Hair. Our crowning glory.
Hair has always been held in high regard. Luscious and thick, silky and smooth – our hair defines us in more ways than we know. But there have always been sides taken when it comes to African American hair.
At the center of the debate is relaxed versus natural hair. There are proponents of both who offer insights about care and maintenance. Unfortunately, as with everything, there are also detractors of both styles of hair who weigh in regularly in social media outlets in the most random of ways. Do you recall the bashing that Beyonce and Jay-Z took over their daughter, Blue Ivy’s hair? The natural coif that this toddler sports regularly fueled this debate. Beyonce haters and fans alike felt the need to weigh in on the child’s hair, bringing this conversation into the mainstream spotlight in a big way. But the pros and cons of both hairstyles go beyond stereotypes and historical biases. Let’s look at what goes into achieving both styles:
African Americans are born with many different hair textures. There are wavy to straight textures that respond in the same manner that Latino and Caucasian hair types do and there are curlier, kinkier strands that maintain their texture when mild products are used on them. Women who enjoy a straighter hair look will apply a relaxer, which was created by black inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan in 1910, to their curly hair to achieve this. A relaxer, whether lye based or one without lye, is a cream placed on the hair for a period of time that alters the chemical structure of the strand and helps it resist returning to its natural pattern. Relaxers last between 6-8 weeks. Relaxed hair can then be styled with heat, combed through easily, and maintained with products.
Natural hair has made something of a revival. Very popular in the 60s and 70s, this hair type lost ground in the 80s with the popularity of the Jheri Curl rising. Now it’s back in full force as women all over the world are embracing their natural locks with fervor. If they had a relaxer before, some people are performing what is called the big chop to get rid of it and start fresh with new natural growth. Others are letting their natural hair grow out and trimming off the relaxed ends in steps. Maintaining natural hair requires an understanding of your hair type at the start of the process. There are 6 hair types for curly hair that have been identified: 3a, 3b, 3c, 4a, 4b, and 4c. 4b and 4c have the tightest curls and, therefore, give the wearer more of a challenge to detangle. Co-washing (washing hair with conditioner only), flat twisting, and knotting (Bantu) are techniques that natural hair wearers use to minimize tangles and lengthen their curly hair.
Women who wear natural hair profess a love of the way their hair grows out of their head without the aid of a chemical. Women who wear relaxed hair love the flexibility of styles straight hair provides. The versatility of African American hair is amazing.