Afros surged in the 60s and 70s during the Civil Rights Movement as a means to fully embrace Black beauty and power without European standards. As a consequence etched from slavery, afros have been derogatorily labeled as “nappy” and “untamed” for centuries. I’ve heard those very same words for most of my life.
Black is Beautiful, a cultural movement that came from the Black Power movement, encouraged a new embracing of Black identity. Political activists like Angela Davis wore this style “as a symbol for Black beauty, liberation, and pride.” In other contexts, where the afro was not as militant, the style was featured on television by artists like Diana Ross, Jackson 5 or shows like Soul Train. Either way, there was both a metaphorical and literal reclamation of Black roots. A root that juxtaposes both the delicacy and power of Blackness.
By the mid-1970s, there was a decline in the appeal of afros. Braided styles like cornrows and box braids, finger waves, and Jheri curls were some of the new styles that took its shine away. It wasn’t until the late 90s when the Natural Hair Movement we now know as our own started again. A lot of Black women stopped relaxing their hair and started to learn more about the maintenance of natural coils. Though I would not affiliate this movement as direct of a political statement as in the 60s, wearing an afro in the modern day is still very much a form of resistance.
Of my siblings, I was the only one with a perm. With my hair being much thicker, coily hair and resistance of combs, it seemed as though my mom had limited options. It wasn’t until the 8th grade, the summer of 2017, that I did the big chop and completely shaved my hair for a fresh start. Truthfully, the story was not that simple, as it took my mom about a year of nagging and convincing until she got tired of being bugged. She feared I would look “like a boy,” and was projecting a lot of her own attachments to the notion that beauty was based on hair. I think especially in the African community, where European beauty standards of straight hair and light skin prevail, many are judgemental towards afros. In Black American culture, I like to think that there is a bit more progression within families that a lot of Africans have not quite reached yet.
The first couple of months without hair, I was pretty self-conscious. I would always try to wear a headband and cover my head. I was actually very encouraged by my mom by the time I was bald, but I couldn’t help feeling so naked without hair. A lot of the insecurity was based in vulnerability. It was then that I realized I too based a lot of my beauty and identity on my hair. I was also attached, so I made efforts to remove accessories. I also tried not doing my edges ever so often (which is a real challenge y’all!)
At the same time, I also had so much fun experimenting with my hair at different lengths. I was wearing it out in a stretch fro some days, others were styled from twist-outs or braid-outs. I was learning a lot about my hair, and it became one of the most relaxing forms of self-care for me. I discovered a lot of Black natural hair YouTubers in the process as well, some of my favorites including Naakie Nartey, Mona B, and Chev B.
I took control of my hair and even inspired my mom to cut hers down and try again. Cornrowing her hair and teaching her how to moisturize her curls properly have been some of our best bonding moments.
On my journey, I was most surprised to learn that 4C hair is actually one of the most fragile and delicate hair textures. My hair that I was raised to think was rough and unmanageable, just required extra attention and love all along.
This is all to say, there is a long history of reclaiming your afros and reconnecting with your authentic beauty. But, I also want to note that there is no reason to bash women with relaxers. A lot of Black women have intricate histories with their hair. It is never too late to start loving your afro the way it deserves, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting with going bald or trying a new hairstyle. I am forever learning to dismantle beliefs about hair that were instilled in me from childhood. I always need to reassure myself that my hair is one of the best parts of me, but that it is not all I am. Like with everything in life, there needs to be balance.