by Camisha L. Jones
“It’s so pretty!” That was Kenyada Jones’ response to her hair after her first relaxer around the age of 10. It is something I, too, thought and heard at 10. My hair under the coaxing of chemicals became long, smooth and straight. It swayed when I shook my head. More importantly, it didn’t hurt as much when my mother combed it. It wasn’t resentfully referred to as “nappy.” Instead, my hair was finally “good hair.”
Renting a movie of the same name in 2010 changed my life. As I watched Chris Rock’s “Good Hair,” I learned that taming Black hair is a 9 billion dollar industry headed primarily by White-owned businesses. I heard how the chemical I put into my hair each month can burn through skin, raw chicken and soda cans. I realized that there was a disconnection between my deepest life convictions and my behavior. As someone who has spent close to a decade helping others embrace their own uniqueness and celebrate the differences of others, I asked myself why I was not embracing or celebrating my own unique cultural heritage. My natural hair had been banished for so long that I didn’t even know what was underneath my scalp’s straightened strands!
Fortunately, Kenyada, who I met in 2005, had been my stylist for several years. A licensed natural hair care provider, Kenyada helped me create a plan to transition my hair from relaxed to natural. The process culminated in a Big Chop party in April 2011 where I was in the festive company of 12 supportive women as I cut off my relaxed ends. It is the closest thing I’ve come to experiencing a rite of passage, a welcoming into a new phase of life.
Going natural has a way of chauffeuring you into new life stages. Kenyada decided to go natural when she became pregnant with her son. “Not knowing exactly what [the chemicals in relaxers] do or how far they actually seep into the body — I didn’t want them to have an impact on him at all,” she states. That decision sparked a deeper search into the ingredients used in relaxers, food and other products. It changed how she eats and what she buys. It led to a shift in the focus of her career. She, ultimately, ceased the lucrative business of doing touch-ups and relaxers to focus on offering natural hair care services only. “It just made me sad. I would have the applicator brush and I could see this new growth and how beautiful it was and how lively it was and I was just putting the relaxer in,” she says of her last months relaxing hair.
In February 2010, Kenyada founded AllTressedUp.net to educate and uplift people by highlighting holistic approaches to hair and beauty. Over 600 people subscribe to the All Tressed Up Facebook page and Kenyada does hair under the same company name.
“Everything began to evolve and it’s amazing to me how it all began with the choice of my hair. The irony in that is your hair grows from your scalp which is your brain, the whole command center,” states Kenyada.
In 2003, Duron “Brother Manifest” Chavis, who wears locks periodically as a cultural expression, was working at the Black History Museum and wanting more people to understand the history behind Black hair. His idea of organizing an event focused on hair as a reflection of the impact of Western beauty standards on the beliefs and behavior of people of African descent turned into a 9-year commitment to social consciousness-raising. The event he created, Happily Natural Day (HND), is now a three-day festival occurring each August in Richmond and Atlanta. Centered not only on hair but also holistic health, racial disparities, and social change, the event includes music, performances, workshops, speakers and vendors. Additionally, HND has developed a weekly initiative whereby people can purchase 20 pounds of locally grown fruit and vegetables for $20. “We wanted to create an environment where we can come together, show love for ourselves, be proud of our heritage, be proud of our ethnicity and deal with some real issues in our community,” says Duron. “I wanted to see something powerful that would take the conversation about hair beyond just esthetic.”
Outward appearance does not make it on the list of seven women who anonymously shared the reasons for their decision to go natural with me. Their motives included repairing damaged hair, addressing scalp conditions, avoiding the high cost of relaxers, and expressing their identity. Further, they explain that they stay natural because their hair is easier to style, more versatile, cheaper to maintain, healthier and thus pain free, a source of racial identity and pride, and a way to challenge standards of beauty. One simply states, “It’s beautiful.”
Both Kenyada and Duron believe going natural is a way of fully embracing one’s self.
Kenyada tells the story of a client who decided to cut off her relaxed hair at the spur of the moment. To address the client’s concern for keeping some length to her hair, Jones cut her hair in levels. Each time she asked the client what she thought of the cut, the client gave her permission to cut it some more. “I saw the evolution of this woman happen in a matter of minutes as she sat in my chair.” The experience moved Kenyada to tears as she watched the client silently transition with each cut, in her words, from “Oh my gosh, I’m the ugliest woman in the world” to “Hey, this is me and I’m quite all right. Yes! In fact, I’m superb!”
Duron says, “Once you can just be you, fall in love with yourself…that’s the most powerful [thing] for people as they go natural – male and female.”
“I think all of us have been conditioned to believe that there are certain characteristics that define beauty – whether it be a certain shade of skin tone, color of eye, curl pattern or lack thereof, type of nose…Those things define beauty. But I think as women [and men] begin to accept themselves in their natural state, beauty is redefined slowly but surely,” asserts Kenyada.
Perhaps in time – with the help of people like Kenyada Jones and Duron Chavis – our definition of “good hair” will come to fully include the hair that grows naturally from our heads.
To learn more about the cultural, historical and political ramifications of Black hair, visit Happily Natural Day, August 26th through 28th (http://happilynaturalday.com/).
For more information on natural hair care and services provided by Kenyada Jones, visit http://AllTressedUp.net.