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Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America: History, Hairstyles for Women (2001)

Published on 24 Oct 2019 / In Style & Fashion / Hair

African American hair, and African American hairstyles are the diverse ways that African American men and women style their hair. About the book:

Because many black people have hair that is thick with tighter and smaller curls than people of other races, unique hair styles have developed. In addition to this, many black hairstyles have historical connections to African cultures.

Since hair is a distinguishing feature of African origins, western beauty ideals characterized black hair, especially the hair of black women, as unattractive. The Black is Beautiful movement played an important role in reversing these ideas in black communities.

Hip Hop culture in the 1980s created a slew of new trends, one being the “fade” for men. The fade is a hairstyle worn predominantly by black men in which the hair starts off short at the bottom and lengthens as it reaches the top. This style afforded the wearer an opportunity for individuality, as people often cut designs into the back and sides or added different colors to the top [2]

Hip Hop also had an influence on young black women, who now could look to the popular musical artists on TV and album covers for inspiration. Asymmetric cuts like wedges, stacks or finger curls were popular during this time. Interestingly, all of these styles required some form of hair straightening. After the 1970s, men and women tended to turn away from the all-natural looks and began creating their own variety of individualized looks.[2]

Hair styling in African American culture is greatly varied. African American hair is typically composed of tightly coiled curls. The predominant styles for women involve the straightening of the hair through the application of heat or chemical processes.[6] In many cases today, the overuse of heat and chemicals has left some African American women with fairly short and damaged hair.[7] These treatments form the base for the most commonly socially acceptable hairstyles in the United States. Alternatively, the predominant and most socially acceptable practice for men is to leave one's hair natural.[8]

Often, as men age and begin to lose their hair, the hair is either closely cropped, or the head is shaved completely free of hair. However, since the 1960s, natural hairstyles, such as the afro, cornrows, and dreadlocks, have been growing in popularity. Despite their association with civil rights oriented political movements, the styles have attained considerable, but certainly limited, social acceptance.[9] In fact, seventy to eighty percent the customers at Ajes Salon in Chicago go natural, most commonly in the broad set or strong set styles. This harkens back to the Afros seen in Chicago in 1960s, except that "it is more tame than if it were naturally big and curly," said Tena Warren, an employee at the salon.

The African-American culture is increasing embracing natural hair, this has contributed to many contributions to society and media. Such as in art, music, poetry, and other forms of media. From textile artist Sonya Clark, singer Solange Knowles, poet Maya Angelou, and actress Lupita Nyong'o. Also on social media there is an uprising of natural YouTube channels, and blogs. The natural hair community has grown so much they even have their own vocabulary and acronyms. Including In all these different forms of media they are embraced their natural hair, skin, and being. The Natural hair movement is different from the black pride movement. The Natural hair phenomena have grown greatly. Black women are striving to be healthier, in putting less chemical process product in their hair and through consumption, which is providing nutrients to the hair. In the documentary Good Hair, Chris Rock, an American comedian, explores the role of hair in the lives of African Americans. He interviews Reverend Al Sharpton who asserts, "My relaxed hair is just as African-based as an Afro because it all came out of black culture."[17] There is a natural hair movement which is taking place in the African American community. This can be evidenced by the proliferation of YouTube videos which depict the "big chop". African American women of varied backgrounds are embracing their natural hair. There are entire websites dedicated to this movement. The most recognizable are and Everyday women post their natural hair journey and give tips on transitioning.

Image By [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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