When people with natural hair refer to “wash day,” they are very rarely exaggerating. The phrase has become synonymous with the long, grueling hours regularly spent detangling, cleansing, and styling curly hair. In the last decade of the natural hair movement, the rise of an expensive product junkie culture and an influx of, often conflicting, information has left many naturals feeling frustrated with start-stop success. Despite these profound inconveniences, the movement’s overall message of resisting racist beauty standards with self-love has managed to maintain community morale. However, a new crop of expert voices is course-correcting towards simplicity and, ultimately, real freedom. “My motto is ease with hair care and not having to take six hours to style your hair like the internet says you have to,” says Shakera Kemp, hair stylist and owner of The Cuse Curlfriend. “I do my best to simplify my clients' routines so they can free up time in their personal lives.”
What is now commonly referred to as the natural hair movement has been in motion since the 1960s, but most are familiar with the latest resurgence starting in the late 2000s. “Around , YouTube was coming up and cellphone cameras were becoming more popular,” explains Anita Wilson, licensed tight curl specialist and owner of Monarch Curl Studio. YouTube gave regular, everyday people a platform and authority to widely discuss natural hair — for better or for worse.
The Rise Of Natural Hair Influencers
Kyla Vick, natural hair content creator and lawyer, recalls being first inspired to go natural via YouTube videos in 2015 when seeing Black women sporting afros on her college campus was still a rarity. “[The videos] were all about self-love and understanding who you are [naturally] instead of succumbing to the European standards that show up when we straighten our hair,” she says.
More curly hair representation was necessary, but the novice nature of early natural hair content allowed circumstantial or misinformation to go viral quickly. Many unpredictable techniques, such as the “LOC” product application order, became pervasive law that left large chunks of the community empty-handed. Additionally, the low visibility of diverse curl patterns allowed the same European beauty standards to take root with a new face. “A lot of us got caught up in curl dysphoria,” says Wilson. “YouTube influencers had a head start on hair stylists. The ones who weren’t [waiting for the natural hair trend to end] were too busy caring for their clients to make YouTube videos. [Stylists] are now catching up.”
More experts have found their way to social media in recent years, partially spurred by the digital-first response to stay-at-home mandates. The result is a mass re-education of long-held natural hair beliefs. “We think we have hair down for Black people, but it’s the one that requires the most listening and dumping of information you thought you knew about hair to really have that paradigm shift,” says Wilson. Some directives from stylists reject beloved cultural habits, like heavily oiling the scalp, which has stirred controversy. “Considering our culture, the idea of oiling the scalp extends from slavery. It was a protective layer so bugs couldn’t get into the hair,” Kemp asserts. “Black culture passes down a lot of tradition and a lot of this stuff gets ingrained. It’s a battle within itself a bit.”
The Reality Of Natural Hair & Beauty Standards
Stylists are also busy challenging another natural hair hang-up: an obsession with length. “Length checks” became a popular natural hair trend on Youtube wherein naturals would stretch out a curl to reveal its “true” length. Legacy natural hair care brands regularly pushed anti-shrinkage messaging at the movement’s peak and newer brands continue to tout boosted growth product claims that contribute to a premium on length at all costs.
However, long hair is not an achievable goal for everyone and serves as a thinly-veiled racist and misogynistic beauty standard. Long, flowing hair has historically been viewed as a symbol of femininity, while women with short hair were demonized, and those with afro hair types were considered inferior. It’s often associated with well-being, but length is a poor barometer for hair health. “If you come to me and take a piece of hair and pull it to show how long it is, I couldn't care less. Is it healthy?” says Wilson. “Are you able to live your lifestyle without your hair being at the forefront? That's the most important thing because it’s not only money but also the time Black and brown people spend on their hair. Money is renewable, time is not.”
A Call For Simplicity
More important than rewriting the user manual for natural hair care is how this contemporary leg of the movement answers the widespread call for reprieve. Naturals are looking for straightforward answers after years of involved routines and difficult styles. Vick’s Instagram following exploded after she demonstrated how a pared-back product lineup and less manipulation of her hair won both results and precious time while in the throes of law school. “I do think that there are people that like my routine because it's methodical,” she says. “It’s just ABCD ABCD over and over again. It takes away the stress of how I'm going to style my hair.”
The popularity of Australian-based curly hair brand BREAD can similarly be attributed to the category-disruptive stance of natural hair care made simple. “I just wanted a brand to give me a box that says this is your routine,” says BREAD Founder Maeva Heim. “I just want to know how to wash my hair. I don’t want to spend heaps of time on how to style.” In an industry dominated by product overload, BREAD’s appeal lies in its ability to curate an edit of innovative essentials around specific needs. The brand’s most popular offering, the Kit-1-Wash set, is for all curly and textured hair types to make “friends with wash day again” — period. No porosity, thickness, or curl pattern categorizations to fret over.
Nobody can take your Blackness away from you.
Not only are new-era naturals opting out of time-thieving routines, but they are also encouraging an inclusive approach to natural (or not so natural) hair for the first time. Many curly hair care brands are now marketing to those wearing braids and wigs or returning to chemically straightened hair. This shift reflects a reclamation of the movement that values the lifestyle needs of the community over making a statement to people outside of it. “People were going natural in the early 2010s and [thought] oh, I’ve got to show my Blackness,” says Kemp. “Yes, you are Black, but let’s do something [with your hair] that’s easy for you. Nobody can take your Blackness away from you. This message of ease and simplicity can be more approachable.”
The recent do-as-you-please energy should not be mistaken for a divergence from the original social and political underpinnings of the movement. Rest, leisure, and the power of time to use meaningfully are resistances in themselves. “As Black and brown women, we spend so much time doing beauty routines and having to groom ourselves. Way more time than anyone else,” says BREAD’s Global Styling Director Shelby Samaria. “Think of all of the things we could do with all of that time aside from washing our hair.”