The True Meaning Behind the Natural Hair Movement

The True Meaning Behind The Natural Hair Movement
Corbis

Most recently, Brazil held its first-ever natural hair empowerment march, Marcha do Empoderamento Crespo, in Salvador de Bahia. As one of the many countries where anti-black racism is alive and well, this was monumental. More than 3,000 Afro-Brazilians gathered in unity in efforts to bring to light the oppression many of them face because of their hair.

“I wanted to do something that legitimized my hair, this undervalued type of hair," Delahante, who wears her pelo in a tight Afro style, told the Associated Press. "This competition is about something that has merit and needs to be rewarded.”

While women are at the forefront of this movement, they’re not the only ones impacted by hair discrimination. As a child, being told your hair is ugly takes a major toll on your self-esteem, especially within the Latino community. Latinas are often stereotyped as having long silky locks, but what happens when you don’t fall into that category? Denial, anger, low self-esteem and self-hate. That’s how I felt as a kid, and I am not alone. In 2013, Venezuelan director Mariana Rondon released the film Pelo Malo. The movie follows a 9-year-old boy in Caracas, who wants to straighten his hair for a school picture, leading him to a long battle with his light-skinned mother. This is common for children with “pelo malo” across the Americas, and, as the film shows, it impacts boys and men as well.

For me, it wasn’t until college that I decided to put my relaxing days to rest. It was those years that I started to learn to love my own “pelo malo.” My naturally kinky, light brown hair, with its hints of blonde, is a tale of my African, Indigenous and European roots.

The change that the natural hair movement is making is life affirming. But it’s not complete; we still have a long way to go. Just last year, Brazilian actress Taís Araújo posted an image of herself rocking her natural hair, and the backlash from her own people was atrocious. The actress’s image was flooded with racial slurs and attacks, some even referring to the beauty as a “gorilla.”

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The truth: Racism will always finds a way to rear its ugly head, but the natural hair movement, empowering us to accept ourselves fully, helps us to resist these deprecating messages.