It's been a long time coming, but natural hair is steadily gaining acceptance in dominant American culture. We went from sporting Afros at picket lines in the '60s to watching YouTube naturalistas — ones with bigger followings than some celebrities — sharing their journeys in front of a webcam. Natural hair is everywhere, but so many people still find themselves facing discrimination in social and professional settings for wearing it. They also often have to deal with others — sometimes even people of their own ethnicities — referring to their hair in hurtful ways.
"We have accepted certain terminology and somewhat embraced those words, making them into jokes so we don’t feel as bad about ourselves," musician Amara La Negra tells Refinery29. "Like, 'Oh girl, look at this head of nappy hair.' But if we want people to perceive us differently and accept us, our whole community has to come together and understand the problem here. Change can’t only just start with one person."
To get the dialogue started, we opened up the conversation to a variety of celebrities, hairstylists, and cultural influencers about the terms they'd like to retire for good.
“This one is right up there with ‘nappy’ for me — an idea that specific curls and locks, often predominantly Eurocentric, are socially accepted and revered, leaving women with more textured hair feeling isolated and degraded. Even as a young girl, I hated being told I had 'good hair' because of my curl type, but a coarser texture like my younger sister’s wasn’t. Good hair is healthy hair. Period.” — Ashleigh Murray,
“There’s a term in Spanish, pelo malo
, which means bad hair. I have pelo malo, according to society’s standards of beauty. I don’t think that the narrative is changing. My texture may be different, but so what? I’m Black. What comes with my blackness is my melanin, my texture of my hair, my nose. When we learn to accept it and embrace that and be confident in it, they don’t have anything else but to accept it. But because we still haven’t gotten comfortable and understood our own beauty, that’s why we’re still treated the way that we are and why we’re still using those terminologies. I don't have pelo malo.
I have pelo — I have hair. My hair is just as good as yours.” — Amara La Negra,
“Locs aren't dreadful
. It's time to drop the 'dread' from them. Also, while we're on the topic... I really wish people would stop asking ‘Can you comb it?’ First of all, ‘it?’ It’s not a pet or some strange being — it’s hair! Of course it can be combed. It just needs a little extra love and care.” — Ursula Stephen
, celebrity hairstylist
"If you look this word up, the first description that pops up is negative — words like perverse, abnormal, unconventional, and unnatural. As it relates to hair, you'd think that 'kinky hair' would be something to be embarrassed by because of its technical definition. Kinky hair wasn’t seen as beautiful for many women before, but now we’re at a place where tightly textured hair is beginning to be embraced and celebrated." — Larry Sims
, celebrity hairstylist
“Growing up in school and going to cosmetology school, I had to know how to do every type of client. If you're a professional, you should know how to do everyone's
hair, and every type — Black or Caucasian. It's not difficult if you're knowledgable." — Takisha Sturdivant-Drew
"Even the word just sounds so harsh. It makes me think of slavery. While raising my daughter, who just turned 25, I refused to use that term as it relates to her hair. I used coily. I'd say it was soft. I used positive affirmations to reinforce a message of love. Nappy wasn't one of them." — Taliah Waajid,
founder of Taliah Waajid Natural Hair Care Products
"Black Girl Hair"
“I hate this term. Let me give you a reference: If there's a white stylist, they'll be like, 'Well can he do Black girl hair?' I've gotten that before. Trust me, no one knows what 'Black girl hair' is. It's every
texture. It makes it seem like our hair is a wonder of the world, and that annoys me.” — Yusef Williams,
“In the early 2000s, after we launched the brand, I stopped using this term. Any time we talked to a magazine or an editor, they'd ask if the line works for textured hair. Straight is a texture. Wavy is a texture. Curly and kinky are textures. Let's be more specific." — Anthony Dickey
, hairstylist and founder of Hair Rules
"Natural hair was a huge political statement in the 1960s, and gradually lost popularity thereafter. People think that the same will happen today. Although politics and hair go hand-in-hand, today the natural hair movement is less about politics and more about self-love and acceptance. And self-love is not a trend. I don't see the acceptance and love of natural hair ever going away again.” — Whitney White (AKA Naptural85)
, natural hair and lifestyle vlogger
"The idea that we always need to tame our tresses goes across cultural barriers, but is especially presented to us — women and men of color. Why do you feel like we need to be conquered in this way? It's just this idea of submitting to a texture and aesthetic that bothers me. It constantly instills this idea that we have to conform to be accepted and to secure economic parity. It's very strange because we don't ask too many other cultures to change something physical about what they are born with." — Solange Franklin Reed
, fashion editor-at-large at Paper