When you’re black, loving your natural hair is part of loving yourself

When you're black, loving your natural hair is part of loving yourself

As a black woman, I knew that mothering three daughters meant a great deal of my time was going to be devoted to doing hair.

The rituals hadn’t changed much since my sisters and I were young. Our mother would spend hours washing, drying, detangling and straightening our hair with hot combs, oils and pomades.

It was the price that black girls had to pay in a Eurocentric world, where good grooming was synonymous with smooth, straight hair — “good hair” in our black vernacular of the day.

But black folks’ hair tends to grow out, like a halo, instead of down, like a mane. And all the work that goes into taming our kinks can be undone by the mere whisper of rain.

Emani Norwood, 16, of Chatsworth with a natural hair style at Kim’s Touch of Class Hair Design in Northridge.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

By the time my daughters were old enough to understand the challenge, hot combs had been replaced by relaxers, extensions and braids. And I had become my mother, spending hours weaving their hair into dozens of long sleek plaits.

It wasn’t the “slippery hair” of their white suburban classmates, and the style was sometimes mocked or misunderstood by nonblack friends. But it gave my girls the freedom to play soccer, run track and swim.

Now, almost two decades later, I have a baby granddaughter whose hair is a tall mound of fluffy spirals. They sprout like flowers from a field of stubborn ringlets that I hope one day she will love.

Natural styles — dreadlocks, twists, braids, Afros, Bantu knots — seem to be trending, from the red carpet to Capitol Hill. Even Michelle Obama, always carefully coiffured, is allowing her long thick hair to be its free-flowing self.

Black hair salons have felt the evolution; fewer customers today are asking for the traditional press-and-curl.

Kim Dafney stretches out the braids of Lisa Jackson of Van Nuys at Kim’s Touch of Class Hair Design in Northridge.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times )

“It’s about practicality,” said stylist Kim Dafney, owner of Kim’s Touch of Class Hair Design in Northridge. “People want simplicity, something they can manage all week. … And not just black people. Whites come in for braids, twists and extensions — styles that blacks have worn for years.”

But for black women the choice can have broader dimensions. It’s a return to styles that our ancestors wore, a visible connection to the African diaspora, a way to untangle the…

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