Your Afro hair slays more than you think!

Your Afro hair slays more than you think!

It is undeniable that hair plays a vital role as a human body part. It is not only a component of the integumentary system which is the largest organ of the body that forms a physical barrier between the external environment and the internal environment, but also a feature that represents the uniqueness of identity, culture and history. And if your natural hair has an Afro texture or also known as coily or kinky, then you should be more proud of it since your hair type is one of the two rarest on earth!

So after knowing the fact that your kinky hair type is so rare like that, do you really take pride in it and feel grateful for having this prominent natural hair look? Or do you feel unhappy with such rough, twisty and dry prone strands of hair? And you may even feel unaccepted as well as pressure when surrounding a large number of other people having “normal hair” with the traditional beauty norm of the society that prioritizes straight and wavy hair over curls? Then this reading is a real bestie of yours, who will help you discover the special beauty of this hair type and persuade you that your afro -textured hair deserves a yay not a nay

Let’s get to know your hair better!

Special texture

Afro-textured  hair is a rare hair type [1] characterized by tightly coiled or curly strands that have a unique pattern and structure. It often grows in a rounded shape-angle or like helix shape which can form a stunning halo-like appearance around the head. Additionally, the coils can range from small and tightly packed to larger and more elongated curls, depending on the individual. And according to Andrea Walker- the American hairstylist first introduced a hair type classification system, Afro-textured hair falls into type 4 with 3 other subcategories labeled A, B or C just like 3 other main hair types (straight, wavy, curly).

Besides, Afro-textured hair has enormously distinct features that set it apart from other hair types. First of all, it tends to have a high density, meaning there is a large number of hair strands per square inch, and can have a natural tendency to be dry. Secondly, the tight curl pattern can also make it more prone to shrinkage, where the hair appears shorter than its actual length when dry.

And did you know that Afro hair is diverse and can vary from person to person? Each individual may have a unique combination of curl patterns, textures, and characteristics within the Afro-textured spectrum. Therefore, there is a wide range of Afro- textured hair looks with unique beauty differentiating many individuals from each other, even their hair all has the same basic zigzag pattern.

History

The United States has a complex history when it comes to the styling and perception of African-American hair. Since the arrival of diasporic Africans in the Americas through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the beauty ideals surrounding their hair have undergone significant changes. In this essay, we will explore the historical journey of African-American hair, from the days of slavery to the present day, and examine how it has been politicized and shaped by societal norms and movements.

Trans-Atlantic slave trade

During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, enslaved Africans had limited resources and access to grooming tools, which affected the way they styled their hair. They often resorted to using sheep-fleece carding tools to detangle their hair. Living conditions were harsh, leading to scalp diseases and infestations. Enslaved people had to find remedies to disinfect and cleanse their scalps, such as using kerosene or cornmeal. Enslaved field hands often shaved their hair and wore hats to protect their scalps from the sun, while house slaves had to maintain a tidy appearance. Women typically plaited or braided their hair, while men sometimes wore wigs or mimicked their masters’ hairstyles. As the 19th century progressed, hair styling, especially among women, became more popular. They used cooking grease like lard and butter to moisturize their hair, and some even used hot butterknives to curl their hair [2].

Politics of kinky hair in the West

The notion that straight or wavy hair was more acceptable than kinky hair, which is more common among people of European origin, became prevalent during this time. Many black individuals started exploring ways to straighten or relax their hair to conform to these beauty standards. One method involved using a mixture of lye, egg, and potato, which often resulted in scalp burns. The politics of kinky hair in the West began to emerge, especially in the United States during the 1960s. Kinky hair became a symbol of Black pride, Black power, and a rejection of mainstream beauty standards [3]. It represented a move towards embracing one’s natural self and challenging societal norms.

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During this time, Afro-textured hair became highly politicized, and wearing an Afro became a physical expression of Black pride [4]. Straightening hair to simulate Whiteness was seen by some as an act of self-hatred and internalized oppression imposed by the White-dominated mainstream media. The ability to conform to mainstream beauty standards was tied to success, and rejecting straightened hair was an act of rejecting the belief that only Eurocentric grooming practices were acceptable in society. The pressing comb and chemical straighteners became symbols of oppression and imposed White beauty ideals. Wearing natural hair became a symbol of pride and a way to challenge negative perceptions of Afro-textured hair and beauty.

