Uncoiling the Black hair struggle
March 2, 2021
Black hair is almost as complex to understand as it is to maintain. It is not only versatile, kinky and beautiful but it’s also been frowned upon, deemed as unprofessional or just “too much” by a world that does not understand it.
Evie Barton is an SIU alumna and a morning anchor on WSIL News 3. Barton began her natural hair journey on local television.
The “big chop” is a large part of the Black natural hair movement. The chop occurs when someone cuts off the chemically processed ends of their hair leaving only the natural new grown hair.
Nyashadzashe Makiriyado, is freelancing as a marketing brand strategist and has explored the spirituality of her hair through a big chop, protective styles and locs.
Charmonique Rodgers is a student at SIUC. Rodgers has done the big chop not once but twice.
The African American Women, Hair Care, and Health Barriers study found that 60% of 110 respondents wore their hair chemically straightened and the other 40% wore their hair in its natural state. Rodgers said her hair was permed in order to receive straight hair. Barton said her mother used different techniques on her hair to straighten it as a child.
“She put it either in pigtails or braids, she’d send me to my grandmothers to have my hair cornrowed or braided with beads. I think at a certain age maybe 11-13 she put a chemical relaxer in my hair so that it could be straightened,” Barton said.
Prior to chemically straightening her hair Barton said her mother would use a hot comb to straighten her hair.
“She would use a pressing comb which is an old fashioned old style comb. You put it on the stove to let it heat up and then you would comb the hair straight. Once I took it over I was getting it relaxed every month and a half maybe two months and it made it a little easier to do. It wasn’t until I went natural that it was more frustrating,” Barton said
Rodgers said she also got perms on her hair when she was around ten years old.
“I got the hot comb on Easter and then I moved to college and I was still perming my hair and I guess I was doing it wrong and it started to fall out,” Rodgers said.
Barton said chemically straightening her hair eventually led to her making the decision to transition her hair to its natural state.
“I made the decision to wear my hair natural because I had chemically straightened and I got a weave put in. I hadn’t gotten a weave in a really long time and I was sick of having the quote unquote news bob and weave looked great,” Barton said. “When I went to take out the weave my hair was ruined and semi-destroyed.”
Barton said she wasn’t sure what her hair could do and how to maintain her curls when she went natural. She found guidance in the natural hair community online.
“I had decided to look up on YouTube ways to do my natural hair. I found a huge community of ladies with natural hair, I had no idea that that even existed and all the things that my hair could do naturally,” Barton said.
Barton said her natural hair journey allowed her to appreciate her hair and its versatility.
Rodgers said she has been natural since her first big chop in 2014.
“My hair is a handful some days it behaves some days it doesn’t. I think after cutting it I gained more appreciation. At first I was so focused on length then I realized my hair was not healthy,” Rodgers said.
Makyirado said big chop hairstyles not only restore the health of hair but also the spiritual and mental health of the individual.
“My relationship with my hair began being spiritual around the time I went natural, both when I transitioned and again when I big chopped. It was the first time I really got to see my hair in her natural form and learn her beauty,” Makiryado said.
Makiryado said she learned her hair was a mirror of her own spirit and the phases she was going through life at the time.
“It was dry, brittle, it broke a lot, and didn’t work with me. That was during a time when I really tried to fit into the Eurocentric standard of beauty. By stepping back and learning my hair I also began to learn me from the inside out and it showed through my hair. My hair was healthy and had no breakage but instead shed old hair and my coils were bouncy,” Makiryado said.
The healthier she felt on a mental and spiritual level, the healthier her hair was Makiryado said.
“The healthier I felt inside on a genuine spiritual level, the healthier my hair was. However the real reason I believe it’s a spiritual divine connection to my own divinity. As I went through trauma I in turn traumatized my hair so badly there really was no going back,” Makiryado said.
Makiryado said she began the process of loving her natural hair shortly after realizing how damaged her hair was.
“Metaphorically it was to stay connected to myself without causing any further damage. On a literal level it forced me to only focus on nourishment. It was like the table flipped,” Makiryado said. “Instead of me feeding an extension of me, much like a tree grows from the ground and you water it, my hair was feeding me, like when you propagate a dying plant and stick the leaves in water until the roots grow and it’s strong enough to be on its own, mainly as a direct line to my spirit my soul.”
Makiryado said the stigma associated with Black women cutting their hair short is not only toxic but also rooted in trauma.
“I say do it because hair does grow back and at the end of the day it’s about you and your connection with yourself. I see Black hair as our most pure divine selves overflowing out of the physical body making it an extension of us,” Makiryado said.
While these women learned to love and appreciate their hair with time it also took the outside world time to receive them. Barton said she received unsavory reactions from the community when she wore her natural hair on air.
