The ‘Natural’ Solution

More and More, African-American Women are Abandoning Relaxers and Enjoying the Hair They Were Born With

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Photo by Scott Holstein

After spending most of her life “relaxing,” the author shows off her hair in its easy-care, healthier natural state.

Getting my hair straightened, whether with sizzling-hot metal combs or potent chemical relaxers, was a routine part of my life for more than 30 years. Every six to eight weeks I spent hours in salons, sometimes braving a scorched ear or burning scalp, to turn my naturally thick, cottony hair into silky strands.

Four years ago, I decided I wanted out.

Like a lot of African American women who grew up having their tight coils and curls transformed by chemicals, I ditched the relaxer — better known as “the perm” — and gradually grew out the tresses that nature gave me. It was a largely practical decision.

Florida’s rain and humidity regularly made a mockery of my sleek bob. If I started to sweat too much, got caught in the rain or got into a swimming pool, it meant two precious hours of complete hairdo reconstruction. “Relaxer” was the ultimate misnomer.
Going natural doesn’t exactly represent a brand-new trend among black women, who have always worn their hair in a range of styles.

But something in the culture has shifted in recent years, making it a much more visible and popular option.

Stores like Target and Walgreens now stock products made especially for black and multiracial women with naturally textured hair. Models with natural hair are featured in ads for brands like Dove and Publix. Oprah revealed her unstraightened hair on the September 2012 cover of O magazine, and Oscar winner Viola Davis famously wore a short afro on the red carpet. Google “natural hair blog,” and you’ll come up with dozens of hits.

Evidence of natural hair’s ascent was on full display locally at the first Capital City Natural Hair & Health Expo last September. Held at the Woman’s Club of Tallahassee, the first-time event was a magnet for hundreds of women of all ages seeking information, inspiration and products made just for their hair. The expo went beyond hair to include overall health and wellness, but many attendees were drawn to the theme of embracing natural beauty. Nationally known brands like Miss Jessie’s and Jane Carter Solution donated swag bags full of product samples, and stylists from New York to Miami were on hand for the expo’s natural hair show.

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