Saturday, July 18, 2009


I know about the Afro having come of age when the Afro was first worn by Black women in the 1960s. Until the Afro or natural as it was called, came along, Black women either straightened their hair or relaxed it. The relaxer originally was a lye based product that was applied to Black women's hair hopefully by an experienced beautician to straighten it out.

The beauty of the relaxer, unlike the traditional method of straightening hair with a straightening comb was that the hair would not "go back" or revert to its natural state for several weeks. Both methods really required a woman or young girl rely heavily on their beauticians. The two week beauty appointment was part of a Black woman's rite of passage. Hair done with a straightening comb was the most vulnerable because anything from humidity to rain to pool water would destroy a perfect "do".
The Afro or natural did not require frequent or timely visits to a beautician. Once a person received an initial style, they could pretty much take care of their hair themselves. A person did have to go to a stylist or barber to maintain the style's shape. But, rain, humidity or pool water did not adversely affect an Afro. An Afro was natural hair. There was no where else the hair could go. It was already there.
Not everyone, Black people included was happy when Afro's became fashionable. Of course beauticians didn't like the style because it cut into their business. I remember when I first got my hair cut, my mother who was a beautician was less than thrilled. My father, who was what was called a "race man" but now would be referred to as being conscious or Afrocentric, bemoaned the fact that I'd cut off as he put it "all that hair." I on the other hand felt wonderful and loved the way I looked.
A friend of mine was the first person I knew to get an Afro and she was treated terribly by other Blacks especially Black men. Long straight hair was the style before the Afro and unfortunately, some Black men didn't like short natural styles on Black women. I've discovered that people don't accept change very well initially.
However, I saw images all around me of beautiful Black women with short, short Afro's or full blown Afro's framing their face like halos. I also saw women who looked like me in the early editions of Essence magazine which reinforced my self esteem. After all, in addition to being the time of the civil rights movement, the 60s was also the beginning of the women's movement. It was a heady time to be Black and female. Models began sporting Afro's. Angela Davis, the civil rights activist made the full blown Afro popular. Even Oprah Winfrey sported an Afro at one time. Then there were Afro wigs, one I'm ashamed to say I bought prior to going natural. Needless to say, I am not a wig person. I think I wore that thing for a few days and then threw it away.
I wore my Afro in various stages of fullness until I left New York and moved to Texas. Well, that was in the 1980s and there weren't many Black women wearing Afros in the town I moved to. In an effort to fit in I relaxed my hair briefly but quickly discovered I did not like spending my day in a salon waiting for my hair to be done. I went back to the hair style that is me.
Now, I think the Afro thankfully is considered a hair style like any other. A person wearing an Afro is no longer viewed as making a political statement. Afros are accepted in all social circles. Thank God we Black women have an array of hair styles to choose from.

Author, Jeannie Pitt