A look at the wonderful styling of Black hair
By T.I. Williams in New York, USA
NEW YORK… NATURALLY
Hair wars are waged everyday all over the globe and New York City is no exception. Always trendy, New York is widely recognized as a dictator of style internationally. One such trend has come with many an exaggerated sigh of relief…. going Natural is in. Over the last five years, wearing one’s hair in its kinked-up stage has been the choice of style forecasters and fashion mavericks alike. Harlem stores, Nubian Heritage and Carol’s Daughter have become destinations for women hunting that perfect, unprocessed product. Brooklyn-based Harriet’s Alter Ego and Mashood are two of the in-demand designers for the un-relaxed - publications as commercial as VIBE and as grassroots as FREE have filled pages with plenty a naturally-coiffed grace; even Columbia’s scholars have re-examined Black hair in works like ‘Hair Story’.
HAPPY TO BE NAPPY
Treading the gritty city streets is more pleasurable then ever as the head nods from one kink-liberated sistah to another occurs with greater frequency. And it’s not just locks that are awakening attention. It’s wild ‘fros punctuating the air with sass, Bantu knots curling into and around themselves; up-dos that have as much wave as they have class and cuts keeping it short and real sweet. Not to mention ‘braided not extended’, twisted, coiled, rolled and all the other artistic representations that Black women invent when they set their hair free. It’s the ‘happy to be nappy’, ‘napptural beauty’, ‘I love my hair’ and countless other declarations plastered across the chests of Sistahs all over themselves being all into their hair. It’s the ‘hey girl, I love your hair’, or ‘peace Sis, who started your locks?’ and the ‘what do you use to get it to stand up like that?’ between strangers who share in the struggle to bask in the complexity The Creator made!
Yes, New York has gone natural again. We check boxes next to Christian, Dirty Backpacker, Khemetic, Muslim, Neo Soul, Rasta and sometimes, all of the above! We are all up in Flatbush Green Grocers and Park Slope coffee shops. You can find us in ‘hood gyms and yoga studios; the one dollar store and Saks Fifth Avenue. Sometimes, the only ties that bind are the chemicals that don’t and most times, that’s all that matters…. This resurgence of the nap is not without its fair share of knots (pun intended). Let’s face it; hair is as complex as it is interesting; always controversial, Black hair never fails to inspire heated discussions. Black women especially, have to deal with the weight of hair since, next to skin, it remains the most loaded determinant of beauty. Hair signifies history and social standing, or so we are told. Generations were raised to believe in concepts like ‘good hair versus bad hair’ and sadly, for many women, the curl of the hair in its unprocessed or close to natural state makes or breaks one’s subconscious self-esteem.
To top it off, although for many, the relaxers have stopped, the snide comments haven’t. All too often, folks chastise one woman for leaving her hair to do as it pleases and because they are tight not loose; her curls are subject to degrading remarks. In the same breath, people will compliment a wild-haired woman whose curls hint at mixing along the genealogical line. Men further compound the ordeal when they champion the more exotic or European expressions of natural hair over the straight-up African-inspired natty… And the argument goes on. Women with locks, you know the ones who married their hair in strands of love and unity, are forced to deal with ‘concerned looks’ on the street and at the job if their hair is not manicured and ‘presentable’. In truth, Black hair is very much alive, why should we make it play dead? Since many women knew about perms before puberty, a lot of knowledge regarding (w)holistic hair care was never passed on. As a result, there are many Black women who don’t even know how to comb their hair properly much less concoct something healthy to condition it.
The debate rages on in homes, out in public and anywhere one or two Black people are gathered who choose to natrify the mane. Thankfully, New York’s new naturalness is not limited to a few stalwart women here and there who fight the battle alone. Entrepreneurs have answered the call and countless home businesses make products to smooth out an otherwise difficult transition. Hair salons are constantly opening new chairs to clients with more fuzz than frizz. The artistic community has grown larger and is a strong outlet for all that’s ‘Black and Beautiful’! In fact, something about being natural in New York carries an even richer meaning since it last appeared in the ‘Panther Power’ of the ‘70s…. It still references the breadth of our history; holds the pride in our Blackness; speaks the truth about how ingeniously we were fashioned and at the same time, is thoroughly modern in its fashion forwardness - economic success and most importantly... indomitable security!