Emancipation and post-Civil War

After the American Civil War and emancipation, African-Americans migrated to larger towns and cities where they were influenced by new styles. The Black hair care industry, initially dominated by White-owned businesses, saw the rise of African-American entrepreneurs such as Madam C. J. Walker, Annie Turnbo Malone, and Garrett Augustus Morgan. They revolutionized hair care by inventing and marketing chemical and heat-based applications to alter the natural texture of African-American hair. These entrepreneurs became successful and dominated the Black hair care market [5].

Madam C. J. Walker is one of the most successful Black business owners back then.
A Successful entrepreneur who invented a method that relaxed textured hair

In the 1930s, conking, a method for Black men to straighten their hair, became popular. Women often wore wigs or hot-combed their hair to mimic a straight style. Media images perpetuated European beauty ideals, even when featuring African-Americans. However, during the civil rights movement and the Black power and Black pride movements of the 1960s and 1970s, there was a resurgence of embracing natural hair as an affirmation of Black African heritage. The Afro hairstyle became a political statement and a symbol of Black pride.

Rise of Black pride

Afro hair has a rich and complex history, intertwined with the struggles and triumphs of African-Americans. Slavery played a significant role in shaping the perception and treatment of Afro hair, impacting the pride and self-image of Black individuals. Lisa Jones, in her essay “Hair Always and Forever, ” expressed the profound connection between African-American history and the symbolism of hair [6].

In ancient Africa, hairstyles were not merely a matter of personal preference; they conveyed important messages about an individual’s marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth, and social standing. Cheryl Thompson highlights this cultural significance in her writings, emphasizing how hair was a means of communication within African communities [7]. However, during the 1800s and early 1900s, Eurocentric beauty standards prevailed, equating straight, flowing hair with beauty, while deeming nappy, kinky, and curly hair as inferior and unkempt [8]. As a result, African-Americans began using chemical relaxers containing harmful substances like sodium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide, which led to hair breakage, thinning, and other damage [9].

The civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s brought about a shift in African-American consciousness and a reclamation of cultural heritage. The Afro hairstyle emerged as a powerful symbol of Black pride, reflecting the affirmation, “Black is beautiful. ” Influential figures like Angela Davis and Diana Ross embraced their natural hair, inspiring a generation to celebrate their African roots.

Angela Davis wearing Afro hair to support the civil rights.
Civil rights activist Angela Davis wearing an Afro

Since then, African-Americans have embraced a wide range of hairstyles that celebrate the unique characteristics of their hair, including cornrows, locks, braids, twists, and short cropped styles. Natural hair blogs and online communities have emerged, providing support, guidance, and inspiration for individuals embracing their natural hair. However, the popularity of natural hair has faced fluctuations over time. Many African-American women still resort to relaxers, despite the potential harm caused by prolonged use. The dominance of straight hair as a beauty standard, perpetuated by white-owned companies, continues to impose unrealistic and unattainable ideals on Black women [10].

In recent years, there has been a notable shift in attitudes towards natural hair. Sales of relaxers declined significantly, while natural hair support groups and the acceptance of natural hair among African-American women increased. Celebrities such as Esperanza Spalding, Janelle Monáe, and Solange Knowles have proudly showcased their natural hair, inspiring others to embrace their authentic selves.

Modern perceptions and controversies

Despite the growing acceptance of natural hair, there remain challenges and controversies surrounding Black hairstyles. Throughout history, there have been instances of discrimination and prejudice against African-Americans based on their hair choices. Media figures and institutions have made derogatory remarks, reinforcing negative stereotypes or deeming certain hairstyles as unprofessional or inappropriate.

Efforts to challenge these biases have emerged, including legislation such as the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture [11]. Such initiatives aim to foster inclusivity and combat the cultural violence of identity erasure.

In other diasporic African populations

Afro hair is not limited to African-Americans; it has also played a significant role in other African diasporic populations. In the Caribbean, the Rastafari movement, influenced by Marcus Garvey’s teachings, embraced freeform dreadlocks as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment and resistance to Eurocentric beauty standards. Dreadlocks have become synonymous with Rastafarianism and are now common among Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Latin Americans.

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Evolution 

According to Robbins (2012), Afro-textured hair may have evolved initially as an adaptive response to protect humans’ early hominid ancestors from the intense UV radiation in Africa [12]. The author posits that prior to the “Out-of-Africa” migration that populated other regions, Afro-textured hair was the original hair texture of all modern humans [12].

