As Black History Month comes to a close, The Gryphon discusses hair within the history of the Black community and speaks to community project, Crown Me Natural UK, about their work.
If you picture the most wonderful hair you can think of, do you think of something similar to your own? More often than not, we tend to want what we cannot or do not have; this ideology also applies to the kind of hair we have on our head and that we are born with.
Hair has been an integral part of the history of Black people and a part of Black identity. Hairstyles were used as way to mark status, amongst other social markers, in many traditional and ancestral African communities throughout history such as twists, braids, Bantu knots and locks and so on. As such, hair forms an essential part of black culture: it is both a way of expressing oneself as well as being a practical lifestyle measure. The term ‘natural hair’ is predominately used today to describe the varying afro hair textures people have and to wear your hair naturally is to not use any chemicals or heat treatments to change it, instead styling and caring for your hair in natural way.
Hair as a vehicle for social change…
In the sixties and seventies, the Afro was the popular hair style in popular culture, as the Civil Rights movement in America spread ideas concerning pride in black heritage and encouraging black power and change; here hair links into the social matters of the time.
More recently, braids have become popular for festivals, events and going out. Whilst many stars including Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and the Kardashian-Jenners, are happy to partake in and appropriate Black culture, they are less willing to participate in the growing rhetoric of the history of Black people and the criticism of on-going endemic and institutional racism. So whilst today it is fashionable to have braids, we must not forget that the roots of braided hair lie deep within African history.
Often thought to be solely a Jamaican hairstyle, dreadlocks actually pertain back to various different cultures and religions: Ancient Egypt and other parts of Africa where dreadlocks were used as a sign of wisdom or knowledge, so that people in communities could identify them when necessary. But when singer and actress Zendaya chose to have this traditional and culturally significant hairstyle at the Oscars in February, “to remind people of color [sic] that our hair is good enough” (Zendaya), she was mocked by TV presenter Giuliana Rancic as probably “smelling like patchouli oil… or weed”. Such ignorant comments breed the very negative views surrounding black hair and perpetuate the detrimental effects to the confidence of young black women.
Challenging accepted beauty standards…
Mainstream society has long viewed natural black hair as a problem in need of ‘fixing’: the differing textures of Black hair are ignored in favour of a ‘sleeker’ style. Western standards of beauty are hard to avoid in mainstream culture and, for everyone, straight hair is portrayed as the ideal, with films showing any character undergoing transformation starting with unruly, curly hair and ending up a with straight, smooth style and almost every single haircare product is marketed with models with either straight or unnaturally curled hair.
However, there are several celebrities who wear their hair naturally and are examples for the members of the black community to be proud of their natural hair, for example; Lauryn Hill, Lianne La Havas, Solange Knowles, Corinne Bailey Rae and Lupita Nyong’o, Janelle Monae and The Internet’s Syd the Kid. It is important to have these examples of natural hair in the public eye as this allows natural hair to be visible and can be seen as attractive to a wide range of people.
The Gryphon spoke to Angeline and Melinna from Crown Me Natural UK, a Leeds-based community project aimed at encouraging people in the Black community to embrace their natural hair and take ownership of their beauty and haircare.
M: We came up with a name that was us, about being proud of our cultural heritage and also to make a strong statement about the power and ownership of beauty.
Why should we embrace our natural hair?
A: It comes from out of your scalp! It is a part of you and your personal identity, it is something that no-one can take away from you, so when you embrace your natural hair it is about loving and understanding yourself.
M: It is also about not being scared of what’s appropriate, as it has been said that natural hair can look ‘unprofessional’ but what we do is encourage you to care for your hair and embrace it.
It is about getting people to see natural hair as beautiful and can be a daily thing for people who wish they could but don’t go natural as there are pros and cons of every hair type, but its about embracing the pros and accepting the cons with your hair.
What is Crown Me Natural UK’s ethos?
M: Our mission is to help people with natural hair to care for it and help them to realise that it is beautiful and versatile as well and that they don’t have to chemically alter it.
A: We help people wanting to transition to natural hair and give them advice with the process. We reach out to people creating a community surrounding embracing natural hair and creating a platform for natural hair care products in Leeds. As there is a big need for a community like us for socialising and supporting people to embrace their natural beauty.
How do you get your message across?
M: We have a WhatsApp group, which started with women we know and now we invite everyone we meet to join. We also have a newsletter via email which includes haircare tips and we organise meet-ups and host monthly haircare workshops.
A:We also help with those who have damaged hair and aim to solve hair issues with natural solutions, we’re not professionals but we’re sharing our stories and the stories of others and our own experiences. We also refer people to experts if they are in need of expert help.
You also make homemade natural hair care products, what are the benefits?
A: After a lot of research on natural haircare, caring for you hair gives you self-confidence in caring for yourself and you growing as an individual, also homemade and natural products allow you to save money and take power back in using natural ingredients that are good for your hair without additives or preservatives.
Natural hair is sometimes treated as controversial and with a degree of misunderstanding, but in truth it should be regarded as beautiful and supports the idea that how you present yourself does not necessarily have to conform to Western ideals of beauty. On a personal note, having been on an at times troublesome journey with my hair, I do not feel the need to change my hair to conform with ideals of beauty, instead of denying my natural state, what really needs to change is the attitude towards natural hair in society and for individuals to be increasingly accepting of diversity of people’s appearance in general. Although, it is ultimately up to you how you choose to present yourself and there is no right or wrong way to do so.
Crown Me Natural UK also fundraises for Women’s Shield: a charity run by women for women in business. Find ‘Crown Me Natural UK’ on Facebook to keep up with their future events.
Images: fanart.tv, pinterest, Crown Me Natural UK