Ignore the hype, black women created the natural hair movement

Illustration by Lilly Cook

Imani Thaniel, Contributing Writer

The New York City Commission on Human Rights released regulations Feb. 18 in response to the discrimination of black people based on hair or hairstyle in the workplace, school and other public places. Those convicted of discriminating on this basis will have to pay a fine up to $250,000.

This change in law will apply to all New York residents, but is specifically aimed at remedying the treatment of African-Americans based on their natural hair. According to the law, targeting individuals with natural hair is now considered racial discrimination.

The specified natural hairstyles include locs, braids, cornrows, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, twists or hair that is uncut or untrimmed.

Thanks to this policy, black women not only have the ability to continue to express themselves culturally, but they also get the opportunity to continue to push for change on social issues in the black community.

Since around 2012, American makeup companies, models and YouTube tutorials have promoted the “natural look.” It has become a movement for women all over the world to use minimal makeup and wear their natural hair. In 2016, Alicia Keys started the #NoMakeup movement, and it went viral.

As a result of the natural movement, white women have culturally appropriated natural hairstyles and the natural look from black women. When white women wear locs or braids in the workplace or outside of it, they are never discriminated against like black women are. In some cases, white women are encouraged, even praised, for wearing black women’s hairstyles. It’s seen as supporting the movement and supporting black women. But in reality, white women are robbing black women of their culture without having to experience the discrimination and backlash.

Black women in the natural hair movement encourage other black women to embrace their nappy curls and leave behind a white symbol of beauty — straight hair.

The natural trend only started to receive a lot of public attention when it was featured in the most-esteemed fashion and makeup magazines and stores, like Vogue and Glossier. In 2016, 78 percent of fashion models in ads were white women. It makes sense that the natural trend has taken so much time to get to the main stage, because fashion models of color account for a small percentage of the industry.

Looking back into history, the term “nappy” was a derogatory term to describe the hair of African slaves.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, racial segregation and social activism were at an all-time high. African-American activists and members of the Black Panther Party such as Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver wore Afros confidently and prided themselves in knowing their hair was a part of what made them black. Their nappy, tight curls are what differentiated them from any other race. The style became a popular trend across the U.S.

Today, stars like Lupita Nyong’o, Solange Knowles, Tracee Ellis Ross and Viola Davis have embraced their curls and kinks. They have helped inspire the movement by giving other black women the courage to embrace what they were born with, even in white-dominated Hollywood.

Since the 1980s and ‘90s, leading up to the widely popular beauty trend, white women have longed for curly hair and soft, tan skin. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard a white woman say, “I need to tan, I’m so pale,” I would be a millionaire.

The natural movement is now celebrated as another form of beauty by white America, but when black women started it, it was considered ugly. Black women’s skin, body, full lips, hair and noses were ridiculed for hundreds of years. Today, a black women’s natural features have become desirable to white women, and they achieve them through plastic surgery. Ninety-two percent of plastic surgery patients are women, and in 2017, butt implants increased by 10 percent. But white women did not and will never have to undergo the prejudice and denial that black women go through for being who they are: naturally beautiful.

As a black woman, I have experienced the misunderstanding and ignorance that others have about our natural hair. But it wasn’t a white person who approached me. A black man said to me, “I prefer your hair when it was long and straight, the ‘natural’ hair makes you look boyish.”

This situation proves the brainwashing pervades both sides of the spectrum. Most of the country is so used to seeing straight hair on all women, natural hair has become a turn-off to black men.

This is the product of discrimination. This is the product of the standard of beauty being solely based on European features.

No one should be oppressed based on their hair, skin tone or body features. Black women will continue to dominate natural hair and beauty. Support and love will come from those who choose to stop listening to the fabrications of the American standard of beauty and choose to give black women the respect they deserve for setting a different standard of beauty for themselves.

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