Black women are going natural in droves to ditch using harsh chemicals, and in some cases, to better embrace who they are. The emotional and financial benefits of weening oneself off relaxers cannot be denied. But whether a woman chooses to grow out her processed hair over a long period of time, or shave her relaxed hair off in a “big chop,” is still a point of contention for some.
At the forefront of this movement is Chicago-based hair stylist Emon Fowler. For her the big chop is the only way.
Fowler recently established her shop, The Harriet Experiment, in an effort to encourage black women to shave off their processed hair and explore their natural texture in one bold move. She told the Chicago Tribune that she was inspired to start her movement after reflecting on the life of Harriet Tubman, the iconic heroine who risked her life to helping hundreds flee slavery.
Fowler believes she is similarly freeing black women from the negative misconceptions and resulting sad emotions related their hair. “This is all about breaking free from that hair bondage,” Fowler told the Chicago Tribune.
All across Chicago, Fowler has organized meetings for women to come together for support while letting their processed hair go. She has also started a website, recruited women on Facebook, made appearances at fairs and festivals, and even stopped women in grocery stores in an effort to get black women to chop off their relaxers.
“When a woman decides to cut all of her hair, she discovers something underneath that is liberating. It can be therapeutic because you have to let go of the idea that you need these superficial extras to feel beautiful,” Fowler told the Chicago Tribune. “It says, ‘I’ve accepted me.’ ”
When licensed cosmetologist and owner of Braids Elite Maria Lourdes Prince heard about The Harriet Experiment, she was ecstatic that Fowler was evangelizing black women towards the goal of going natural.
“Finally, somebody has heard my voice,” Prince exclaimed to theGrio. “I think it’s really important, because we all need to embrace the way that we are and know that we are beautiful. Natural hair is beautiful.”
Prince, who has been doing natural hair since 1990, said going natural is the best route that African-American women can take to have healthier hair. She says the beauty of black women’s hair is exciting because it shows a loving acceptance of natural textures.
Prince believes that the negative perception that natural hair has is derived from slavery.
“We think that we are ugly the minute we go natural, but we need to love who we are. We should not want to change it just to fit in,” she told theGrio.
Freedom from slavery to these detrimental self images can be overcome by drastic acts like the big chop.
Black women who agree have engaged in their own “Harriet Experiments,” doing private “big chops” and enjoying a revolution of positive emotions about their hair.
Although afraid at first, Keisha Pickett, owner of Pickett Public Relations Group, decided to do her big chop a few years ago.
“I was afraid that my face was too plump and I wasn’t sure how people would react to it,” Pickett said. “In addition, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do anything with what seemed to be dry, matted hair. My little sister, who went natural first, came to visit me one day and said, ‘We are cutting your hair today!’ and I said ‘OK!’ I just needed that extra nudge to do it.”
After she shaved off her checmically-straightened locks, Pickett posted pictures of her new hairstyle on Facebook, and received positive responses.
“My hair is [now] easier to manage and it’s definitely cheaper to maintain,” Pickett told theGrio. “When it’s pressed, most can’t believe how quickly it’s grown out. I absolutely love the versatility of my natural hair and encourage others to get on board.”
Former CBS Early Show host Rene Syler had a mastectomy and then lost her hair over a period of two years due to too much chemical processing. These seemingly negative changes led to positive internal growth.
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