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The natural hair community has evolved so much since its early days, and one writer shares how it’s affected her own hair story.

From Perms to Pride: Navigating the Evolution of the Natural Hair Movement

The natural hair community has evolved so much since its early days, and one writer shares how it’s affected her own hair story.
From Perms to Pride: Navigating the Evolution of the Natural Hair Movement

My natural hair journey hasn't always been easy. Over the past 14 years, I’ve experienced ups and downs with styling my 4A/4B hair type. There’s been tears, loss, and acceptance. Through it all, I've learned what truly matters is how I feel about myself. Keep scrolling to discover how the evolution of the natural hair community helped me confidently embrace my own beauty, my own way.

The natural hair community has evolved so much since its early days, and one writer shares how it’s affected her own hair story.

The Beginning of My Natural Hair Journey

I grew up thinking my strands were hard to manage, a fact reinforced by the acute strength in my mom's hands as she worked through my tresses. I remember being a young child, sitting between my mom's legs on a Sunday night while she combed and styled my thick, textured hair for the upcoming school week. The discomfort of every tug and tight elastic at the crown of my head is etched in my memory.

When I turned 10, my mom introduced me to a hot comb to help straighten my hair to a more “manageable” state. We styled my hair so it was relaxed with curled ends, and not a single strand was out of place as I flaunted it through the hallways of my elementary school. The compliments and praise I received that day made me believe straight hair was superior, and I contemplated wearing it that way more often.

Unfortunately, a sudden rain shower on the way home from school the very same day undid all of my mom’s effort, and my hair reverted to a curly ‘fro. As I walked through the front door of my house, I was greeted by my mom’s disappointment and reminded of how time-consuming it was for her to do my hair. What felt like the results of my actions (but was really due to weather conditions beyond my control) left me wearing my hair in two puffs for the next few days.

The following week, my mom suggested a perm, promising permanently straight hair without the pain of regular styling. I excitedly agreed, unknowingly setting off on a journey that would later shape my perspective on beauty. I spent years wearing a perm, touching up my roots every six weeks to keep everything perfect. I also flat-ironed my hair every two weeks to keep it as sleek as possible, unaware of the damage I was causing. And, in truth, even though I was risking my hair’s health for those results, I still wasn't happy with how I looked. My desire for change grew stronger.

The natural hair community has evolved so much since its early days, and one writer shares how it’s affected her own hair story.

The Turning Point in My Natural Hair Journey

Fast-forward to 2010, I saw a picture of my cousin sporting a short afro on Facebook. I was so impressed by her adorable ‘fro that I did a deep dive through her latest photo albums. Swiping through them, all I could think about was how beautiful she looked. I began questioning whether I should just cut off all my hair and start over, but I had nagging doubts about whether I had the face or guts to pull it off. I didn't see myself as beautiful, so it was hard to picture myself with shorter hair than I already had. So, I tucked that idea away until 2012.

That year, 2012, was the height of the natural hair moment. YouTube was filled with Black hair gurus like Naptural85, NaturalSistas, HeyFranHey, BlackIzBeautyful, and MahoganyCurls—and I followed all of them. Every week, I’d watch videos on the perfect wash and go, the springiest twist out, the best products for hydration and curl definition, and so on. Like my cousin, everyone seemed to be embracing their natural manes.

During this time, hair typing (categorizing hair into subtypes of straight, wavy, curly, and coily) came onto the scene. Hair typing was meant to help us determine which products, routines, and treatments worked well for our natural hair type, but it ended up creating some division. On the one hand, it was great that more education about specific curl patterns and textures became available to the masses. On the other, texturism and colorism within the system made many of us—myself included—feel confused and overlooked.

Colorism has always played a part in the Black community, and combined with texturism, it only made the discord greater. The women I saw taking over natural YouTube seemed to always have lighter skin, type 3 hair, or both. I also saw campaigns for major brands featuring light-skinned women with looser curls. It seemed like Black women with darker skin tones and tighter type 4 hair were left out in the cold.

At the same time, YouTube content started to seem less genuine. I no longer saw flaxseed gel DIYs and other relatable content from my favs. Instead, I saw product placements and ads from fellow curly girls mentioning products they claimed to have used for years—but their scripts didn’t feel true. Products that people said were geared towards "all hair types" were actually not universal at all. I became wary of who to trust and stopped watching natural hair videos because I felt the community needed a change. The old YouTube space that I loved no longer felt safe, and judging by the comment section, there were other Black women who felt the same.

The natural hair community has evolved so much since its early days, and one writer shares how it’s affected her own hair story.

Caption: Portia Then and Now

Time for Change

The shift in the natural hair community encouraged my favorite YouTubers to move to other social platforms and slowly adjust their content to what suited their lifestyle. For example, I noticed younger Black women and men popping up on TikTok with their own spin on the wash-and-go or curly hair routine. Influencers were leaving one-size-fits-all approaches in the past: More and more users were doing what they wanted with their hair and what fit their lifestyle versus what they thought they “should'' be doing.

At this time, I started reflecting on my own choices around my hair. My 14-year journey with my hair had been a rough one. I was criticized when I wore my natural hair and was told, “It didn’t look done.” When I wore braids and other protective styles, I was told, “I hated my hair because I didn’t wear it in its natural state.” Every time I turned around, someone had an opinion about my hair, but seeing the current positive shift in the natural community gave me the courage to stop caring about the opinions of others. I finally learned what mattered was how I viewed myself. As a Black woman, I felt beautiful, and no one could take that away from me.

The natural hair community has evolved so much since its early days, and one writer shares how it’s affected her own hair story.

An Optimistic Future

Today, you’ll still see hair tutorials on TikTok and Instagram for women looking to show off their curls, but now more Black women are embracing culturally significant protective styles (think: locs, crochet braids, twists, cornrows) than ever before. Relaxers, perms, and silk presses are still around, but now, we know about less damaging methods that can help preserve the integrity of our hair. The latest trend (or, more accurately, way of life) is doing whatever makes you feel good while doing your due diligence to keep your hair happy and healthy-looking.

In this era, black women are reclaiming their power over their crowns, embracing diverse styles without worrying about external opinions. And this time around, the beauty industry is actually listening. So, whether braids, perms, locs, or a shaved head, embrace what makes you feel beautiful because that power is yours to keep.

Editor’s Note: While there’s always room for growth, brands like L’Oréal have made amazing strides in the fight for inclusivity regarding textured hair. In November 2023, a bill was passed that requires textured hair education to be added to cosmetology curriculums across New York State—a cause that L’Oréal has supported at its roots through its initiative, The Texture of Change. Sign the petition to advocate for texture-inclusive education in cosmetology schools nationwide.

Portia Lightfoot is a Philly native who fearlessly pens down her unfiltered thoughts on the latest movies, shows, video games, and personal essays. You can find her making content on her TikTok account, scrolling through nail trends, and adding books to her already long reading list.

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