Camille Frigillana || PR Manager
A typical nighttime routine for Adreanna Webb is similar to what other people do—she washes her face, brushes her teeth and so on. What makes hers different, though, is that she spends about ten minutes putting on a headscarf to cover her hair while she sleeps.
“I used to be super picky about it, making sure it fit right and it was tight enough. I did it over and over again until it was the way I wanted it. But now all I care about is that it’s tight enough to survive one night,” Webb said.
Webb, like many other African American women, sleeps with a headscarf in order to keep the moisture in her hair. Without the headscarf, her hair can become one big, tangly mess.
“Sometimes I’m just lazy to put on a headscarf, and then I suffer the consequences the next morning of trying to tame it, but it never works. So I just wear a hat on those days,” Webb said.
As a child, Webb’s mother would style her hair in braids every morning before school. Unlike many African American girls, she never experienced other kids making fun of her because of how different her hair was, nor did she ever feel pressure to change it to look like everyone else’s.
“I’m all for black girls trying out weaves or extensions. That just wasn’t my thing. It just sucks how a lot of these girls make those changes because someone might have told them something, or because they felt out of place and that they didn’t belong,” Webb said.
A Changing Trend
Nowadays, however, the trend of having natural hair—that is, treating it without chemicals or other additives—is increasing in popularity. In 2014, blogger Taylor Bryant started her Natural Hair Project after deciding that she was tired of having to treat her hair so often.
“I want to do it because I’m done forcing my texture to be something other than what it is to be more societally ‘acceptable,’” she wrote in her first post on refinery29.com.
On the other hand, those in favor of chemical relaxing or other treatments claim that it’s just easier to manage than having natural hair.
“When relaxed, your hair is permanently straightened—meaning wind nor rain nor shine can change what the chemical has done,” explained online African American lifestyle publication “Madame Noire” in an article listing the pros and cons for each style.
Malika Hendry and her daughter, Iesha Dent, have watched the natural hair movement play out over decades. They own a small business specializing in hair braiding called The Braid Affair and Company located in Pasadena, Calif.
“I always wanted it to be in a living-room atmosphere. People come in, and we’re not a posh shop and all that,” Hendry said.
“She [Hendry] wanted [it] to be more like home with your mom. You want to be comfortable, especially when you’re spending six to eight hours here while you get your hair done,” Dent added.
The company officially started in 1974, but Hendry had been braiding hair for two years before that while she was working as a registered nurse.
“I would work the night shifts, take a little nap and then braid during the day. Nursing by night, braiding by day,” she said.
During the 1970s, Hendry explained that a lot of women wore their hair “pressed out,” meaning they had perms or added other chemicals to it. But over time, her clients found that they had less time to fix their hair before work in the morning, so they started seeking other ways to manage it. Luckily for Hendry, braiding became one of the best options.
Hendry’s client list began expanding from the nurses to the doctors from different departments to their friends and so on. But this increase in exposure didn’t come without controversy. Many employers viewed braids as unprofessional, instead wanting a cleaner and more conservative look.
“They thought it was ghettoish. They thought we couldn’t wash our hair. I just told people to keep their hair clean and neat, and it would be fine,” Hendry said.
Many of the clients Hendry started out with in the ’70s still go to her today. Now, many of them bring in their daughters and extended family as well. With the growing trend of keeping hair natural, more and more women of all backgrounds prefer braids over other styles..
“Now that we’re into more of a natural movement now, blacks and all nationalities want braids. We’re especially busy in the summer because it gets hot and they want to be carefree with their hair,” Dent said.
In her lifetime, this is the first time Dent has seen a comeback in natural hair, which she credits to the increasingly popular concept of self-love.
“It’s a movement in natural expression. They’re just wearing their own natural hair and saying, ‘I want to feel my hair. I can do with my hair now,’” Hendry added.
Looking back to the time she was a nurse and thinking about the women she helped, Hendry is amazed at how far the natural hair movement has come.
“If you’re an airline stewardess or you’re a doctor or people that were in the professional world, they kept wearing their hair braided no matter what they said,” Hendry explained. “ And me too, as a nurse. You can’t tell us how to fix our hair. They wanted our hair to be straight and just relaxed. They don’t feel threatened if you look more like them. But whatever you want to wear now, you can do it.”