Monday, August 18, 2003

Black women returning to natural 'nappy' roots

Hairstyles make lifestyle statement as many quit chemical treatments

By Medeisha Madden
The Detroit News

Textures by Nefertiti, a natural hair gallery located in Detroit, specializes in natural hairstyles for black customers in Detroit. Owner/stylist Nefertiti prefers to be called a "master locktician."
(Donna Terek/The Detroit News)
| ZOOM |
Nappy. For years, it's been the other pejorative "n" word among blacks. But thanks to people such as natural hair advocate and author Linda Jones, it's become both a term of endearment and a source of pride and profit.

"Natural, nappy hair is more than a trend or a hairstyle," says Jones, author of Nappyisms: Affirmations for Nappy-headed People and Wannabes (Manelock Communications; $12). The book is a collection of natural hair anecdotes, jokes and verbal retorts for women.

"It's a lifestyle for African-Americans who want to go back home to their roots and embrace their culture," Jones says.

From dreadlocks to Afros, braids and twists, the natural hair movement is growing all over the country, particularly in places such as Detroit, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas.

More and more black women on TV are being shown with natural hair, and their decisions to forgo chemical relaxers that straighten hair have inspired an entire cottage industry of hair-care products, books and events.

Twenty to 25 percent of black women have natural tendrils not altered by perms, according to Pantene, an international hair-care brand owned by Procter & Gamble. The same study revealed that 60 to 65 percent have relaxers and 8 to 10 percent have braid extensions.

Marketing awareness

Pantene is one of a half dozen companies that recently introduced a natural hair-care product line of shampoos, conditioners and moisturizers in stores. Others include TCB and Dark & Lovely, owned by the United Kingdom- and France-based Garnier.

"With so many corporations adding natural products, there's proof that there is a huge change taking place in the industry," says Nefertiti, a "locktician" (a stylist who specializes in dreadlocks) and owner of natural hair salon, Textures by Nefertiti, in Detroit. "Obviously, they see dollars and cents or else they wouldn't be doing it."

Some who wear natural hair say they have more cultural motivations.

"There were times when I felt different because all of my friends had straight hair," says Monica Williams, a grad student at Howard University in Washington. She wears a nouveau Afro, which resembles a bell more than the traditional globe shape. As a teen, Williams wore braids.

"My mother instilled in me such a sense of beauty. This is how God made us, and it's a beautiful thing," says Williams, 32. "Our image of beauty has been distorted by European standards and finally that's starting to change."

'Hair Day'

Part of that change came when Jones, a native of Akron, held her first Hair Day five years ago. She hosted the informal party in her home and invited women with natural hairstyles to come and groom one another's coifs. The women did hair and bonded over disastrous tales of 'dos that wouldn't do, hot combs and perms gone wrong. Jones wears lock extensions to give her alopecia-ridden hair fullness.

"It all started when a colleague lamented about not finding anybody she could afford to do her hair," says Jones, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. "I recommended that we get together over my house and I said I would call my other friends."

The casual get-together attracted 20 women who stayed, laughing and crying, until 1:30 a.m. - an event reminiscent of a childhood when Jones' mother cared for her hair.

The hair-bonding soirees have grown into a global celebration. Jones' club, Nappy Hair Affair, hosts a Web site of the same name, which chronicles the groups and their events, offers tips and a newsletter that inspired the book. There are 1,000 unofficial members and 200 paying participants, she says.

"When people get together for Hair Days, they have this enthusiasm that I just can't describe," says Jones. "It's a combination of pride and joy and confidence ... that's hard to describe."

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