Hair braiding emphasizes tradition, expression

The Natural Hair Movement encourages people of African descent to wear their natural hair.

Tynecia Wilson, a senior Spanish major, braids Lauren Booth's hair in Booth’s Vantage apartment on 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue on Feb. 19. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Three sections of hair, hours of work and traditions that transcend generations. 

Today, the ancient hairstyle of braiding is still prominent in modern style and cosmetology. 

Many students on Main Campus run their own hair-braiding businesses. Though their prices and services vary, they use their skills as stylists to express themselves and connect to the tradition.

Black Women for Wellness, a Black health and well-being advocacy and research group, defines natural hair as hair not chemically treated. It includes hair that’s colored but is styled naturally in braids, twists and sisterlocks.

The tradition of hair-braiding dates back thousands of years, and historically signified clan membership, marital status or age in Africa, Essence reported. 

“When I was young I wanted my hair to look like Hannah Montana, and it wasn’t until recently that I actually started liking my natural hair, or felt comfortable wearing it out,” said Tynecia Wilson, a senior Spanish major.

Wilson has been braiding her and her friends’ hair since 2015, and in 2017, she turned her braiding skills into a business she runs through her Instagram account, @slayybyytayy.

Her customers message her through Instagram to request various braiding styles — box braids, twists and knotless — and schedule an appointment with a $10 down payment. 

“With [Wilson], I always know I’m going to get a reasonable price, and there’s just never any problems,” said Naomi Abrahams, a 2019 communications studies alumna, a frequent customer of Wilson.

Wilson now feels her hair and its styles are a form of expression, she said. 

She credits the growing acceptance of hair textures to the Natural Hair Movement, a movement that encourages Black people to wear their hair free of extensions, wigs or straightening chemicals, BBC reported. 

“There’s definitely been a change because people have realized this,” Wilson said. “We can’t tell these little girls that straight hair is beautiful and not their natural hair.” 

Zoey Mallard, a junior journalism major, runs her lifestyle blog TheGirlWithCurlz where she writes about the Natural Hair Movement. Since she transitioned to wearing her hair naturally in high school, the Natural Hair Movement has also made significant progress, Mallard said. 

“Not many people really know what to do with their hair, but the knowledge that has come up on social media has really just acted as a catalyst to start the movement and it’s just been great to be able to see that come into fruition,” she said.

Braids are popular in the movement, as they provide a method of personalization without chemically altering the hair. In a 2016 report from Black Women for Wellness, it was found that issues like skin irritations and respiratory disorders in Black women can be linked to toxic chemicals in hair treatment. 

Cyonn McFadgion, senior chemistry major, also runs a braiding business through her Instagram account @slayedbycy. Clients can schedule appointments through McFadgion’s booking website for natural styles like box braiding and twists.

“I have dermatitis and there’s no treatment for it, but toxic chemicals worsen it,” McFadgion said. “So in the future, I want to use what I know and maybe I could possibly share or make products that don’t do that, or don’t cause you to develop dermatitis.”

She feels her education provides a unique twist to her brand as a hairstylist, as her major allows her to understand “how molecules work and how certain chemicals can affect hair,” McFadgion said.

But for Wilson, her brand and persona as a hairstylist contrast with her life as a student, she said. 

“There’s Tay and then there’s Tynecia,” Wilson said. “Tay is more the person you see on campus, the dancer, the hairstylist. Tynecia is more the student.”

After graduating, McFadgion hopes to create hair products and potentially open a salon. Wilson also plans to continue her business after university. 

“I definitely want @slayybyytayy to be more known down the line, and help more people,” Wilson said. “It’s always going to be something I do.” 

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