What Was Having Natural Hair Like Before “The Natural Hair Movement”?
“I haven’t seen hair like this in years.”
The year was 2005. I was getting my hair done for a friends Sweet Sixteen. I was 15 and a freshman in high school. I had worn my natural hair for my whole life with the exception of one relaxer (literally one treatment, with no maintenance or follow up) when my mother first went to prison. The hair dresser’s words caught me off guard in the moment but ultimately they didn’t. surprise or offend me. It was a common reaction to 4C hair before the reemergence of The Natural Hair Movement. A universal answer to “why is your hair like that?” had not yet been revived from the ’60s . Now a days, a natural haired girlie might retort with, “its what grows out of my head” or something, if the question is even asked at all. I didn’t have the language at the time.
Being natural for me meant mostly wearing my hair in linty braids that frequently over stayed their welcome. This had been the case even in my early childhood when my mother was home. Braids were expensive, even for children, and so when I got them they stayed in for three to six months. My mother either wasn’t skilled at doing hair or simply chose to do other things with her time. Maybe both. I do remember one time she gave me some bootleg French braids and I loved them, maybe just because she did it, but that was one time and then she was gone.
After she went away, I lived with different people and my hair changed based on who that was. I got my first perm in 6th grade. My hair was long as a natural and so the stick straight hair hung down my back. I loved it. But it didn’t transcend my social status at school the way I hoped it might. I still only had two friends and whoever I had a crush on at the moment did not reciprocate. I got a few compliments, a few inquiries as to whether or not it was fake (I was at a predominantly white school) and then life moved on. Having not received the results I wanted, I let the perm grow out.
My hair remained natural, mostly in braids or buns. My primary goal was hiding it. I wasn’t embarrassed by it nor did I dislike it. I hadn’t even disliked it before the perm, to be honest. What I disliked was the pain of having it combed and the hours and hours spent having it braided. What I lusted for was the ease of a straight-haired ponytail, not the straight hair itself.
Eventually, when I was 17, my mother returned. I got my first sew in weave — a painful ordeal but I loved it. I achieved the long swinging hair of the relaxer without having to use chemicals. Of course, I kept the weave in at least a month too long and when I finally took it out, a patch of my own hair went with it.
Later that year I would have my hair flat ironed for the first time by my mother. It would look…unfinished. But I enjoyed the prom anyway. The following year, my senior year of high school, I went to Bennett School of Cosmetology and paid $28 ($3 extra for the length) to have it pressed properly.
By the time I started college it was 2009. The Natural Hair Movement was back in full effect. I arrived on campus with braids, of course, and I had no idea what I would do when it was time to take them out. I made a friend who dyed part of my hair blond and taught me how to wear an Afro Mohawk. Up until that point, I realized, I had been terrified by the idea of doing my own hair. It was then that I began to believe, the texture of my hair as it was, was pretty cool. The pride was not in having the length to achieve a cute style when straightened. It was in having the texture I had to begin with, and rocking that.
So what was having natural hair like before the reemergence of The Natural Hair Movement? Well, for me it was mostly a time of avoidance. I didn’t like or dislike my hair; I just tried to keep it out of the way. There was certainly no pride in it. Around 2009, I started watching YouTube to learn how to do my hair. This was after the first dye job. There was a Youtuber named Black Onyx I was particularly fond of. Interestingly enough, I just saw her on a Target commercial. I take that as a sign of how far natural hair has come, or how hard it’s come back.
“I haven’t seen hair like this in years.”
I’m sure that hairdresser has seen plenty of tightly coiled hair like mine since and, like it or not, she has probably had to update her skill set if she wants to survive in the new climate.
I’ve tried tons of hair styles, including shaving my head completely and rocking a short fade. I’ve dabbled with all of the products and all of the hacks — eggs, mayonnaise, rice water, olive, grape seed, avocado and coconut oil — you name it. In the end, I’ve mostly returned to the basic products of my childhood — petroleum based greases like Blue Magic and silicone filled shampoos and conditioners. They’re certainly not the “best” products and many natural hair professionals might tell you to stay away from them, but they work for me.
And that, more than any specific style or upgrade in products, is how The Natural Hair Movement has affected me. My relationship with my hair was previously non-existent. Now, I am no longer afraid of it. I have finally learned not only how to do my hair, but how to care for it. It is in the “caring” that we find pride.