Black students at Bryn Mawr discuss their natural hair journeys
By Khari Bowman
In Bryn Mawr’s Erdman dining hall on a Friday night, at least 100 black students sat dispersed at tables eating and chatting with each other during the African-Caribbean week dinner celebration. Interestingly, most of them had their hair in afro puffs, curls, braids, and twists. It was evidence that many of them were a part of the natural hair movement.
Within the last decade, the natural hair movement has reached new heights within the black community. Women are ditching relaxers and opting for healthy black hair products that don’t contain ingredients like silicones and sulfates. According to an article on Mintel, a web-based marketing site, relaxer sales have continued to decline, dropping to 36.6% between 2012 and 2017.
Black women are now using styling products that allow their curly, coily hair to freely flow. They are also embracing the protective styles, like braids and twists, that make it easier to maintain their natural hair. Black college students nationwide are navigating their natural hair journeys away from home through wearing their afros and protective braided styles.
Bryn Mawr has students on varying parts of their natural hair journeys, from those who have had natural hair all their life to those who just recently have gone natural within the last few years.
“I’ve always been natural because I grew up in Ethiopia, and it’s a country where everyone is mostly black”, said sophomore student Rihana Oumer, “It’s a very homogenous country so it was normal seeing people wearing their natural hair.”
Oumer admitted to wanting to style her hair into marley twists for her performance in an upcoming culture show hosted by Bryn Mawr’s African and Caribbean Students Organization (BaCaSo).
“It’s just easier to maintain that way and one less thing I have to worry about during that busy time,” she explained.
For another student, Bryn Mawr junior Kameice Francis, braided protective-styles served as a transition into her natural hair journey.
“I had very processed and damaged hair all throughout high school back in Jamaica and I didn’t take care of it very much,” said Francis, “I started wearing braids a lot and eventually, my relaxer grew out. That’s how I went natural.”
According to the same Mintel article, “the natural hair trend is driving an increase in sales of styling products such as styling moisturizers, setting lotions, curl creams, pomades, etc”.
Francis admits that after she went natural, she started taking better care of her hair, investing in healthy natural hair products like Shea Moisture. She uses several products from the company when shampooing and conditioning her hair.
“I started really paying attention to my hair more and developed a connection with it in a way,” Francis added.
The natural hair movement has been a way for many black women to change up their looks with protective styles to be as expressive as they want to be. Braided protective styles can include their own hair or added extensions for longer lengths and different colors.
“I really like to do different braids with different colors and styles,” said sophomore Amadea Bekoe-Tabiri, who admitted to only getting her hair braided during trips back to her hometown on school breaks.
Natural hair Youtube channels like Naptural85, with over 1 million subscribers, is run by a natural-hair enthusiast who uploads videos like braid-out tutorials, wash-and-go styles, and twists-outs. The videos have made it easy for people to learn how to manage their own hair. Youtube hair enthusiasts can help guide people through the natural-hair process because it may seem scary when first starting out.
“I definitely felt uncomfortable when I started wearing my natural hair out,” said sophomore student Chinyere Udokporo, “but when I saw other black girls like me wearing their natural hair, it gave me a little more confidence.”
Solange Knowles, Yara Shahidi, Chloe and Halle Bailey, and Janelle Monae are just a few of the many celebrities that have embraced their natural hair in the spotlight, inspiring their fans to also courageously wear their natural hair.
According to one survey, 48 % of women feel that wearing their natural hair shows them to be more confident. Natural hair allows black women to show that the eurocentric beauty ideals exhibited by the mainstream media are not the only forms of beauty.
“I saw a lot of black girls with processed hair during middle and high school, said Bryn Mawr sophomore Lauren Lattimore, “But at Bryn Mawr, I see so many girls rocking their natural hair and I think it’s empowering.”
Being natural can not only be a rewarding experience, but a tiring one. Just washing a head of hair consists of using detangling products and methods to ensure that hair loss does not occur in massive amounts — if at all.
“Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing my hair, but other days, I’m excited to do it,” said Udokporo, “That’s just how it is.”
Overall, the natural hair movement continues to welcome new crowds of people every day, ready to embrace their chemical-free hair textures with enthusiasm.