“A lot of viewers for the most part were supportive and in awe. Then there were those few who hated it, ‘a birds nest,’ one lady described it as, ‘a bad wig’, ‘unprofessional’. One woman who I guess she retired from being a beautician told me that all I needed to do was ‘put mayonnaise in it overnight to keep it straight instead of the curly mess I had on top of my head,” Barton said.
Barton said although her hair wasn’t received well in the beginning, her bosses were supportive. She said she also had to educate some of the viewers who took issue with her natural hairstyle.
“That one woman I did explain to her ‘as a woman in my position, my job is to uplift young girls and to empower young girls.’ A lot of times women preach about being ourselves and telling young girls to be authentically themselves so I said to her ‘how can I preach about that and not be comfortable with myself?’” Barton said. “So this is the hair that the lord gave me, so in order for me to tell young girls to be themselves then I have to feel free enough to be myself. It’s not my problem she has a problem with who I am. That’s her problem.”
Barton said Black hair being deemed as unprofessional is a huge misconception. Rodgers said that Black women with different textured curls are often viewed differently by society as a whole.
“Women with 4c hair, women with tighter hair patterns, and women who wear afros are seen as ‘too Black’ and Black women who wear wigs are told they want to look like white people. We don’t want to,” Rodgers said.
Barton said she grew up in an era of good versus bad hair.
Black women typically have type 3 to type 4 textured hair. Andre Walker, Oprah Winfrey’s former hairstylist came up with the hair type system in the 1990s. Hair is divided into four different categories from type 1 to type 4. Within each category are 3 different textures classified from a to c. See more Andre Walker.
“If there was a girl who had more loose curls that would be considered good hair. If there was a Black woman with tighter kinkier curls would be considered bad hair,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers said natural hair is expensive and time consuming to take care of which is why many Black women turn to protective styles to protect their natural hair.
“Braids and wigs are easier and more protective and give our hair room to grow. We wear Brazilian hair down to our butts because we want to. The next day we might wear an Afro puff. It is what it is,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers said she loves the possibilities that come with Black hair care.
“My favorite thing about my hair is it does what it wants. It has a mind of its own. I could have my Afro. I could have my hair in cornrows like Trey Songs,” Rodgers said. “Give me two days and I could have faux locs down to my kneecaps. Give me another week I could have a 38 in long wig. We can do whatever we want to our hair. I love being Black and having Black hair.”
Black Hair is so versatile and interesting that many non-Black celebrities like the Kardashians have worn traditionally Black hairstyles like cornrows, box braids, durags and afros.
Rodgers said cultural appropriation takes away from the spirituality and beauty of Black hair.
“Our hair is very ritualistic and I feel like they have no idea how it’s done and they just do it because they think it looks cute,” Rodgers said.
Barton said Black hair is finally becoming more appreciated by the general public. She said cultural appropriation is a complicated issue.
“Yes across the board cultural appropriation is real, but there are instances where I’m not moved or bothered by it. For instance if you are appropriating for financial gain or some kind of gimmick and not being real then I would have a problem but if you are someone who grew up liking a certain culture that’s not something I can be upset about because that’s what you know and it seems more genuine that way,” Barton said.
Barton is one of many Black women news anchors who have owned their natural hair on air. In 2018 Rodgers did “Fro Fridays” on air while applying for a position as a female anchor at WSIL news 3.
“I was trying to be creative, celebrate Black History and my culture, show personality and have fun. I wanted to do something that made me stand out, so I thought of Fro-Friday. I called that time period my “auditioning” because they were still deciding who will become the new female Morning Anchor,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers said she got the job by authentically being herself and embracing all parts of her identity.
“I knew what it would mean to my family, community since I’m from Marion, and to the Black community to see this African American woman every morning in Southern Illinois,” Barton said. “The question was, was Southern Illinois ready? And whether they were or not, I got the job with my natural hair, so in the end being me paid off. It worked!”
Rodgers said Black women cannot let the opinions of others affect how they choose to express themselves through their hair.
“I love being Black and having Black hair. It’s coming out of your head you’re going to have to love it regardless. Don’t let anybody make you feel like you don’t have good hair. There is no such thing as bad hair,” Rodgers said.
Makiraydo said that no matter how Black people especially Black women choose to express themselves through their hair they should be supported and uplifted.
“I glorify and prioritize healthy minds, bodies, emotions and spirit especially in Black women because society profits off of our unstable bodies. Do what feeds you because you are worthy and deserving,” Makiryado said.
Barton said that the complexity of taking care of Black hair is actually an advantage that helps us strengthen not only our hair but our community.
“Love your hair, get excited about what you can do and we can explore it together. Even if it’s not understood by the world it should be appreciated because it is what uniquely makes you uniquely you. It’s a blessing and you should wear your crown proudly,” Barton said.
Reporter Oreoluwa Ojewuyi can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @odojewuyi.