Brittany Tapscott was 9-years-old when she got her first hair relaxer — a chemical treatment used to straighten naturally curly hair.
“My mom could not handle my hair. My hair was insane,” says the 24-year-old Washington, D.C native.
But over the years, Tapscott says hair relaxers, commonly referred to as perms, began to take a toll on her tresses.
“My hair was just really thin and breaking off.”
In December of 2008, Tapscott began researching the Internet on ways to achieve healthier hair, when she made a surprising discovery on YouTube.
“All these women were going on ‘hair journeys.’[That’s when] I just stopped getting a perm,” says Tapscott.
YouTube — where most people post videos ranging from bouncing babies to dancing dogs – has now become a place where African-American women are chronicling their journey to go back to their natural roots.
“Color and perm are evil,” jokes Ashley Gordon of Windsor Mill, Maryland.
Gordon, 27, discovered the natural hair video blogs – or vlogs — in November 2009. She says she quickly became obsessed, watching the videos as often as five days a week.
“The YouTube girls saved me from making a lot of expensive purchases,” says Gordon. “They tell you about products that work and don’t work, so you don’t waste money.”
Many videos also give tutorials on how to wash and style natural hair, as well as how to determine your exact hair type. Some even offer advice on how to look more “feminine” with makeup and jewelry, if you decide to undergo the “big chop” — which is cutting off nearly all of your hair to rid it of the relaxer.
“Once I BC’d (big chopped), I discovered a new me,” says Treasure Vondale, 32, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Vondale posted her first natural hair vlog on YouTube in 2008. She says at the time, there were only a few others like it.
“I had no idea there would be thousands watching. I had no idea I would have been an inspiration to others to go natural,” says Vondale.
Today, her vlog, titled Nappy Chronicles, has over 70,000 views. Similar vlogs have tracked over a half-million hits.
Despite the popularity of the videos, some say “going natural” is still difficult, especially during the summertime when the heat and humidity can be particularly brutal on ethnic hair.
“I miss my wrap,” says Gordon, who’s now contemplating relaxing her hair again.
“My biggest problem is, I cannot workout the way I want to… and I’m not sure I’m bold enough to go with a ‘fro.”
As for Tapscott, she admits maintaining her natural hair is a challenge, but says she plans to stick it out — with help from her virtual girls.
“Without the YouTube videos, I probably would’ve just gotten a perm… I can’t do that again.”