Curly hair is more than just a fashion choice. It’s a political statement.
The natural hair movement began in the early 2000s as a celebration of the unique texture of Black hair. It now serves as an escape from societal pressures that idolize straight hair.
A 2016 study by the Perception Institute, which conducts research on racial, gender and ethnic identities, found that out of the 4,163 participants, “the majority…regardless of race, show implicit bias against black women’s textured hair.”
Lori Tharps, a Temple University journalism professor and co-author of “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” said Black women have been told their hair is “ugly and inappropriate for public consumption.”
“You couldn’t even be seen with your hair in its natural state much less go to work and obtain a husband. …Now, there’s very positive messaging that your natural hair is beautiful, that it is manageable,” Tharps said.
Jennifer Mota, a 2018 journalism alumna, and Darlene Duran, a 2018 psychology alumna, organized a “Curl Meetup” in August for people of varying hair textures, races and ages to talk about their relationships with their hair.
Duran said they organized the meetup to serve Philadelphia’s natural hair community.
Mota added that she credits the Black Panther movement of the 1960s for influencing the natural hair movement of the 2000s.
The Black Panther Party was a 1960s African-American revolutionary group against police brutality and other forms of oppression placed on Blacks by white Americans.
“Now we actually have it a little bit easier, and the generation after us is going to have it a little bit easier,” Mota said. “But we still have to keep these conversations aware, we have to fight for more representation in media.”
Samantha Lorenzo, a freshman neuroscience major, said some people still say her hair “looks messy,” or ask questions like, “What do you do with it?” and “Can I touch it?”
“I’ve had people who didn’t understand or didn’t see curly hair often,” Lorenzo said.
She added that she feels it’s more socially acceptable to have curly hair now than before.
“You can just be yourself,” Lorenzo said.
Doriana Diaz, a junior gender, sexuality and women’s studies major and co-founder of The Side by Side Collective, a holistic wellness group for women of color, said the natural hair movement offers her a sense of independence.
“I didn’t know what being natural meant to me,” Diaz said regarding her experience before the movement.
Kaelon Soto, a freshman neuroscience major, said he also faced prejudice for having curly hair.
Soto attended a Catholic high school before college where, he said, students with straight hair could wear it at shoulder length, but the school made him keep his curly hair short.
“If I had a mini Afro, I had to cut it,” Soto said. “[Today] in the workplace, it’s a little more acceptable to have dreads or ethnic-styled hair.”
Asia Lambert, a senior journalism major, said women used to be told they were “ghetto” if they wore their hair naturally. Now if someone doesn’t wear their hair naturally, they are considered a sell-out.
“Natural hair is a growing lifestyle, and a lot of Black women, and just women period, are embracing their natural hair,” Lambert said. “But I think that there’s a stigma now against women that don’t wear their natural hair.”
“There’s something very profound in that,” Diaz added. “When you’re learning about your hair, you’re learning about your womanhood, you’re learning about your blackness and you’re learning about self-love.”