Is #TeamNatural Simply A Hair Trend Or A Movement Amongst Black Women?

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promoinsertThe summer of 2015 has unified black people under an umbrella of consciousness that encourages the development of our own ideals and unique forms of expression. Seasonal events such as Curl Fest and Afro Punk have been designed to magnify the voices of black people and to also offer a platform where the black experience is celebrated instead of brutalized or interrogated. Each local and national gathering seems to attract a crowd of African-American people who are often young, eccentric and easily distinguishable from those who regularly represent our race and culture within the framework of mainstream media. These crowds are dominated especially by a slew of women adorned in their dashiki dresses, wedge sandals, big, wooden jewelry and big, shea butter infused, twist-outs to match. These women exist as this generations ethnic, online icons – the card carrying members of #TeamNatural. Seen by onlookers up and down numerous tumblr timelines, Instagram feeds and various blogs dedicated solely to their subgroup amongst black women, #TeamNatural seeks to embrace beauty on their own terms by first accepting their natural, physical traits.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a surge in African-American women who are consciously choosing to display their tight curls and natural coils as opposed to wearing Eurocentric, chemically enhanced styles. Mainstream Hollywood starlets like Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o and Tracee Ellis Ross are walking red carpets and taking center stage under a spotlight that reinforces the beauty of cropped, kinky, spiraled hairdos — challenging America’s obsession with long, straight, blonde locks. Young, black girls are witnessing a change in the tides. Their big sisters, aunts, classroom teachers and moms are truly beginning to cultivate the roots of our ancestors by now embracing their natural wave patterns, instead of heating and straightening their hair strands or hiding them beneath bundles of Brazilian weave. Still, however, as more and more women begin to dump their perm kits and elect to wear hairstyles that cater to the likeness of Angela Davis, I have to wonder if #TeamNatural is all but another contemporary, pop-culture trend or a permanent movement towards changing the narrative for black women.

In light of current political and social protests against racism, ignorance and police brutality, it seems that black women are joining forces to disengage themselves from the physical standards of beauty that have been structured by American society. Within this raging climate, #TeamNatural seems to represent not only a simple hairstyle, but also a sense of empowerment for women of color. Just as the civil rights movement of the 1960’s highlighted the civil wrongs on American soil, people began wearing AFROS as a revolutionary political statement. More than just simply an expression of fashion or style, the natural textured fro became a distinguishable representation of black power. Now, over five decades later, it’s not too farfetched to believe that the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has ignited the reemergence of progressive statements that black women are making by using their virgin hair to represent self pride.

My sister exists as one of the only women amongst her core circle of friends who still gets her hair permed every 6-8 weeks, visits the salon twice each month for professional styling and sometimes elects to have her strands highlighted with honey blonde streaks. While she has spent this past summer wearing long, Senegalese braids, my sister admits that she often feels judged by her female peers and other black women alike for not jumping on the #TeamNatural bandwagon. She does not ever wear weaves, extensions or wigs. Sometimes my sister wears her hair straight, bent at the ends and a short bang that edges slightly above her eyebrows. Mostly, however, her hair is styled in shoulder length curls that fall all around her head. As a professional, corporate woman who engages in yoga and other gym related exercise programs at least 3-4 times each week, my sister has shared with me that it’s simply easier and more convenient to manage her hair when it is processed and permed.

Meanwhile, despite her personal preferences and choice of convenience over the now popular twist-out hairstyle, it seems that my sister, along with other women in her position, are possibly being looked down upon. These women may be seen by those who exist along the #TeamNatural spectrum as “still” simulating whiteness and conforming to the mainstream standard of beauty.

But if #TeamNatural exists as more than a contemporary, pop-culture trend, then it suggests to me that the movement is indeed open to enveloping all women who support the idea of progression. As black women join forces to increase their visibility on movie screens and magazine covers, inside of board rooms, along the front lines of major political parties and amongst the ranks of the powerful, decision makers in the world, ones decision to wear her hair in its natural state is only a part of the fight. That very brave and powerful decision can possibly be paired alongside the responsibility that comes with redefining a generation.

The movement could begin challenging its members to live an overall, organic lifestyle. Wearing your hair in tight curls or a kinky updo does not necessarily make one natural, conscious or socially aware. I’m also thinking of the black women who elect to have thick, afro-textured, wooly fake hair sewn into their real, braided hair as a method to merely achieve the “look” of being natural.

The natural hairstyles are merely the top layer that sits above a pyramid that can include organic eating, African dress, minimal to no facial makeup, the full use of natural soaps, toothpaste, juices and other organic, skin care products as well. Beneath the Afros, must exist an understanding of what wearing natural hair represents politically, as well as a train of thought that is focused on total abandonment of processed living.

It is my hope that #TeamNatural and all of it’s card-carrying sisters remain as visible and collectively strong long after the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag fades from online, trending lists. I want to feel that black women truly understand that their natural, physical beauty shouldn’t only be celebrated in mass numbers as opposition to racial unrest or the fight for equality on American soil. Being proud of our skin and our nappy or kinky hair isn’t a trend that only coincides with a social climate riddled with hatred and earthly damnation against black people.

If #TeamNatural continues to reign supreme in the pages of our magazines, on our billboards and amongst our everyday communities, black women take back the agency in deciding the value and politics of their entire being amongst contemporary, westernized society.

