African hair threading has been used for hundreds of years to style and protect afro hair. Raised in the UK; child of Ghanaian parents, my mother threaded my hair from ages 6-10 years. A hairstyle technique used by my grandmother and her mother before her. Many African women on the continent and in the diaspora, probably had this technique done on their hair at some point during their childhood.
Admittedly from age 11+, growing up in the UK, I didn’t appreciate the benefits or beauty of hair threading and stopped using the technique. Then the natural hair movement of the 2000’s kicked off! Many black women (including myself), embraced their natural hair texture. Learning all the new hair terminology that came along with understanding my natural hair, I also realised that my hair doesn’t like heat. I rarely blow dry my hair (probably 2-3 times a year – if that), but having 4C afro kinky hair, I usually wear stretched styles and make sure my hair is stretched after washing, to avoid tangles.
Sometimes I just embrace shrinkage (always liberating), which is best for certain styles, like wearing my afro out.
Like many 4C natural hair ladies, I use the traditional technique of African threading to stretch my hair without using heat. If you’d rather avoid or cut down on the use of heating tools, why not give it a try?! This is the type of thread I use, not sure if it has a special name, but it’s smoother /silky than normal yarn thread. You can use whatever thread you can get your hands on.
This video from Green Beauty explains why stretching is a useful technique for natural hair.
If you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend trying the African threading technique to stretch your hair. For me it produces similar results to a blowout. Below are some videos on how to do it yourself, from some of the YouTubers I follow. As always make sure you don’t pull your hair too tight!
I have what is classed as “4C” afro hair and been natural for over 10 years. Before then I experimented with weaves, braids and relaxers. I decided to go natural after realising my hair was “allergic” to chemical relaxers (self-diagnosis!).
When my hair was relaxed it was ‘easier to manage’ but I noticed a lot of breakage. Yes, I said it – ‘easier to manage’. I’ve used that phase in reference to my chemically relaxed hair and I regret it.
I was ignorant.
I was ignorant about my own natural hair, because I didn’t take time to understand it! Even when I went natural, I still didn’t really understand how my hair works. Only in the last 4 years, I’ve taken time to understand my hair and I’m still learning (due to its versatility). Now my natural hair is ‘easier to manage’, because I understand what it likes.
I remember hating water touching my hair became I was scared of shrinkage. Now I know water is my hairs best friend and shrinkage is to embraced.
The great thing about the ‘natural hair movement’ – there is so much information out there (which can be overwhelming at times), so the journey is always an individual one, involving trial and error. I’ve learnt that even if someone has the same hair texture as me, products they use may not always work for me.
We all have differences in opinion on what works for natural hair, and some information may seem contradictory. It’s up to you to test and decide what’s right for your hair.
If you have any advice or tips, please share in the comments section as we all learn from each other. Finally, some last tips on maintaining moisture – a must for afro/curly textured hair.
IS NATURAL HAIR PREJUDICE SHRINKING IN THE WORKPLACE?
Afro hair in the workplace
Historically afro/curly/textured hair hasn’t, had an easy ride. In attempts to align with a European beauty ideal, women (and men) have forced their hair to conform. However, in 2016, in arguably the most significant era of the natural-hair movement since its prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, women have embraced their freedom and started revelling in their natural hair beauty. But will unspoken ‘rules’ of the workplace undercut this natural hair revival? In the world of celebrity, natural hair is increasingly in the spotlight – thanks largely to individuals such as Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, British singer Jameila and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo.
Their decision to wear their hair natural hasn’t hindered their careers, but for the not-so famous, the psychological battle of deciding whether to wear natural hair to work continues.
“One weekend I took out my weave and went to work on Monday with my natural hair,” says Annie from Manchester, who works in finance. “I was so apprehensive when I first went in. Being the only black woman in the department, everyone was staring and talking about it … There were some negative but also some positive comments. Colleagues were quite shocked, [some] even touched my hair!”
Annie is not the only one to experience the ‘hands-on’ approach. “When I started wearing my natural hair to work, there was lots of fascination – colleagues asked to touch it”, says Belinda from London, who works in market research. “I do get positive comments, but I don’t see why I should give full-blown explanations about my hair at work – it’s hair, it’s just a different texture to yours. Views about natural hair are so entrenched, we don’t even realise. If I worked somewhere and they told me to cover my natural hair, I wouldn’t work there anymore.”
