There is a natural hair revolution going on among black women, and this time around, the revolution is being televised.
Kimala ‘Lala’ Bennett has directed a documentary titled Combing Through the Roots: The Politics of Black Hair in Jamaica, which explores the multiple perceptions of black people’s hair and their manifestations. And last Sunday, Island Naturals, a newly formed support group for Jamaican women with natural hair – or who wish to go natural – hosted its first event, ‘Au Naturale Night Out’.
There are some female Jamaican entertainers who have broken through with unprocessed hair. Among them are Cherine Anderson, Nadine Sutherland, and Etana, who debuted sporting natural hairstyles.
Still, Trudy-Ann Campbell of Island Naturals confirmed to The Sunday Gleaner that the music industry is not keen on women who sport a natural hair look. “They’re not very receptive to artistes with natural hair, but they are more receptive to cultural artistes with locks. People are under the impression that natural hair is only associated with Christians and that it isn’t a hot trend,” Campbell said.
MORE CONSCIOUS LOOK
This was echoed by Sutherland, who emphasised that for women, having natural hair was often associated with consciousness and not sensuality. There is evidence of this in the typical look of video vixens, who often sport long, flowing curly or straight hair – theirs after processing or store-bought. On the other hand, gospel artistes such as Sister Scully are seen sporting natural hairstyles.
“I think it’s disrespectful to view them that way because a woman is a woman. People are socialised to view them (persons with natural hair) as ‘rootsy’. I think the Eurocentric view of beauty is much more acceptable to persons,” Sutherland said.
Both Sutherland and Campbell sport natural hairstyles. Campbell, who has been natural for four years, said there was pressure in her younger years to process her hair. “It’s kind of a rite of passage to relax your hair, and even now, since I’ve been natural, some people are not receptive, and I understand that. But over time, I know people will be more accepting of natural hair,” Campbell said.
Sutherland says she has not processed her hair because she does not conform to the view that a Eurocentric look is better. “I don’t buy into a lot of stuff that people do. I don’t believe that women of this world should be ruled and governed and enslaved by the rule that the European look is more accepted. There are moments when I am sick and tired of my hair and I will sport a weave, but I don’t have hair issues; I have expression issues,” she said.
Sutherland added that many persons believed that processed hair was a glamorous look for female artistes because they thought it was more sensuous. Campbell echoed this sentiment, stating that because of colonisation, many persons have been influenced about how they view themselves. “People have been brainwashed to believe that is a more glamorous look,” she said.
During Black History Month this year, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, lecturer Dr Michael Barnett chaired the symposium ‘Hair Stories: Exploring Pervasive Attitudes towards Hair and Beauty within Black Communities’, which examined notions of beauty in persons of African descent. Barnett told The Sunday Gleaner that as there is a bombardment of images of European women, subconsciously, persons aspire to standards of European beauty.
“The ‘Beyoncé look’ is what’s in for black women. Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu have managed to fashion an image that works for them, but the general thing is for women to have the Beyoncé look,” Barnett said.
Though some view unprocessed hair as ‘childlike’, Barnett believes that women are subliminally running away from a more Afrocentric look. “Different women carry it off in different ways, but I don’t think that’s something we can universally say. I will agree that the natural look is more native, and subliminally, women don’t want to look like that,” he said.
According to Barnett, black women need to question the paradigm that the European look is more glamorous. “Black women spend more money on their hair than any other ethnic group. European women will get highlights and tints, but black women have to get a weave, and it has to be human hair, and that is a whole-day process as well,” Barnett said.
He echoed Campbell’s view that hair was a rite of passage. “The notion is that when you get to high school you’re a big woman now, so you have to process your hair. Women don’t want to look too African or too ethnic. They want to look glamorous, and they believe this look can only be achieved by wearing weave or by processing their hair. We have a lot of soul-searching to do,” Barnett said.
With the first ‘Au Naturale Night Out’ a success, Campbell said there are plans to host another staging in August.