’d seen pictures of my natural hair as a child, but it paled in comparison to the perfect coils that sprung out of my scalp. I could finally see my truest self and I instantly fell in love.”
— Deena Campbell Sengstacke, journalist and Beauty And The Boys founder
“When I did the big chop in June of 2015, my hair was super short and I had no idea how to style it. Those first few months were rough. I went from straight, processed hair to a baby fro that frizzed more than curled. But, I was still happy about my decision to go natural and started researching everything and anything about styling natural hair.
“YouTube was my savior and I started learning what worked for my hair. About a year later, I knew my curls and realized ‘Wow, my hair is amazing!’ I can’t believe I lived most of my life without my curls! This Instagram post is around the time I started feeling my hair. Now, I’m so happy with my natural hair. It actually grows and the curls have so much definition. Like everyone, I have bad hair days but the good ones are SO good, they make up for the bad.”
— Grasie Mercedes, blogger, actor and writer
“Growing up, I was always told by my family that I had great hair. They knew all about Eurocentric notions of beauty in our society, and wanted to make sure I learned to love my natural texture, in spite of what the mainstream was telling me. But it really wasn’t until I stopped relaxing my hair years ago that I started to appreciate it.
“I relaxed my hair for 10 years (from the time I was 16,) but at 26, I decided that I wanted to age with actual hair on my head—instead of damaged, chemically-fried wisps. When my curls and kinks came in, I couldn’t stop touching them! They were so soft and springy and textured.
“As a kid in elementary school, I would always play with my own hair…I hadn’t done that in years. I’m playing with my hair right now. Might be why it’s so frizzy, but who cares? It’s mine, it’s healthy, and it looks really fucking fantastic.”
— Jihan Forbes, digital editor at Allure
“For over 20 years, I never knew what my natural hair really looked like. My mother started relaxing my hair at a very young age, and it was engrained in me that I should never reveal it, or let it grow out in its natural state. Last year, I finally said to hell with that and decided to start transitioning my straight pixie into an afro using protective styles.
“When it was time for me to take my hair out for the first time, I was terrified. I wondered if I was going to be ugly, I thought, ‘What am I going to do if I hate my hair? Will I have to shave it off?’ But when I finally mustered up the courage to cut off the faux locs, got into the shower and came out with my hair freshly washed—I was pleasantly surprised. I loved my type 4 curl pattern, and despite what I was told as a child, my hair wasn’t difficult to manage at all.
“I fell in love at first sight. I opted for a braid-out to blend my transitioning hair, and when I took it out the next day, for the first time in my life, I rocked my hair out with more confidence than I’ve ever had in entire my life.“
— Kayla Greaves, journalist
“It’s been such a journey for me, but the moment I really fell in love with my hair is when I was pregnant with my first child. While I was pregnant with my daughter Cadence, I saw my curls flourish in a way I never had. Partially because of the hormones, but also because I was dedicated to eating well for my baby.
“My hair was thick and strong and it was the first time since going natural that I saw a true representation of the importance of what you put into your body, and how your outward appearance is tied to that. I love that my hair so closely reflects what is happening to me physically and emotionally. And during that season it represented strength and growth.”
— Christina Brown, founder of LoveBrownSugar, BabyBrownSugar andBrown Girls Love
“The moment I felt my hair was truly amazing was when it became the open door to me being able to transition my career to beauty and build a brand that helps women and men love their hair and themselves more.”
— Monica Stevens, founder of Mo Knows Hair, licensed cosmetologist and salon owner