Natural Hair: A Quick History Lesson

Written on: Jul 19, 2020
By: Shari Hicks-Graham

From braids, to locks, and twists, these hairstyles can be traced as far back as the 1400's and beyond. The unique and elegant texture of our hair has been a topic of discussion for centuries; and still is!


Let's take a walk down memory lane for a quick history lesson...


When slaves were brought to America, it didn't take long for African language, culture, and grooming traditions to disappear. By the 1700's, slave owners began to attempt to dehumanize their slaves by referring to their hair as "wool." This came after failed attempts to "tame" the hair in a way that slave owners saw fit.


Slaves were forced to get creative to maintain their hair. Without access to traditional tools and techniques, they began to use bacon grease, kerosene, and butter as conditioners. During this time there was also a higher demand for "light-skinned" slaves with less kinky hair, as slave owners found it easier to maintain their appearance than of those with more coiled/kinky strands. 


While slavery ended in 1865, whites still saw African-Americans with "tamed" hair as "good" and well taken care of. At this time, having "good hair" became a prerequisite of getting into certain schools, churches, and businesses. Sadly, this is something that still takes place to this day and has recently been made illegal in some states through The Crown Act


In the 1920's, Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist, encouraged black women to embrace their natural hair and reclaim their "African aesthetic." Years later we see perms begin to hit the mainstream and the conversation of relaxed hair vs textured hair begins to grow even more. 


During the 1960's we begin to see a wave of black women embracing their kinks and coils in the mainstream media through people like Cecily Tyson. In the 70's, we saw iconic women like Angela Davis rocking her fro proudly while fighting alongside the Black Panther Party. 


We also saw black women being reprimanded for these natural styles. Melba Tolliver, a former ABC reporter, was fired after wearing her afro while covering the wedding of Tricia Nixon on the White House lawn. On the other side, we saw non-black women like Bo Derek (born as Mary Cathleen Collins) rock cornrows and being called revolutionary. We even see some non-black women referring to cornrows as "Bo Derek Braids." Again, something black women are far too accustomed to. 


So, why is the natural hair movement so important?


For the first time in centuries, black women have been able to let their kinks, coils, and curls fall where they so choose, and embrace their natural beauty -- without pushback. Being natural is bigger than just wearing cornrows, it is our way to say "no more" to hundreds of years of being told our hair isn't "good enough" or our hair needs to be more "tamed" in order for us to be respected. 


At LivSo our mission is to help everyone #LivSoFree! No matter your race, ethnicity, gender identity, or anything we between, we encourage everyone to say "no more" when it comes to fitting into someone else's standard of beauty. 


Are you ready #LivSoFree? Follow us on Instagram and like us on Facebook to stay connected!