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All About Afro: uncovering the natural hair movement

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SUE

London-based hair and beauty journalist Sue Omar is hell-bent on celebrating the black woman's crowning glory: her hair.

She is exploring the beauty of Afro hair in a special six-part series for Stylist.co.uk, with her fourth edition explaining from first-hand experience why ‘going natural’ has become somewhat of a curl revolution.

I vowed to give up my addiction to ‘creamy-crack’ the moment I realised chemical straightening was causing more harm than good for my hair. However, putting this decision into practice was more difficult than I could have possibly imagined.

My relaxed hair was broken in several areas from the scalp to the tips. My ends had split to the extent that witnessing a giant chunk of my hair tumble down towards the shower drain had become the norm. My naturally thick, healthy and strong Afro hair had been transformed into bone-straight, wafer-thin tresses that lacked lustre or, to be honest, any sense of life.

But even though I knew the hair on my head was dead and lifeless, the thought of reverting back to my natural Afro hair terrified me. Where would I begin? I didn’t have an action plan, nor did I know much about the process. All I knew was there was nothing more beautiful than my natural, unprocessed Afro hair that I had denied so profoundly in my attempt to blend in with society. What a learning curve!

Tracee Ellis Ross

"I love my hair because it’s a reflection of my soul. It’s dense, kinky, it’s soft, it’s textured. It’s easy and it’s fun." - Tracee Ellis Ross

As the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I became obsessed with wishing my curls would run wild in the wind as they did during my school days. I had no idea where or how to start my natural hair journey. So, just like most cases when I am completely lost for knowledge or inspiration, I scoured the internet for answers. First stop, Google.

Going ‘natural’ is about loving and accepting your hair no matter how it grows. It’s about not letting society brainwash you into believing that your hair (or any part of you) is not beautiful.

- Zeinab Mursal, UK natural hair blogger

To my surprise, the results uncovered a natural hair community online that I didn’t even know existed. I found a plethora of natural hair blogs and Afro hair forums where women like myself were exchanging tips and tricks on how to maintain their tresses, no matter its condition or state.

Overwhelmed by the common ground I shared with some of these women, I instantly felt at ease about my traumatic experience. Thanks to the abundance of hair transformation photos that I came across online, I became confident that one day my natural curls would break free from the relaxer and spring back to life.

When the sun is out...so is the 'fro

A photo posted by Care For Your Hair etc. (@cfyh_uk) on

UK-based natural hair blogger Pelumi Rae smiles as she celebrates her fabulous ‘fro.

It quickly became clear to me that this digital community of thousands of black women had one common goal: they were on a mission to celebrate their Afro hair by proudly wearing it as naturally as possible. The natural hair movement was evidently already in full effect, and upon this discovery, I wanted in on the action.

Over the past 8 years there has been a wave of women realising how beautiful their natural texture is and embracing it. This 'movement' has now made it very common to see black women and their natural texture on a daily basis.

- Pelumi Rae, UK natural hair blogger at cfyh.co.uk

Over on the blogosphere, I came across an insane amount of information about how to care for my hair as I got rid of the relaxer. I was educated on key terms associated with the movement such as ‘the big chop’, which is the process of cutting off all the chemically processed strands, only to leave behind the re-growth of Afro hair at the roots.

I also learnt this wasn’t the only way of ‘going natural’, thanks to online forums that allowed me to connect with women who were somewhat ambassadors of healthy Afro hair, simply because they had been through similar experiences.

Solange Knowles works her natural hair

Solange Knowles works her natural hair

UK-based natural hair blogger, Zenaib Mursal, has over 40,000 Instagram fans who follow her natural hair journey. I spoke to her to get her thoughts on ‘going natural’:

“The natural hair movement has connected black women from all around the world together. It has created a space where they could express shared concerns, gain knowledge and motivate each other to continue their new way of life. The movement is all about freeing black women from needing to conform to the European standard of beauty and to embrace and see the beauty in themselves.

“I went natural three years ago after my hair became so damaged that the strands were breaking in my hands from just a touch. After a year of breakage my once long hair now only reached my collar bone. I started researching how I could bring my hair back to health and stumbled across a natural hair video on YouTube. Needless to say I became obsessed with YouTube, discovered the natural hair community online and never looked back.”

UK-based natural hair blogger Zenaib Mursal shared a before and after image of her revived natural curls after being over-processed with colour and heat appliances.

Much like Zenaib, I used YouTube videos as an invaluable source of information. Not quite ready to go for ‘the big chop’, I decided to regularly trim my relaxed ends over time until they completely vanished. This process took three years in total, but the whole experience taught me the importance of nurturing my natural Afro hair.

The most difficult thing to deal with was probably the loss of my hair length due to constant haircuts, but YouTube hair tutorials trained me on how to safeguard my strands with protective styles such as braids and updos. Although it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, reverting to my natural Afro hair was the best decision I ever made.

The natural hair movement isn’t about exclusion or judging other women based on their hair choices. From my understanding of the online natural hair community, women are empowered daily to celebrate the natural curvature of their strands and not care about what society has to say about them. Optimum health seems to be the driving force behind the natural hair movement, which is an inspiring message because, ultimately, healthy hair is good hair. 

Viola Davis went natural for the 2015 Emmys

Viola Davis went natural for the 2015 Emmys

Join the Afro Hair debate via on social media @StylistMagazine using the hashtag #AllAboutAfro

Main illustration: Maddy Fresh Upton 

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