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To much of the natural hair community, the term “natural hair” has traditionally meant hair that is relaxer-free, heat-free, and for people who follow the Curly Girl Method, it can even mean color-free. It has often been policed by the natural community, but now we are seeing a shift towards flexibility with the term as people with natural hair seem to be more comfortable with the idea of style experimentation, from daily straightening and regular bleaching, to chemical treatments like relaxers.
Although the movement remains relevant in the current culture of beauty, some naturals have become increasingly vocal about being tired of the time-consuming upkeep and strict regimens that can come with caring for natural hair. People are starting to prioritize having the independence to do whatever they'd like with their hair, rather than feel restricted by it.
Natural Hair Fatigue
Curl expert and hair educator April Kayganich believes the overwhelming amount of information that we consume on the internet and social media is playing a huge factor in the collective feeling of natural hair fatigue. “I think sometimes what gets targeted towards us on social platforms can be overwhelming,” Kayganich explains. “‘Try this product, it will do this, no try this product, it's better I swear.’ Or you're being told your wash day will take all day and it will take 9,754,897,982 steps...it doesn't have to take all day or require multiple steps. This is why it is so important to seek out a texture specialist in your area because guidance can help us have realistic expectations on what maintenance will look like and, in time, will cut down the amount of time it will take to care for your hair when you have the right tools, products and routines.”
In her opinion, being “natural” means self-acceptance, with no chemical treatments involved. And she also believes wearing natural hair is not for everyone. “When you embrace and accept your natural hair, it means fully accepting who you are because you are wearing your hair the way it grows out of your head,” she says. “For as long as we can remember, there have always been people trying to get people with natural hair to do the opposite–to opt for hair that is chemically treated and told that we will have ‘more manageable’ hair and ‘tame’ our ‘fros. I think you can still be natural and smooth or straighten your hair out whenever you want, but if you are natural, there won't be any chemicals involved such as relaxer, keratin treatments or brazilian blowouts. I also just think that the natural hair lifestyle isn't for everyone and that is okay. Some people prefer to wear their hair in a straight style and find it easier for them to maintain a routine this way. So in the end, all I wish for my clients is that they are happy with themselves and their hair.”
"I also just think that the natural hair lifestyle isn't for everyone and that is okay. Some people prefer to wear their hair in a straight style and find it easier for them to maintain a routine this way. So in the end, all I wish for my clients is that they are happy with themselves and their hair.” - Curl expert April Kayganich
Redefining What "Natural" Can Mean
Salon owner and protective style educator Niani B. shares similar feelings with Kayganich on convoluted natural hair messaging and the effect it has had on the community. Additionally, she believes reevaluating what natural means isn’t negative, and can be a catalyst for more natural hair education, showing that natural hair can be easier than it’s been portrayed to be.
“Being natural for me means still having your natural curl pattern that has not been altered by chemicals. Even though technically a relaxer is a chemical, I don’t necessarily rule out colored hair as not natural, since as long as the color was done properly, it doesn't affect your curl pattern which allows us to continue to achieve the same natural styles,” she states. “I do believe that the term natural is being redefined and the community [is being redefined], as it is becoming open to all the things ‘natural’ might mean. I might have natural hair but may use products that previously weren't deemed ‘for natural hair’ or I might use products off the shelves and no longer experimenting with D.I.Y. hair care products. I also see online content implying black women are moving back to using relaxers, however I also see more natural hair stylists moving into educational content creation, and I hope this helps the community understand that natural hair care can be simple and convenient.”
Despite Shifts, Texturism Remains
The reinforcement of texturism could also make being natural a less attractive prospect. The promotion of achieving a looser curl pattern and the lack of inclusive advertising for hair textures in the Type 4 range remain at the top of a long list of grievances within the universe of natural hair.
“I am disappointed to see texturism happening in the community,” Niani B. continues. “I think the movement has also created a stressful environment for a lot of black women. However even though the movement is not perfect I am happy to see us being more comfortable with wearing our curls and coils.”
“I think the movement has also created a stressful environment for a lot of black women. However even though the movement is not perfect I am happy to see us being more comfortable with wearing our curls and coils.” - style educator Niani B.
Kayganich says she’s looking forward to more inclusive product marketing for all textured hair types. “What I would love to see is more hair product companies having less segregation with products that they make as well as where you find them in certain stores. The directions on the bottles need to be more inclusive and cater to ALL hair types. Advertising and marketing isn't picking one type of hair type to represent them, but multiple - straight, wavy, coily and curly. This is what I would like to see, just more representations of a diverse array of curls. I think we can get there and that we are headed in that direction.”
A Hair Autonomy Movement
Despite all its flaws and miseducation, it’s hard to deny that the natural hair movement has been beneficial for people with textured hair, and especially Black women. It has slowly created space for Black hair in Eurocentric societies that typically mocked, scrutinized, and sometimes even punished people for wearing kinks and coils without modification. If nothing else, the previous natural hair movement is the blueprint and precursor to the next big evolution of what we see as a hair autonomy movement. “I still feel that the current state of the natural hair movement is progressing and gaining even more steam...especially with several states and cities passing the CROWN Act – which don't even get me started on the fact that we have to have legislation to protect [Black people’s] hair in the workplace,” Kayganich mentions. “I think the movement HAS been beneficial to naturals, and specifically Black women/people because it is showing that we love ALL of [ourselves], that we are going to be proud and wear our hair how we want, regardless of what someone says or thinks. Because of more people embracing their hair, more hair professionals are making sure to educate themselves on caring for ALL types of hair, which should have been happening regardless, but this makes it a little easier to find a salon/and or stylist you can trust.”
“I think the movement is being redefined and it's still growing and heading towards its full potential,” Kayganich says.
How do you define the term "natural hair" now, and has that changed?