Increasingly, anecdotes of black women experiencing problems after wearing their natural hair at work have been surfacing in the media. Earlier this year, ‘Leila’ from London reported that she was told by her employer to wear a weave to work. “I am West African and I work at a consultancy firm in London,” she told the BBC.“I am always being made to feel that my natural hair gives the impression that I am unprofessional”. Leila subsequently changed her hairstyle, fearing her natural hair would become an obstacle to career progression.
Another Londoner, Simone Powderly, claimed she was told by a recruitment agency to remove her braids before being put forward for interviews with luxury designer brands. She declined. Meanwhile Canadian waitress Akua Agyemfra was reprimanded at work after her manager allegedly told her to wear her hair down, to which she replied, my hair doesn’t really “go down”.
Unfortunately, many people of all races have inherited the fallacy that afro hair is ‘unprofessional’.
“I think it’s an issue that women of colour can’t feel confident and feel they have to navigate the workspace, hiding their natural hair”, says Oyin Akiniyi (pictured), founder of The Good Hair Club online beauty store.
“The idea that only straight hair is professional is ludicrous”. Nevertheless, it remains a common concern – even for Neecie Gold, co-founder of The Natural Hair Daily, which ran an afro-hair meetup and workshop at Africa Utopia, sharing natural-hair style tips and celebrating the versatility of natural hair. “I was a bit nervous about going natural to work,” says Gold. “At the time I was working for a car dealership, but I just confidently rocked it. “As I’m natural now and trying to branch away from the industry I’m in, I’ve found it quite difficult to secure interviews, which does make me question whether my LinkedIn profile picture is a reason for this. It’s a shame there is some ignorance among some employers regarding natural hair. Employers should judge people based on whether they can do the actual job.”
To wash away lingering, archaic prejudices, natural hair needs to be more visible in the workplace. Unless natural hair becomes a ubiquitous feature in our culture it may always face resistance. If people with naturally straight hair are not forced to wear their hair in an un-natural state, the same latitude should be extended to those with afro/curly textured hair.”
Many naturals are concerned with hair length, when it should be about hair health! For thousands of years African women have creatively styled their hair in various ways. Historically, African hairstyles have always been a sign of identity, including social status and indication of the geographical region they are from. For some tribes like the Massai, short/shaved hair is gender neutral and seen as a rite of passage through various stages of life.
If you’re thinking about doing the big chop, whether you want to keep it short and simple or get a bit more creative, see below for some hairspiration and tips!
“Fight for your rights!” – a slogan that the black people (and other minority groups) wherever they reside in the world can relate to. It seems like controversy is just part of black culture?
Known as the crowning glory for women and men, hair is also wrapped up into this notion called beauty – which the majority of us are intrigued by. Consciously or sub-consciously. However, like most things associated with ‘beauty’ the emphasis is usually disproportionately projected onto women.
Black people (women more than men) seem to have a love hate relationship with Afro hair; a subject which provokes fascination (from others) and discussion.
Afro hair has a chequered history, a controversial present and unwritten future. Who knows if we’ll be having the same conversation in 5 years time?
At one point Afro hair was seen as the epitome of black identity and defying white oppression.
Afro hair is making a comeback; most recently displayed on high fashion Western catwalks and photo shoots. Last year W Magazine’s spread, featuring models with natural hair caused waves on social media.
In recent years, natural Afro hair has been stretched, pulled and debated more openly. Some may argue that it’s becoming more ‘acceptable’ now.
In south/Latin American countries where being of African descent is usually something to be ashamed of and hidden, people are starting to embrace their African heritage. In another bold fashion step, Jourdan Dunn is on the February issue of Vogue Brasil (with an Afro wig); a country who has struggled to accept her African heritage and subscribed to European beauty standards for decades, despite reportedly having the second largest black population in the world.
Despite the preference for straight hair among most races over the years, curly/afro hair is met with fascination, curiosity, approval and disdain. In the video below, un-ruly.com spoke to women about how they feel when asked the question many naturals dread, “can I touch your hair?”. This video was inspired by Saartjie Baartman, an African woman who was displayed across Britain by Hendrik Cezar between 1810 and 1814, because she looked ‘different’ (to the Europeans who displayed her, like an artifact in a museum).
Whether its here today or gone tomorrow, it seems natural hair still ignites controversy. We can’t forget when pop singer Zendaya Coleman was accused of “probably smelling like weed”, by a TV presenter when she wore a dreadlock hairstyle to last years Oscars.
Either way, natural hair is here to stay; and there are afro naturals all over the world who are embracing their natural hair. To them this is more than a fashion statement, its a normality!
Courtesy of ‘Black Girl with Long Hair’…Naturals living in the Caribbean/USA…