Afro hair slays helps protect you from UV radiation more effectively

Robbins (2012) suggests that Afro-textured hair conferred advantages to early modern humans in Africa. The hair’s relatively sparse density and elastic helix shape created an airy effect, allowing for increased circulation of cool air onto the scalp. This, in turn, may have facilitated the regulation of body temperature for hominids living in open savannah environments [12].

Compared to straight hair, Afro-textured hair has distinct characteristics. It requires more moisture and tends to shrink when dry. Instead of sticking to the neck and scalp when damp, as straighter textures do, Afro-textured hair retains its inherent springiness unless fully saturated. These traits may have been favored and preserved among anatomically modern populations in equatorial regions, such as Micronesians, Melanesians, and the Negrito, as they contribute to enhanced comfort in tropical climates [12].

Furthermore, kinky hair can also be observed in populations living under temperate climate conditions, albeit rarely, such as among indigenous Tasmanians [12]. This suggests that the presence of Afro-textured hair is not exclusively restricted to specific geographical regions but can manifest in diverse populations worldwide.

Therefore, we can say that your afro-textured hair is a more advanced type compared with other hair types since it plays a  special role of a shield which protects you better from intense UV. “How jealousy it is!”- said by people with other hair types ( LOL). 

Why you should love your Afro hair?

Campaign "Proud to be me" encourage women to embrace their natural Afro hair.
You should be proud of your distinct hair type
  • Historical significance: Knowing the whole story behind your hair type, now you might agree with me that Afro hair also carries the beautiful long journey of resilience, self-acceptance, and cultural affirmation. From the legacy of slavery to the modern-day movements promoting natural hair, Afro hair represents the pride, struggles, and beauty of African-Americans and other African diasporic communities. And this historical significance might be one of the reasons to motivate you to embrace your natural hair, you reclaim history and keep the roots of your culture alive, showcasing the true beauty of natural hair.
  • Superior advantage: With those amazingly curls in helix shape, you are equipped with a better shield that protects your head under harsh sunlight and maybe other accidental objects falling onto your head more effectively than other hair types such as straight and wavy. So just embrace the distinctiveness of your natural hair, appreciating its thickness and recognizing the inherent beauty it possesses as well as seeing this as an advantage. And do not forget to show love to your hair by maintaining and flourishing its health and strength through careful hydrating and limiting harsh chemicals that can weaken and damage it over time. And by going natural with cutting down on frequent salon visits to enormously change your original hair (such as straightening hair), you are not only enhancing the strength of your natural hair strands but also accumulate potential savings in the long run which results from saying bye bye to expensive spending on hair salon .
  • Easily stand out from others: That’s right, try to change your point of view, imagine among various girls and boys with thin straight or wavy hair, the exceptional volume of yours would undoubtedly draw attention. Embrace your uniqueness, as your natural hair  is captivating and people won’t be able to resist looking your way. And accepting your different beauty coming from the hair type that is not available for many other races will allows you to appreciate your authentic self and feel a sense of freedom without relying on external enhancements.
  • It’s yours: Yes, you are born with this hair type and do not let the society standards define your natural beauty because the real beauty of this world is diversity. Additionally, you should know the fact that magazines, advertisements, and media messages implying about devaluing kinky hair are all for the purpose of commercials and they try to trigger your anxiety so that they can boost their related product sales. Therefore, you with this special hair type should be conscious and selective when acquiring information. Instead, you can heighten self-love by immersing yourself in the world of natural hair through YouTube videos and discover the endless possibilities of different looks that can be achieved using bobbi pins, scrunchies, and various protective styling techniques to make your original hair achieve its best versions. When you understand the unique characteristics of your hair, you love and care for it, then it reciprocates by becoming more manageable and beautiful.

So, on those challenging hair days when you feel defeated, remind yourself of the multitude of reasons that make your natural hair beautiful and celebrate its uniqueness. On the other hand, it is fine to change your original hair but please carefully consider the damages to your hair and yeah, make sure this decision result from your helplessness in dealing with the  inconvenience or yourself preference which is not affected by any external factors (such as the pressure of society’s beauty standards or trends,…). And the one last thing you should bear in mind is that “ You are a star whoever you are”.

