Black hair, and the ways to style it, both have a long history that reflects the tangled dynamics of politics and personal identity. Even today, popular culture and media portrays black women’s hair as something you need to control and manage, rather than letting your natural curls rock – we’re still wrestling with this dynamic of “good hair” (meaning straight and controllable) versus embracing your natural style.
Before European imperialism, tribal nations and kingdoms in Africa placed a lot of emphasis on the aesthetic of hair, and how hair reflected your position in society. Age, ethnicity, wealth, marital status, religion, and social standing could be understood easily by a hairstyle or a headdress that you wore. For example, when the men from the Wolof tribe (in modern Senegal and the Gambia) went to war, they braided their hair in specific patterns. Some even believed that hair, being the part of your body that is closest to the sky, was the channel for spiritual interaction with God, bringing in embroidered headdresses, jewels, and golden accessories to style with.
In the mid-1400s, Europeans began to buy and sell slaves on the western coast of Africa, beginning the Transatlantic Slave Trade. When the slaves were brought over – the first slaves landing in the United States of America in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia – all aspects of their culture, including grooming habits, were forcibly eliminated. As part of this, European ideals of beauty replaced traditional African aesthetics, and slaves were forced to adopt and conform to European standards of beauty – a near impossible task.
Annie Malone, the daughter of slaves, became the first African American millionaire in the United States in the early 1900s. She developed and manufactured the first line of non-damaging hair straighteners alongside special oils and hair growth stimulants, selling her wares door to door. Her efforts marked the beginning of a steady rebirth of hair individuality for the black community in the United States, due to her products giving black women more control over their own hair.
Fast forward to the 1950s and 60s, when the Civil Rights Movement was taking place. Before Martin Luther King Junior and Malcolm X was Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, whose jazz songs and hairstyles were taking America by storm. These two women, among others, were showing black America that you don’t have to straighten your hair to make it appealing. Soon after the great Jazz artists and their hairstyles came the Motown era and the Black Power movement: the big afro became incredibly popular as black women and men started to wear their curls as big as they could get them.
The arrival of the 1980’s brought forth artists like Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie who wore the Jheri Curl and in the early 90’s “weave” was introduced by stars like Whitney Houston. Approaching the late 90’s Erykah Badu reintroduced Afrocentrism with her beautiful head wraps and Lauryn Hill had been deemed one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” while sporting dreads.
In the recent song by India Arie’s, “I am not my hair,” she sings, “Good hair means curls and waves; bad hair means I look like a slave.” But the times are changing. African American hairstyles and products now boast a billion dollar a year industry in creams, oils, and products focused on allowing you to rock your natural hair. The hair world has fully embraced this, focusing on natural kinks, curls, and twists to express your identity through your hair. With Curly Hair Solutions, we have developed a line of products that work with your natural curl texture, letting you decide what curl identity you want to own that day.
Whether you want to straighten your hair, style each individual curl, or let your fro get as big as it can, our products work with your hair and the natural environment to let you express whoever you want to be!
From all of us at Curly Hair Solutions, we wish you a happy and commemorative Black History Month this February. May you choose to celebrate and remember with whatever hair you wish to have, because your style is your choice!