Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The ‘Natural Hair’ Movement Challenges Beauty Standards

What began as a fleeting trend to many, has now become a movement that has gained momentum in bringing a different perspective to the images surrounding beauty. Thick textured hair that grows in a gravity defying way, full framed and often resembling a large ball of black cotton – this type of hair is becoming more popular than it has ever been in the past two decades.

The world is recognising natural hair as beautiful. This recognition challenges what we have extensively validated as the norm of beauty. Images of women with thick coarse hair now grace the covers of some of the world’s trendy magazines, a rarity in the mainstream world. A recent report, ‘African Haircare and Consumer Behaviour, Product Formulation and Marketing’ has indicated that globally, more women of afro descent are embracing their natural hair and their transition is also having an economic impression, bringing much emphasis on how the beauty industry as a whole needs to acknowledge the shift.

In Botswana, the embrace of natural hair is not a new sensation. It’s a common tale that in the seventies and the eighties women found it fashionable to keep hair as it is, whether in the form of locks or well combed afros. Those women left a legacy that soon changed with the times. With modernity and its emphasis on what a modern woman is expected to look like, straightened hair was perceived as more manageable and more beautiful.

We began seeing an escalation of weaves, relaxers piling up the shelves, creams and tonics that mostly catered for straight hair in great demand ÔÇô products that were deemed ‘cures’ for difficult African hair. Such products brought on a stamp of appeal in the eyes of women as an improvement. Natural hair then became synonymous with unkemptness, a lack of class and beauty whereas processed hair became the standard.

With a surge of online blogs and YouTube channels that encouraged the nurture of afro-textured hair, as early as 2007, self-love became the next big thing. This made many women ponder on the choices they make regarding their hair, resulting in some deciding to be ‘relaxer free’. Some women now incorporate their natural hair within fashion statements and some even embrace it in the corporal world. The trend made its visible mark.

Hair in our era is politicised in the face of social pressure. A number of women view the natural movement as a necessary initiative to reclaim self-love and identity while others see it as a movement that is against diversity of which women must be entitled to.

Thabi, a hairdresser, said in most salons in Gaborone, natural hair gets charged higher prices than relaxed hair. “With natural hair, you put in more labour to comb and dry it, relaxed hair is easier to deal with,” she said when asked about how she handles natural hair customers. “More women want to grow their hair naturally than before, but it’s very labourious” she added.

Cecilia says hair shouldn’t be a reflection of self-love or the lack of it. “Putting on a weave doesn’t mean a woman hates herself. In fact many do it because it’s easy to manage. The natural hair movement should not assume anyone who puts on a weave is trying to be white or hates their own hair,” said the 24 year old.

Ziyi Brandi Phiri, a Motswana who has founded the ‘Soul Hair’ blog, has created a platform where women can get a range of information in nurturing their afro-textured hair.

The natural hair movement has made its mark in challenging the beauty standard of hair. It continues to steadily grow the perception that African hair most used to sneer at, is as beautiful as any.

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