The rise of the natural hair movement has encouraged many African-American women to embrace their kinks and coils. Some women, however, choose to proceed with caution in fear that natural hair will yield discrimination.
Hair weaves, coloring and texturizers sometimes discredit someone from being considered natural. Overall, hair is natural if it has not been chemically altered.
According to a study conducted by Mintel, a consumer spending market research firm, the number of black women with natural hair leaped to 36 percent in 2011 from 26 percent in 2010. The report suggested that there was a 17 percent drop in the sales of relaxer kits between 2006 and 2011.
Monica Morgan, a Florida A&M alumna, chose to go natural in June 2011. Even with regular salon visits, her relaxed hair was not giving her the results she wanted.
“My relaxed hair was so thin and constantly breaking,” Morgan said. “I cut all my hair off out of frustration, honestly.”
Morgan said she appreciates her friends and boyfriend for embracing her natural hair. However, she has a different experience in the work environment. Her decision to wear her hair naturally at a predominantly white public relations agency resulted in some scrutiny from her co-workers.
“At work, sometimes I do feel discriminated against,” Morgan said. “Whenever I straighten my hair, they always say, ‘I love your hair that way,’ and suggest I straighten it more often. My natural styles are always neat, pulled back or pinned up. Still, they have their preferences.”
Natural hair discrimination is not limited to non-African-American people. Many African-American men and women still prefer straightened hair.
Actress Viola Davis was scrutinized for wearing her hair naturally during the Oscars in 2012. Among naysayers was talk show host Wendy Williams, who criticized Viola’s decision to sport her Afro on the red carpet.
While some women have negative experiences, others receivepositive responses to wearing their natural hair. Domonique Key, a senior political science student from Orlando, Fla.,said she constantly enjoys compliments on her natural hairstyles.
“They’ll ask me, ‘How did you get your hair that way?’” Key said. “I feel more attractive with my natural hair than I ever did when my hair was relaxed.”
The transitional phase, time spent growing out a perm, is a time for women to test their hair and patience.
Shirelle Clark, another FAMU alumna, is transitioning from a relaxer. She is somewhat fearful because her hair texture has a wavy pattern.
“I have never been discriminated because my hair never had the natural look,” Clark said. “I do feel that women with tightly curled natural hairstyles open themselves up to discrimination, especially in white America.”
Clark’s only concern about going natural is that her hair texture will not revert back to the way it was pre-relaxer.
“I will not hesitate to relax my hair again,” she said. “I refuse to have unmanageable and coarse hair.”
Key believes wearing hair in its natural state is more of a convenience than a hassle. While she is able to have fun and work out without worrying what her hair will look like, she still feels there will be those who disagree.
“I feel that society looks down on these styles as inappropriate, no matter how well-put-together they are,” Key said.
Many women with natural hair test different variations of hairstyles to achieve a “safe” look for work. Wearing hair pulled back, twisted out or pinned up are commonly suggested work-friendly natural hairstyles.
Key advises new “naturals” to dispel fear and embrace their natural hair.
“I’m thrilled that more women are going natural,” Key said. “It saddens me what some black women do to themselves to look like a totally different person instead of accepting the beautiful black queens that they are.”