The natural hair movement may have improved afro hair acceptance, but films like Nappily Ever After are still needed more than ever

We’ve come a long way, but a lot of black women still struggle to accept that their hair is just as beautiful as any other type

Maxine Harrison
Monday 01 October 2018 16:28
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Nappily Ever After trailer

It’s been at least a decade since the natural hair movement re-emerged, bringing with it new and old ways for black people to accept the tresses they were born with. Words like “nappy” – historically a pejorative reference to the texture of black hair, particularly those of a coarser, tightly coiled texture, such as my own – and “kinky” have been reclaimed as positive terms by many black women. And there has been a recent influx of on-screen representations of the movement too.

Films like Black Panther famously championed natural hairstyles, and British naturalista bloggers are more prominent now than ever before. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the stigma surrounding natural hair has disappeared with it.

In one of the latest Netflix original films, Nappily Ever After, which follows Violet Jones (played by Sanaa Lathan) – a seemingly “perfect” advertising executive with an obsessive need to keep up appearances, especially where her bone-straight hair is concerned – we see that often arduous journey towards natural hair acceptance. After a disastrous trip to the hairdresser, Lathan’s character is forced to undergo the big chop – a path some women choose to take while others, such as myself, wait for it to transition back to its natural state – as well as the rejection of Eurocentric beauty standards, which suggest that straight, flowing hair is respectable, while thicker, curlier textures are “unkempt”, “unprofessional” and even “political”.

A few weeks back in the UK, for example, a 12-year-old Rastafarian boy won a case against his school, where he had been banned because of his dreadlocks. Although he is now, after a lengthy legal battle, able to return to school without shaving his hair, it’s clear that this is just one of many examples of how black hair is adversely characterised across several institutions.

Like Lathan’s character in the film, I too held onto stereotypes of natural hair. I routinely had my hair cornrowed up until secondary school, where I gave in to the stereotype of natural hairstyles being childish. I also felt I didn’t know how or have time to care for my hair, so I chemically relaxed it, which caused significant hair damage over the years. So much so that in my last year of university I finally took the plunge to go natural by letting my hair grow out without the use of chemical straighteners. But it wasn’t just the damage that led to such a significant change; the YouTube natural hair community was a huge contributor to me deciding to keep my hair in its natural, “nappy”, and, I was coming to learn, wonderfully unique state.

Seeing a host of people embrace their hair and empowering others through their platform was a huge source of encouragement. Bloggers such as Fusion of Cultures and HalfricanBeaute showed me the variety of hairstyles and products to discover for effective haircare. Alongside this movement, as shown in Nappily Ever After, there has been an increase of organic products that support healthy growth, which makes a nice and necessary change from the often chemically dangerous products commonly marketed towards black women.

To repeat an often used phrase when it comes to combating internalised racism – representation is important. Through celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o and Janelle Monáe wearing their afro-textured hair in public, coupled with increasing media attention and films like Nappily Ever After, a strong culture of natural hair acceptance can be formed globally.

As mentioned in the movie, it’s not that black women should feel guilty about wearing anything other than natural hair, whether it’s weaves, wigs or other protective styles. Rather, it’s that they should know that their natural hair is just as beautiful as any other type, and they are worthy of respect regardless of how they choose to wear their hair.

Better natural hair visibility in media and beauty platforms can be incredibly helpful in promoting self-acceptance, and black women like me are proof of that.

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