Done with the Western ideal of beauty: ‘Embrace your natural afro hair’

Many black women often start styling their hair at a young age. “It’s something that many girls get from their mother or aunt at an early age,” says Dominique Snip, hairdresser and frizzy hair expert.

For generations they have been told that frizzy hair is not professional and representative, a beauty ideal from the white, Western world. “You have to look neat and well-groomed, smooth and straight hair looks neat. Not frizzy hair, we got that.”

According to Snip, the straight hair has become a habit for many women after years of relaxing, a chemical process to permanently style your hair. “Many women no longer know how to deal with frizzy and curly hair. Relaxing is just easier then.”

The relaxers contain chemicals that ensure that the curl in the hair is broken. This chemical process can feel violent on the scalp. Some women even get blisters from it.

cut hair

Snip was eleven when she first used relaxers to smooth her hair. She used the chemicals for years. “If you don’t, your hair will break. But growing it out is also difficult, because then you have half curly and half straight hair.”

At 21, she cut her hair down to 4 inches. She decided to go ‘natural’. “It’s not normal to put stuff on your head that burns into your skin. I wanted to accept myself for who I was; dark-skinned and frizzy hair.”

According to Snip, more and more women stop relaxing. “I have hope for the future. Women often have to turn a button before they dare to show their real hair, but frizzy hair is beautiful and that should be shown.”

role models

There too, more and more women agree with her. Including Jahel Tam. Her mother was one of the founders of the Natural Hair Movement in the Netherlands. Tam shares the same passion and drive as her mother. She is a hair doctor – not a hairdresser – and specializes in hair analysis, damaged scalp and locks. She gives workshops to women who no longer want to manipulate their hair.

“A lot of women who want natural hair don’t know how to handle it,” Tam says. That is why she trains other women so that they can further spread their knowledge. She hopes for more famous role models, such as singer Shirma Rouse and football coach Edgar Davids, who wear their hair naturally.

Hair manipulated

Tam has been fighting for the acceptance of natural afro hair for years. “We have been oppressed for generations, so our self-love is hard to find,” she says. Since Western oppressors of different appearances invaded other countries, according to Tam, a different self-image has developed among black women. “With pork fat and a comb, slaves had to control their hair. We still use that comb and that fat.”

In the late 1970s, early 1980s, the chemical agents, the relaxers, came into the shops. “Women have manipulated their hair for years. My mother has stopped doing that, but there is still a large group who do not know what to do with their natural hair. That is not surprising, if a mother relaxes or wears a wig, the daughter also meet that ideal of beauty.”

Tam is committed to changing the mindset of the younger generation: it’s good just the way you are, even with natural afro hair. “Don’t manipulate that curl to make it softer, or feel better, just accept it. How fine, soft, coarse it is.”

slave trade

“The black body has been a subject of discussion for a long time,” says anthropologist Markus Balkenhol of the Meertens Institute. “This starts with the contact between Europe and Africa, but as the relationship became more skewed, with slave trade and colonialism, a sense of European superiority arose. The idea arose that Europe was the continent of civilization and Africa lacked civilization. idea began to take shape in 16th and 17th centuries.”

The black body became a symbol of the lack of civilization. “Until the 20th century, the idea was that black people were incapable of reasoning, unable to control their urges. These kinds of ideas continue to this day,” Balkenhol says.

Notification of the problem

The hair also falls in this context. Frizzy hair was seen as a sign of rudeness. “Smoothing symbolically means bringing ‘unruly hair’ under control: hair that does what it wants. It was then part of Europe’s civilizational mission: ‘We want to bring civilization into the world, if necessary violence must be used. ‘”

Smooth, straight hair was seen as civilized. “That thought still plays a role in society. How many managers or receptionists do you know with Afro hair?”


However, a countermovement has been going on for years. The American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s also propagated against the ideals of beauty and civilization and for ‘natural hair’. “But it’s not such a linear movement. Success comes in waves. In the sixties/seventies a group of women picked it up again, later the movement weakened again.”

Now, with Black Lives Matter, activism is rekindling. This includes the embrace of natural afro hair. “At the same time, there is a discussion about what exactly being natural or authentic means,” says Balkenhol. “There is no unequivocal answer to that. For many people, that is a matter of how you define it.”

Source: RTL Nieuws by

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