 

My Barber Is BAE – based on a recent conversation with an anonymous friend.

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He and I have a longstanding, Saturday morning date. I arrive fifteen minutes to eight and park my car directly behind his copper-colored, Infiniti Q70 Hybrid. He owns the popular, mid-city barbershop – Perry’s Place. The modern, two-level building sits on the corner of Sedgewood and Middleton Parkway. It’s directly across the street from Gino’s infamous, pizza & sub shop. I’m always the first customer to arrive, as to secure my spot as Perry’s first cut of the day. He unlocks the glass door as he sees me coming, flipping the white, cardboard sign from CLOSE to OPEN. I greet him with a bass filled, ‘good morning’, and he replies, ‘wassup’. Between the heavy bites he takes from his sausage, egg and cheese, sour dough biscuit, Perry sips from a sixteen ounce bottle of water. He always offers me the half of his breakfast sandwich that is still wrapped. I routinely decline. We’ve never discussed the fact that I’m a vegetarian, but then again, there are a lot of details about my life that I don’t go out of my way to share at the barbershop.

Inhaling the aroma of wintergreen skin oils blended with musk-like pomades and lemon based Lysol, I take the empty seat in front of Perry’s barber chair. A crinkled, five by seven photograph of his daughter hangs above the row of dangling, gray and black clippers. Beside a collection of white, hand mirrors, Perry has a copy of his owner’s permit and license that are framed and on display. His center booth is always the cleanest and most organized amongst the other barbers who tend to stroll in around nine o’clock or nine thirty.

There’s a reclined manliness that shapes Perry’s Place. I never feel as if I have to go out of my way to butch up before coming to get my haircut. I wear my favorite, yellow flip-flops from Abercrombie & Fitch, paired with light denim shorts that are cuffed at the knee. Though I have friends and associates who put on their baggy, high top, colorless boy-drag before they go to the barbershop on Saturday mornings, I’m comfortable wearing the same clothing I run my errands in. Sometimes, tension mounts between the neighborhood boys and myself, as they walk in with no appointments, wearing sweats and other nonnegotiable, masculine attire. I know they see me in my foofoo accouterments of style and wonder where I get the guts to ingrain my expression of manliness into their urban dwelling. Visually digging for the pink cues and soft hues that would normally color a black man queer, these locals aren’t able to make sense of the easy back and forth that flows between Perry and I. Perry is the razor sharp alpha male; father, business owner and big brother figure to many of the patrons.

He scurries around the shop in his black, Adidas flip-flops. Carrying a broom in one hand and his partially eaten sandwich in the other, I watch Perry slide between stations. The telephone has already begun to sound off. Perry dashes into the back of the shop to take the calls. He tosses me the television remote and asks if I can power on the flat screen that hangs above the wall mirror. I always turn to CNN in an effort to create a moment where Perry and I aren’t forced to negotiate conversations that either focus on my love life or his affection for sports. He is more intriguing to me when openly expressing his views about Obama’s most recent executive orders, than he is when he discusses the pre-season, football lineup.

Perry heated the white towels by the deep, basin sink. He raised his voice over the CNN correspondent to tell me how crazy he thinks people are for even talking about impeaching President Obama. I responded, telling Perry that Obama will forever be chastised for basically being a civil rights politician. At that moment, one of the young, neighborhood guys sitting two seats down from me jumped up and shoved his iphone in Perry’s face. He’s one of many who respects Perry’s hustle. “This the bitch I smashed two weeks ago…the one I was telling you about!”, the boy shouted. Perry laughed out loud, covering his mouth with a bald up fist. He then joked in response, “if she has an older sister, you need to find out and give me her name on Instagram”.

Perry is a typical guy on the surface, but then again, he isn’t. His only tattoo is of praying hands, inked onto his upper, right arm. The tiny, black diamond studs he wears in each ear compliment his basic, tee shirt and basketball shorts style. We’re just about the same height, maybe five-eleven. He’s six feet tall at the most. His face is clean-shaven and butternut smooth. Aside from the thin, dark brown hairs that coil beneath his chin and strap across his top lip, his facial hair is barely there. Perry is an attractive man, but seemingly unaware of his physical appeal.

In the eight months that he has cut my hair, I’ve seen a side of Perry’s character that makes me believe it’s possible for gay men to form healthy relationships with our straight, male allies. He and I share similar political views, and are able to discuss our thoughts and ideas every Saturday morning. Perry and I never discuss women or sex, but more so because he doesn’t bring up those topics with me. He may sense that my sexual interest in women crossed the finish line over ten years ago. I just appreciate the fact that Perry does not make me feel like I have to be silent in order to blend in with his other customers.

Despite my attractions towards Perry, when I take a seat in his chair, and he wraps his black, barber cloth around my neck, our interaction is social and professional. (B)efore (A)ll (E)lse, we are two men who have established a mutually respectful relationship. Sexuality does not hinder our ability to openly engage with one another in an environment known to strictly tolerate traditional forms of masculinity. When Perry is done cutting and lining my hair, I pay him twenty-two dollars and I tip him five. I leave his barbershop as a customer who has been provided the type of safe space service that makes me want to uphold my longstanding, Saturday morning date.