Black women are going natural in droves to ditch using harsh chemicals, and in some cases, to better embrace who they are. The emotional and financial benefits of weening oneself off relaxers cannot be denied. But whether a woman chooses to grow out her processed hair over a long period of time, or shave her relaxed hair off in a “big chop,” is still a point of contention for some.
At the forefront of this movement is Chicago-based hair stylist Emon Fowler. For her, the big chop is the only way.
Fowler recently established her shop, The Harriet Experiment, in an effort to encourage black women to shave off their processed hair and explore their natural texture in one bold move. She told the Chicago Tribune that she was inspired to start her movement after reflecting on the life of Harriet Tubman, the iconic heroine who risked her life to help hundreds flee slavery.
Fowler believes she is similarly freeing black women from the negative misconceptions and resulting sad emotions related their hair. “This is all about breaking free from that hair bondage,” Fowler told the Chicago Tribune.
All across Chicago, Fowler has organized meetings for women to come together for support while letting their processed hair go. She has also started a website, recruited women on Facebook, made appearances at fairs and festivals, and even stopped women in grocery stores in an effort to get black women to chop off their relaxers.
“When a woman decides to cut all of her hair, she discovers something underneath that is liberating. It can be therapeutic because you have to let go of the idea that you need these superficial extras to feel beautiful,” Fowler told the Chicago Tribune. “It says, ‘I’ve accepted me.’ ”
When licensed cosmetologist and owner of Braids Elite Marie Lourdes Price heard about The Harriet Experiment, she was ecstatic that Fowler was evangelizing black women towards the goal of going natural.
“Finally, somebody has heard my voice,” Price exclaimed to theGrio. “I think it’s really important, because we all need to embrace the way that we are and know that we are beautiful. Natural hair is beautiful.”
Price, who has been doing natural hair since 1990, said going natural is the best route that African-American women can take to have healthier hair. She says the beauty of black women’s hair is exciting because it shows a loving acceptance of natural textures.
Price believes that the negative perception that natural hair has is derived from slavery.
“We think that we are ugly the minute we go natural, but we need to love who we are. We should not want to change it just to fit in,” she told theGrio.
Freedom from slavery to these detrimental self images can be overcome by drastic acts like the big chop.
Black women who agree have engaged in their own “Harriet Experiments,” doing private “big chops” and enjoying a revolution of positive emotions about their hair.
Although afraid at first, Keisha Pickett, owner of Pickett Public Relations Group, decided to do her big chop a few years ago.
“I was afraid that my face was too plump and I wasn’t sure how people would react to it,” Pickett said. “In addition, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do anything with what seemed to be dry, matted hair. My little sister, who went natural first, came to visit me one day and said, ‘We are cutting your hair today!’ and I said ‘OK!’ I just needed that extra nudge to do it.”
After she shaved off her chemically-straightened locks, Pickett posted pictures of her new hairstyle on Facebook, and received positive responses.
“My hair is [now] easier to manage and it’s definitely cheaper to maintain,” Pickett told theGrio. “When it’s pressed, most can’t believe how quickly it’s grown out. I absolutely love the versatility of my natural hair and encourage others to get on board.”
Former CBS Early Show host Rene Syler had a mastectomy and then lost her hair over a period of two years due to too much chemical processing. These seemingly negative changes led to positive internal growth.“I totally reinvented myself and the hair was the final piece of the acceptance puzzle for me… my reinvention if you will,” the broadcast journalist asserted to theGrio. “In March, it will be three years since I went natural and a huge milestone for me. There is no going back. I decided any job I have in the future — they will have to take me as I am.”
Syler admits going natural while working in TV News is hard to do — and she is seeking to change that. But whether a black woman goes natural via the big chop, or through more incremental means, the issue of how their natural hair will be perceived in the workplace still remains.
Rochelle Ritchie, who is a reporter for WPTV in Florida, also sports the natural look, but is very aware of how rare that is in the television world.
After suffering from traction alopecia — a form of hair loss caused by damaged hair follicles —caused by years of styling with hair extensions and harsh chemicals, Ritchie decided to go natural. But she was torn about her decision.
“I thought having straight, long hair was what they wanted me to look like in the news,” Ritchie told theGrio. “But being polished was causing me to lose my hair. Now I know of so many college girls who want to go into journalism who admire me for going natural. I don’t think natural hair is any less professional or makes you appear any less intelligent.”
Ritchie said she now feels liberated. She hopes that by speaking out about her views, more black woman will embrace their natural hair, no matter what their profession.
“I really think it’s important for me to continue to talk about it, because the world is changing and people — especially young girls — want to see people on TV who they can relate to,” Ritchie told theGrio.
Although the “big chop” movement is continuing, many believe that it is just getting started, according to celebrity hair stylist Patrick Wellington. “It’s a trend that is moving this year,” Wellington said. “I have seen a few people who have transcended from chemicals to natural, but it’s not the biggest wave. It still has a way to go.”
He offers this advice for women seeking to do a their own “Harriet Experiments”:
“Letting go of the chemicals involves a lot of freedom,” Wellington told theGrio. “I don’t think people are afraid, but I do think they have to get comfortable. It will take a long process for total change.” He also said it will take a moment for black women to feel comfortable wearing their hair natural in the workplace.
However, the healthy hair benefits far outweigh the social repercussions and fears — making the big chop worthwhile.
“It’s certainly it is healthier, but I can’t tell them what to do,” he said.
Though this some may think of going natural as only a trend, others hope that one day it will truly develop into a revolution.