Jordee Josiah used to listen to her mom talk about feeling the need to straighten her hair in school because she thought that was more acceptable. Although she didn’t quite understand the way her mom felt because she thought her mom was beautiful the way she was, she was aware of the society standard for non-kinky or curly hair.
The biology senior said accepting herself when she was younger included embracing her own naturally curly hair.
“That’s the way I came into this world, and the world is going to accept me,” Josiah said. “My hair defies gravity. My hair can be curly. My hair can be straight. It can be twisted and braided. It’s so powerful when I can see how many things my hair can be.”
The act of going natural, specifically for black women, has gained popularity in recent years. For decades, black women have chemically altered their hair for numerous reasons. Influential black educator Booker T. Washington worried that straightening black hair would lead to black women internalizing “white concepts of beauty.” With the focus on social and cultural awareness of people of color, going natural, in some ways, has been seen as an act of rebellion against the status quo.
In a 2013 article, Michaela Angela Davis, image activist and writer for CNN, said hair in the black community is like a religion.
“Hair in the black community is like a religion, resplendent with ritual, devotion, mythology, metaphor, plenty of pomp and circumstance,” Davis said. “Black hair arguably is one of the quickest indicators of ethnicity, ethos and sometimes politics.”
Erin Porche, industrial and organizational psychology sophomore, said she decided to start the natural hair club, Natural Kinks, at UTA this semester. She saw how successful it was when she was a student at the University of North Texas. Porche said she saw how something that seems small to people, like hair, was actually unifying.
“A lot of girls used to ask me all the time, like ‘Hey, where’d you get your hair done, girl?’ or ‘How did you start going natural?’ ” Porche said. “It was just so many questions at one time. I was like, ‘Why not make a group about it?’ ”
Porche said the process of going natural was hard as a black woman. As a teenager, she wanted her hair in different styles and colors, but as she has grown up and matured, she said she learned to accept herself for who she is and embrace the way her hair grows out of her head.
“It has definitely created a sense of being unashamed because I know a lot of the times it’s hard,” Porche said. “Being black is already very distinct. You can’t hide from it. Our hair is something we could hide with straighteners and perms.”
Natural hair is hair that hasn’t been chemically altered with relaxers, perms or texturizers.To obtain this after hair has been altered, one must cut off all hair — this is known as the big chop — or transition by letting natural hair grow, then cutting off damaged hair gradually. For black hair, relaxers have the affect of straightening the hair and it is incapable of completely going back to its natural state.
The natural hair movement in recent years has gained more popularity with the help of YouTube personalities, like Alyssa Forever and Naptural85 who both have almost 700,000 subscribers, making videos of themselves doing natural hair tutorials and natural hair product reviews. In mainstream media, entertainers like Lupita Nyong’o and Solange Knowles, have worn their hair in natural styles, such as afros, long braids and cool cuts. Big retailers, like Walmart and Target, have even started selling natural hair products and continue to widen their selection. According to CNBC, the market for relaxers has been falling for several years, while the market for natural hair products are rising.
Visual design senior Jazmine Price has been natural since her senior year in high school. Price said her journey has been full of experimenting with her hair and watching YouTube videos to figure out how to best take care of her hair. She went natural because she wanted to try something different going into college and saw this new phase in her life as the perfect chance to do so.
“When I was younger, the thing was that African-American women couldn’t grow hair or it would be permed or stringy or dry,” Price said. “I first had a perm when I was in fifth or sixth grade and now, a lot of mothers let their daughters’ hair grow naturally.”
Price said this is because of mainstream media picking up on the natural hair movement for black women. She has seen a huge interest in natural hair in terms of representation. Price is impressed at how many books she’s seen for little girls telling them to love their natural curls because she didn’t have that growing up. For example, Big Hair, Don’t Care by Crystal Swain-Bates is about Lola, a little girl who has the biggest hair in the school and loves herself and her hair despite being being different.
Porche said the most important thing to remember is that every curl has a purpose, no matter how small.