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Comprehensive guide to Afro hair care

To effectively care for Afro hair whose coils make it challenging for natural oils to travel along the hair shaft, resulting in reduced moisture retention, a well-rounded hair care routine is crucial to preserve its health and vitality. Here are some notices you may find them helpful to nourish your hair:

Detangling is an important step in Afro hair care routine.
Take care of your Afro hair
  • Cleansing:
    Begin by selecting a gentle sulfate-free shampoo specifically formulated for afro hair. Cleansing should be done with care, ensuring not to strip the hair of its natural oils. Opt for a moisturizing shampoo that cleanses without causing excessive dryness. Consider incorporating co-washing (using conditioner as a cleanser) into your routine to retain moisture and minimize shampoo usage.
  • Hydration and Moisture:
    Moisture is the key to maintaining healthy afro hair. Regular deep conditioning treatments are vital to replenish moisture and prevent breakage. Look for deep conditioners enriched with hydrating ingredients such as shea butter, coconut oil, and aloe vera. Additionally, incorporate leave-in conditioners and moisturizing sprays to provide ongoing hydration and combat dryness between washes.
  • Protective Styling:
    Protective styles play a crucial role in afro hair care. Braids, twists, updos, and buns help to minimize manipulation and protect the hair from environmental factors that can lead to damage. Prioritize styles that do not place excessive tension on the hairline or edges. Remember to give your hair regular breaks from protective styles to allow it to breathe and prevent stress on the scalp.
  • Detangling:
    Gentle detangling is essential to prevent breakage and maintain hair health. Begin by using a wide-tooth comb or, preferably, your fingers to remove knots and tangles. Apply a generous amount of conditioner or a detangling spray to facilitate the process. Start from the ends and work your way up, being patient and gentle to minimize hair loss.
  • Moisture Sealing:
    Sealing moisture into afro hair is crucial for length retention and preventing dryness. After applying leave-in conditioner or moisturizer, use natural oils like jojoba oil, argan oil, or castor oil to seal in the moisture. This helps to create a protective barrier and reduce moisture loss, promoting healthier and more manageable hair.
  • Nighttime Care:
    Protect your hair while you sleep by using a satin or silk bonnet, scarf, or pillowcase. These materials minimize friction and prevent moisture loss, preserving your hairstyles and reducing breakage. Additionally, consider pineapple-ing your hair (gathering it loosely at the top of your head) to preserve curls and maintain their shape.
  • Balanced Diet and Supplements:
    Nurture your hair from within by maintaining a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Incorporate foods such as fish, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and fruits for optimal hair health. Consider consulting with a healthcare professional to determine if hair-specific supplements, like biotin or omega-3 fatty acids.

Reference

  1. Bean, M. (2023). Rare Hair Types: What You Need To Know + How To Care for Them. We Heart This. https://weheartthis.com/rare-hair-types/#:~:text=Type%204%20hair%20is%20another,%2C%20kinky%2C%20or%20coily%20hair
  2. Hargro, Brina. “Hair Matters: African American Women and the Natural Hair Aesthetic”. ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University. Georgia State University. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  3. Tharps, Lori; Byrd, Ayana (12 January 2002). Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN 9780312283223.
  4. Banks, Ingrid (2000). Hair matters : beauty, power, and Black women’s consciousness. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 9780814713372. OCLC 51232344.
  5. Edmondson, Vickie Cox; Carroll, Archie B. (1999). “Giving Back: An Examination of the Philanthropic Motivations, Orientations and Activities of Large Black-Owned Businesses”. Journal of Business Ethics. 19 (2): 171–179. doi:10.1023/A:1005993925597. JSTOR 25074086. S2CID 15255094.
  6. Johnson, Dianne (2004). “‘She’s grown dreadlocks’: the fiction of Angela Johnson”. World Literature Today. 78 (3–4): 75–78. doi:10.2307/40158506. JSTOR 40158506. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016.
  7. Thompson, Cheryl (2008). “Black Women and Identity: What’s Hair Got to do with it?”. Michigan Feminist Studies. 22 (1). hdl:2027/spo.ark5583.0022.105.
  8. Wade Talbert, Marcia (22 February 2011). “Natural Hair and Professionalism”. Black Enterprise.
  9. Platenburg, Gheni “BlackWomen Returning to Their Natural Roots”. Victoria Advocate (TX) 3 March 2011. 10 April 2015.
  10. Rooks, Noliwe M. (1996). Hair raising : beauty, culture, and African American women. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. p. 13. ISBN 9780585098272. OCLC 44964950.
  11. “California becomes first state to ban discrimination against natural hair”. CBS News. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  12. Robbins, Clarence R. (2012) Chemical, Weird and Physical Behavior of Human Hair, p. 181, ISBN 3642256112

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