The evolution of textured hair care and styling, a brief history

Black and natural hair communities carry a long and painful history of struggling against Eurocentric beauty standards.

“[Throughout segregation] we were also belittled for the things that we are, whether it’s our facial features, our hair, stuff like that,” said sophomore psychology student Nana Buachie.

Africans have been making elaborate hairstyles with fabric, beads and shells since the 15th century, wrote award-winning educator and fashion design expert Dr. Tameka Ellington in an article titled “Natural Hair”.

“In West Africa, hairstyles could indicate marital status, religion, age, ethnic identity, wealth, and a person’s position or rank within the community,” wrote Ellington in the article.

The various ways in which slave owners used the hair of slaves against them are part of how hair, especially natural and textured hair, has been politicized, said Dr. Jason Nichols, senior lecturer at the department. African American Studies from the University of Maryland.

Black women were forced to cover their hair or cut all their hair to make it “less attractive” to Europeans and avoid relationships between slave owners and slaves, Nichols said. It didn’t stop the sexual assaults or the relationships.

Slave owners would also compare the soft, fluffy nature of natural, textured hair to animal fur, intending to justify ownership and abuse, Ellington wrote in the article.

“Part of white supremacy and what was done to enslave people was to dehumanize them and make them think white people are right in terms of the beauty standard,” Nichols said.

He said it increased after emancipation, in an attempt to create a “grotesque” and violent stereotype as a form of racism against black people.

“In addition to making black people look violent… [there were] images in the media that justified trying to control black bodies,” he said. “Hair was a big part of that.”

Pressure has been put on blacks and other groups, such as indigenous peoples, to emulate white beauty, Nichols said.

“So we’ve seen throughout history that black people have put themselves through really painful processes, in order to make their hair come closer to the white norm,” he said.

Madame CJ Walker, the first self-made black woman millionaire in the United States, sold hair products aimed at black women and helped them grow their hair in the early 1900s.

From the 1920s through the 1960s, black men straightened their hair in the “conk” style using relaxers. Musician Chuck Berry and civil rights activist Malcolm X – before his religious conversion – were among them.

The process involved applying a product containing the chemical detergent, found in drain cleaners, Nichols said. The risks of catching a conk included burning your scalp, never growing your hair back, or even damaging your eyes if lye got in there.

A push against years of hair discrimination occurred during civil rights and black power movements, when black people, including musician Jimi Hendrix, wore their afros and other natural hairstyles to represent “freedom.” culture and nonconformity,” Ellington wrote in the article.

It can certainly be a political statement to wear hair because it naturally grows out of the head, Nichols said.

“It might not be for other groups of people,” he said. “But for black people, because there’s been such an assault on our aesthetics…to wear your hair naturally was a statement that said, ‘I’m black, I’m proud. “”

Activist Angela Davis was known for making a statement with her natural afro.

Davis, a prominent figure in the civil rights and black liberation movements, was tried for her alleged involvement in a politically motivated murder linked to members of the Black Panther Party, but was acquitted.

Nichols sometimes feels bad that people focus more on her hair than her contributions, but said she was still an important hair icon through the hard-hitting image of her walking into the courtroom and launching the black power salute with his shiny afro. This courtroom moment was an inspiring moment for black people.

“Even though she is on trial for her life, she is so free,” he said. “She’s politically free, she’s mentally free and you can tell by her hair, she’s physically free from the shackles of white supremacy.”

In the DC-Maryland-Virginia region, another historic moment occurred years before in the 1960s, when Robin Gregory was the first homecoming queen to sport an afro at Howard University.

“The audience saw her figure, and they saw the outline of her afro while all the other women kind of accepted that you had to have your hair done to win this beauty pageant,” Nichols said. “But she kept her afro on and the crowd blew up.”

Nichols explained that white supremacy is adapting to these cultural shifts and comes in different guises, with different styles of hair straightening.

The Jheri loop became popular in the 1980s and 1990s when those with tight loop patterns used chemicals to loosen their coils.

“Maybe it didn’t look like a white person’s hair, but it looked more like a white standard,” he said.

The style worn by Michael Jackson and rappers Ice Cube and Eazy-E took off in the Afro-Latino and Black communities and is currently making a comeback for natural hair to embrace styles such as the Jheri curl and product-free waves. chemicals.

Nichols said it’s important to note that these chemical changes in hair aren’t always necessary to meet a white beauty standard. He grew up in Baltimore where women would do hairstyles involving finger waves, glitter, and perms to meet Baltimore beauty standards.

Nichols recently started noticing that some black women are saying, “I’m not my hair. Stop obsessing over my hair because I stopped obsessing over my hair.

Protections that allow people with natural hair to freely decide how they want to wear their hair are a step forward, Nichols said. One of them is the law on creating a respectful and open world for natural hair, known as the CROWN Act, which prohibits hair discrimination in the workplace, it was passed in Maryland in 2020.

Nichols remembers when he graduated from college in the 2000s and the guys around him said it was time for them to cut their locs to get a job.

Now he sees young black people doing their hair the way they want rather than conforming to society’s beauty standards.

“It’s so liberating, and I like what I see,” he said.

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