Women who frequently use chemical hair straightening products are twice as likely to get ovarian cancer and have more than double the risk of developing uterine cancer. These women, the majority of whom are Black, also run an 18-30% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
In spite of these findings from a series of so-called ‘Sister Studies,' Black women who joyfully embraced their natural hair are once again clearing the salon shelves of hair straightening and relaxing products.
The inspiration behind the natural hair movement (NHM) was nothing short of a cultural metamorphosis for many. In an era where self-expression intertwines with empowerment, the NHM once stood as a resounding anthem for authenticity. There was a time when Google searches for natural hair surged, a testament to a collective yearning for identity reclamation.
Yet, as today's trends shift back, the fervor that once burned brightly seems to have waned, replaced by an uptick in the desire for straighter hair via a relaxer or hair extensions. The path toward revival becomes apparent by diving deep into the core of the movement's decline and exploring the intricacies that have taken away its steam.
What Is The Natural Hair Movement?
The origins of the natural hair movement are deeply rooted in a quest for self-discovery, self-love, and delight in one's heritage. This movement sought to break free from the stronghold of conformity, emerging as a response to decades of Eurocentric beauty standards and societal pressures.
With a resurgence in the 1960s and 70s, characterized by the Afro and other natural hairstyles, individuals began embracing their hair's true texture. This symbolic rebellion was not merely about hair but represented a larger fight against systemic oppression.
In the 21st century, the movement found new life powered by social media and a thirst for representation. Natural hair became a canvas for cultural pride, fostering communities and narratives celebrating diversity. Through blogs, videos, and forums, individuals shared personal stories and tips, fostering a sense of unity and liberation.
However, as the movement matured, it encountered hurdles—internal divisions, shifting beauty ideals, and even financial disparities—that tested its resilience. Understanding the movement's genesis allows us to appreciate its evolution, challenges, and potential renaissance.
Why It's Necessary
The NHM transcends the realm of hair care; it's a declaration. For decades, societal norms had dictated that only a specific hair type was acceptable. This notion is why we have certain laws, such as the CROWN Act – passed in 20 states so far – and the NHM created a space where every coil, kink, and curl is equally touted alongside every other hair texture.
It's a call to allow individuals to express themselves freely and authentically. The movement's necessity lies in its power to rewrite narratives and redefine beauty standards, setting an example for future generations that their natural state is not just valid but inherently beautiful.
The Rise and Fall of Natural Hair Interest
The rise in Google searches from 2004 to 2014 marked a defining moment for the natural hair movement, as curiosity and desire for change reached an all-time high. The inquiries about natural hair products, styles, and the science behind caring for it rose by over 75%.
However, the subsequent decline in interest, with a staggering 50% drop from August 2017 to the present, showcases a perplexing narrative of dwindling enthusiasm. This pattern becomes even more compelling when considering the resurrection of relaxers, the upswing in wig usage, and the prevalence of straightened hairstyles.
Donna Wallace, Fashion Editor for Vogue magazine, says, “It’s hard to not be influenced by the images you consume daily. When I spend too long on social media, I want a straight wig.”
These statistics and personal experiences offer a tangible representation of the movement's direction, signaling a shift in priorities and preferences within the broader beauty landscape.
The link between changing beauty standards and the movement's plunge is palpable, as evolving ideals influence individual choices. As the allure of Eurocentric norms regains prominence periodically, the natural hair movement faces the challenge of maintaining its momentum. Additionally, it faces the following barriers:
Internal Disputes and Erosion of The Core Message
The NHM, despite its premise of unification, has encountered discord in its ranks, stemming from differing perspectives on methods and definitions of “natural.” While reflective of the broader societal context, the various opinions have introduced fractures within the movement's foundation.
The internal friction amongst those who are members of the NHM has cast shadows over the messaging. Instead of being united, there's constant debate about what being natural means. The division threatens to divert attention away from the core principles like being proud of your appearance and embracing the beauty of thick, “kinky” hair.
Struggles With Movement's Rigidity and Fatigue
As a result, the movement is stymied by its own rigid rules. Participants are expected to follow strict guidelines, inadvertently placing a new kind of pressure to comply with a specific standard of “natural.”
The tension between these inflexible guidelines and the desire for liberation has led to fatigue among partakers. The very protocols designed to celebrate individuality have bred weariness, leading some to question whether the movement truly reflects their personal journey.
Time Constraints and Practicality
Deborah Ababio, Global Entertainment Director for Vogue, reports her experience with how long it takes to care for natural hair.
“I dread undoing the cornrows and washing my hair. At the moment, I’m avoiding it to the point that it’s just tangled – I might be tempted to cut it off. After a long week, I just don’t want to be battling it. If I go to the gym in a wig, I have to figure out how to pin it down, or if it’s natural, it might change your wash day. It’s a whole schedule that some people don’t ever have to consider. Imagine going on holiday and being able to just put your head in the pool! I could never.”
Balancing the rigorous demands of natural hair care with the swift pace of modern life presents a sort of tightrope walk. Navigating this journey requires finding harmony between the desire for self-expression and the realities of hectic schedules.
Neglect of Certain Hair Textures and Representation
The movement's narrative has often centered around specific hair textures, sidelining the experiences of those with less-represented hair types. This factor raises questions about the NHM's inclusivity and capacity to show pride for the entire natural hair spectrum.
The omission of 4C hair, with its unique characteristics, leads to diminished visibility within the NHM. The feeling is that it doesn't get the same love because it isn't as loose as other natural hair types. This exclusion inadvertently perpetuates the very ideals of conformity that the movement set out to challenge.
Financial Barriers and Product Costs
Natural hair products, while often superior in quality, can come with higher price tags, contributing to financial barriers for many individuals. This economic aspect presents a stark obstacle to the movement's goals.
The cost factor holds significant sway over participation rates, leading some to forgo the movement due to budget constraints. The ideals of embracing one's natural hair might not resonate if it remains inaccessible to those with limited resources.
Actionable steps should be taken to enhance product affordability to address this disparity. Making quality natural hair products available to a broader range of individuals can pave the way for a more inclusive movement.
Amidst the challenges and evolving dynamics, the movement's essence retains its power to kindle inspiration and foster unity. The movement must adapt and innovate to recapture its vibrancy.
Collaborative events, workshops, and online platforms can reignite enthusiasm and community engagement. The movement can find relatability with a new generation by providing a space to discuss expanding beauty values and share personal experiences.
Celebrating authentic identities encompasses more than hair—it's a broader celebration of individuality. Expanding the movement's focus to include personal narratives, cultural heritage, and self-empowerment can create a holistic approach that resonates with diverse audiences, transcending the confines of hair type or style.
In this pivotal juncture, the natural hair movement holds the potential to emerge stronger, unified, and deeply relevant, embodying the essence of equality and seeing the beauty in everyone's appearance.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.