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While the natural hair movement has not only swept through the United States but completely taken over when it comes to what African-American women identify as the true standard of Black beauty, the continent has taken a while to catch up.

Relaxers have long been the go-to product among women in Africa to smooth out their kinks and achieve what was once considered the only type of “professional” look. But according to a new BBC report, times have changed with relaxed hair now being deemed “un-African” and natural hair recognized as “a nod to being a real African.”

Through the eyes of Pumza Fihlani, the BBC examined the politics of African hair. Fihlani, a South African journalist for the public service broadcaster, recently moved away from chemically straightening her strands – and has vowed to also keep her daughter’s hair natural for many years. But as she explained in her piece, like the kinks on our head, the motives behind choosing to straighten one’s hair or not are not so easy to untangle.

South African hair blogger Milisuthando Bongela explained that the disdain with which many treat Black hair is just an extension of the way Black people have been discriminated against for centuries because of our skin color, our culture, and more. It’s no secret that, to some, “good hair” means less coarse hair, which is why a lot of women have opted for chemically relaxed hair or weaves. But what was once a means of achieving acceptance, has now become passé among women across the African diaspora as natural hair is seen as being more connected to one’s heritage.

But the truth is hair isn’t that deep for everyone. Relaying the opposite sentiment of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who remarked that “Relaxing your hair is like being in prison,” because “You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do,” Fihlani pointed out that her hair was relaxed as a child simply because it was convenient. “I don’t ever recall my mother saying long straight hair made us prettier or making any of us feel our bushy natural hair was unsightly. For her, relaxing it meant less time getting us ready in the mornings,” she wrote.

Ironically, now achieving a more kempt natural look requires more effort than straightening her hair as she noted “I spend anything up to five hours in the salon, a twice-a-month ritual. Each visit can cost up to 1,500 rand ($120; £75), depending on what I get done.”

While that cost may be hefty on the wallet, it’s a small price to pay in the context of the weight of appearing “professional,” i.e. having straight hair, that’s now been lifted off of African women’s shoulders. Fihlani notes that until recently many women feared they would be overlooked in their professional lives and by men in their personal lives with natural hair. Now, thankfully, they’re beginning to see what God gave them as a source of pride.

Image Credits BBC/Screenshots

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  • Naa Ayikai

    While the natural hair movement has not only swept through the United
    States but completely taken over when it comes to what African-American
    women identify as the true standard of Black beauty, the continent has
    taken a while to catch up.”

    Umm..no
    clutch mag. a large population of women in Africa do not use relaxers
    and have never used them. A large percentage of us have always had
    natural hair, have always used coconut oil and shea butter to keep our
    hair beautiful in its original state. this is nothing new. this isn’t
    something we are now “catching up to”

    Also keep in mind that
    South Africa has a sizable population of non-black people in there so
    the struggles black women there face is likely to be quite similar to
    the problems black women in America face, unlike countries like Ghana or
    Senegal where white people are foreigners and don’t have much (or any,
    really) say in forming societal definitions of what is beautiful.

    The
    mindset and societal expectations are different because for most of us
    we have never been made to feel like second class citizens or made to
    feel that our hair or clothes or features are anything less than
    beautiful

    are there people who’ve been brainwashed to think relaxers are the one
    true
    way? definitely, but for most people, natural hair has been beautiful
    and has been the standard passed down to us from our mothers and
    grandmothers.

  • EbonyLolita

    When sistas return to their roots it may take A LOT of practice to find your hair regimen, styles that you like & products that work best for your hair. But once you figure it out it gets CHEAPER and takes less time. Returning to my roots was the BEST thing I’ve ever done & I’d support any sista in doing the same.

  • Anonin

    It usually takes me like….7 hours to do my hair but at least I can do it when i want and not depend on a hairdresser.