Throughout America’s history, society has been conditioned to believe that natural hair is unkempt, unprofessional, dirty, or ugly. This notion has generated a multi-million dollar industry, dedicated to the process of chemically straightening out kinks and coils, to adhere to European standards of beauty. Relaxing our hair is a process that scientists have found to be linked to the increased chances of uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer development when used four times annually. In recent news, the FDA has even proposed a ban on relaxers in America due to the chemicals and their consequences.
Unfortunately, we’ve heard of far too many horror stories, and seen devastating incidents in which Black people have been ostracized because of their natural hair, in spaces that were not designed with us in mind. Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared that she did not wear her natural hair during her time as the First Lady in the White House because America “wasn’t ready;” Leomie Anderson was yet another model that had to do her own hair and makeup prior to walking the runway. Halle Bailey received hate and death threats online simply for being a Black woman with locs who was cast as Ariel in The Little Mermaid.
In a conversation with Ebony, Bailey spoke to the gravity of wearing her natural hairstyle in the live-action adaptation of the 1989 Disney classic.
“It was super important for me to have my natural hair in this film… I’ve had my locs since I was five, so they’re a huge part of who I am. We need to be able to see our hair on big screens like this, so that we know that it’s beautiful and more than acceptable.”
Not only is natural hair beautiful, but it is versatile, powerful, an art medium, completely worthy of awe. It is heartwarming to see everyday people and celebrities alike embrace their features and make a living out of the unique attributes the universe has granted us. On Instagram and Tik Tok, Black creators are sharing how-to videos on different hairstyles they’ve done, many of which have started trends, like raindrop braids, invisible locs, and island twists. They can even be seen testing hairstyles on braids that were originally made popular by non-Black creators. Content like this and the art of Fesa Nu’s hairstyling are perfect displays of the distinctiveness and versatility of Black hair.
If you didn’t know, Fesa Nu is the reason we are gagged each time Chloë and Halle hit a red carpet, creating styles that are so intricate, they reinforce the versatility of natural hair and often make onlookers second-guess if the pair even have locs. Nu, a Houston native with South African heritage describes herself as a “hair poet,” rather than a hairstylist. As is often the experience of many Black girls, she learned to do hair by doing her own when others were not available to assist. She attended cosmetology school in Los Angeles, after her employment in a Macy’s beauty department allowed her to nurture her knowledge and skills with different products. Today, she works freelance based in Los Angeles, California, consistently bringing her poetry to life through makeup and intricate, sculpture-esque hairstyles.
Nu draws her inspiration from the many traditional styles that can be found among different tribes in Africa. Her work is the culmination of her love for the continent and its many distinct cultures. This love has also led to The Art of Hair, a solo project that redefines social generalizations of beauty and reminds us of our roots.
Some of Nu’s celebrity clients also include the brilliant Jhene Aiko, Nyong James, Coi Leray, and many more. Nu’s work has made strides to diminish the common misconceived perception that locs lack versatility, in terms of styling as well as their inability to be elegant, high-fashion, or professional. Her genius has landed her a feature in Vogue magazine highlighting her journey to becoming a hair poet, how she discovered her talent, and what we can expect from her next.
Check out some of the amazing looks Fesa has created for Chloë and Halle that had us both in awe, and looking to book with our nearest loctician:
As more Black women stray away from using heat and chemical straighteners and lean into caring for their natural tresses, the confidence to wear their crowns unapologetically is carrying over into other spaces of their lives. In Hollywood and on social media, stars like Megan thee Stallion, Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Lupita Nyong’o and many others proudly rock their natural hair dos to movie premieres, talk show appearances, commercials, fashion shows, and red carpets, demonstrating that natural hair can be and is professional, high fashion, and at times, necessary accessories which tie an outfit together, bringing everything full circle.
In addition to Hollywood, we’ve seen an increase in natural hair in the workplace. Akilah Davis, a news reporter from North Carolina, revealed in her Juneteenth news special this year that she has been reporting to her community, while wearing wigs or sew-ins for the past ten years to conceal her natural hair. Prior to this broadcast, she even embarked on a loc journey, although she continued to braid her locs down in preparation for a wig. On a day celebrating the liberation of enslaved Black Americans, Davis incorporated her story of personal liberation, that many women could relate to on a national scale.
“I’m hoping to inspire women and little girls struggling to embrace their roots. I see you, sis, and I am with you,” she says in her report. Davis’ reclaiming and expression of her natural hair was not only about freely being and expressing her full self, but also about motivating little Black girls with locs and braids to be who they are and to love their hair.
Additionally, a handful of states have been making strides to create and hold space for Black people to wear their hair how they please through the enforcement of the CROWN Act. This law forbids hair-based discrimination in employment and education, particularly “hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots.” As of today, the CROWN Act is the law or has been proposed in 23 states, including New York, Texas, Arkansas, and a few counties in Georgia.
Despite what society may want Black women to think, natural hair can be and is powerful, versatile, and beautiful. It allows us to connect with each other and our ancestors in ways unique to us. It forces us to examine what beauty truly is and reject standards that were not made by us or with us in mind.
Tamia Gregory is a Baltimore-based freelance writer at Delaware State University. Her interests include Black literature, traveling, beauty, and learning new languages.