5 OG YouTubers Explain How The Natural Hair Revolution Was Televised
Waiting for your monthly issue of Hype Hair for Black hair inspiration is a thing of the past. Catalyzed by digital advances, all you need now is a good WiFi connection and a YouTube account. Propelled by the Internet in the late 2000s, a new wave of the natural hair movement grew to unrivalled heights in which consumers were guided by natural hair YouTubers to answer their most frequently asked questions and qualms.
Initially starting off on forums, the pivot onto a then nascent YouTube at a time when how-to video tutorials were just taking off, was the natural progression to optimally show the natural hair community how to protective style, the best products for a wash and go and the benefits of using a pre-poo. It was the beginning of a revolutionary moment in which Black women were able to redefine, reassert and re-embrace their own beauty identity and fall in love with their natural hair texture.
Far beyond just an innocuous style, hair is rooted in history as a vast socio-economic marker. Iconic imagery of Angela Davis and her Afro are a stark reminder of the heavily politicized narrative that weaves hair and identity, and for the Black community, the historically damaging rhetoric surrounding our natural hair led to women feeling at a loss of how their hair fit into society. The exclusion and discrimination of Black hair fueled stereotypes that it was unprofessional and unfit from both public and private places.
The pioneering vloggers that took part in this digital movement helped shift the narrative away from Eurocentric beauty ideals and towards a celebration of Black excellence that was, and still is, largely excluded from mainstream media. The online influencers teaching their audiences, coupled with Black celebrities finally embracing their natural hair has led to over 70% of Black women now likely to wear their hair natural without the use of chemical relaxers, according to a 2018 Mintel study.
As natural hair videos on YouTube surpassed over 1.5 billion views in 2019, we caught up with the natural hair influencers who have not only championed and fought for representation over the last decade, but have also given millions of women both the confidence and guidance to fall in love with themselves.
Naptural85, AKA Whitney White
YouTubing since 2009, 1.17 million subscribers
"When I first started uploading, it was the perfect space to meet like-minded people with similar interests. Not to make money or gain fame, but to simply share ideas, discuss your passions and offer moral support to one another. I didn't know anyone in my everyday life who had, or even liked, natural hair so Youtube was a safe space to discuss natural hair without being judged, sided-eyed, or persuaded otherwise.
I love that having natural hair isn't even questioned these days. It's a given, 'Oh, this person is black. Yes that is what their hair looks like!' No staring, no confusion and no more asking to touch, for the most part. It’s refreshing to just be able to live as I am naturally, and it be normal and accepted.
More professional stylists are jumping on board, learning how to style natural hair, and encouraging their customers to maintain their hair naturally, whereas 10 years ago, they would discourage clients from transitioning. It used to be extremely hard to find information on how to care for our hair. We weren't given support in our traditional hair care establishments which is why we started sharing information online. We had to make it up as we went along and share techniques directly on Youtube.
Natural hair representation is always ebbing and flowing. At first, we primarily saw Afros and locs, then as more hair products were introduced we started seeing different curl patterns and the majority wanted to have the defined, loose curls look. With the help of more 4c women speaking out, most notably in the community from fellow vlogger Jouelzy, that felt they didn't have the mainstream "coveted" curl pattern, we had to confront the content we were consuming and ask ourselves if this was what we intended to create; a movement where you had to define your curls and have a pattern to be deemed as "ideal," "worthy of attention," or "goals".
Naturals who wore wigs, weaves, or those who straightened were bullied by others for supposedly not loving their natural hair enough, so we collectively had to come together to denounce that. I think today, the movement is at a beautiful place, where anything goes. Whether it's defined, protected under wigs, dyed, straightened, worn in an afro, loc’ed, it’s your choice and self-expression. There's a real freedom today that didn't exist even just 5 years ago.
I'm so happy that we finally have some progress in the form of laws to protect us from hair discrimination, but I'm disappointed that the need still exists. No one should be punished for what naturally grows from their heads, just as one shouldn't be punished for the color of their skin - it's who we are. We shouldn't have to change our physical selves just to get an education or a job. I think we will eventually see an end to it but certain people and establishments will use any and every tactic to try to diminish our Blackness and have us assimilate into their perceived notion of what's appropriate for society. Looking at how much we've already achieved in a short 10-year timeframe, I'm hopeful to be able to see it in my lifetime."
YouTubing since 2008, 54.7K subscribers
"When I started in 2010 YouTube was so informal. I recorded videos at 2 in the morning on my webcam from my dorm room. We were all learning together, trying out the few products available and experimenting with DIYs. There was no pressure to have your hair or video look a certain way because none of us really knew what we were doing.
Nowadays, there is also a lot more freedom with accepting wigs, braids, and other protective styles as expressions of the natural hair movement. Early on, there was a more narrow definition of what natural hair meant - no relaxer, no color, no press and curl, etc - but there is a much wider range now. I'm happy that so many Black women have changed the way they think about their hair and that there are girls growing up now who have never had to sit through the burning pain of a relaxer in the name of beauty!
I didn't intend on being a blogger when I started chronicling my natural hair journey on YouTube - I was really just trying to talk to people about my hair because I had no one to talk to about it in real life. Without the initial start on YouTube, I would not be a full-time entrepreneur right now, I'd probably be a professor, but unhappy with the lack of flexibility and freedom in my career. The decision to post that first video 10 years ago definitely changed the trajectory of my life & career. I'm really passionate about empowering Black women who want to pursue higher education, and also debunking the idea that women have to be just one thing - so my platforms will continue to reflect those passions and ideas!"
YouTubing since 2009, 96.1K followers
"I started my original channel, Sheacocoaluv, in the beginning of 2009. I always wanted to somehow inspire other women and I noticed a stigma around short natural hair or TWA (Tiny Weeny Afro), that it was too masculine and not feminine enough. I grew to love short hair on me during my permed days and had a pixie cut right before I transitioned to natural. A lot of women seemed to want to transition for longer rather than big chop all their hair off and I wanted women to feel confident and beautiful with their TWA.
For me, the best thing is knowing I played a role in shifting the Black hair industry. Seeing how products moved more towards natural hair care and the big companies jumped on the band wagon really showed me that the natural hair movement was here to stay. I was able to help change the mindset and view of natural hair into something more positive and beautiful, breaking generational curses.
As vloggers, we have a responsibility to be transparent and real about what works. Being in front of the video camera and talking to our viewers makes them feel more connected. They see our personality and hear us voice our opinions and suggestions, and we become relatable to our viewers. We’re bonded like a sisterhood. To this day, I still get comments or DMs from women on how I've changed their lives; inspiring them to go natural and how much I’ve helped them love their natural hair. I love helping other women love themselves. Self love is important, particularly in our community."
YouTubing since 2010, 1.2 million subscribers
"In 2010, YouTube lacked diversity with Latinas like myself who have brown skin and 3b, 3c curls. The natural hair community mostly consisted of Caucasian girls with loose 2a, 2c curls and African-American girls with 4a, 4b hair types. So I related to vloggers like Naptural85 the most and learned a lot from her too.
There’s more diversity now when it comes to the acceptance of natural hair textures from different ethnicities. Major retailers are also now catering to curly hair types and wanting to provide clean natural hair care that is safe and effective! Clean curly brands weren’t always as accessible which for me, is super important as its something I highly value and support.
I've definitely seen progress in regards to hair discrimination, but I'm not sure that a complete end is in our near future. There's still more change needed within our own mentality before we can change others. There are still so many women who wouldn’t wear their curls on their wedding day or to a formal occasion. They still care about what others think is acceptable and feed into their standard. So we need to get past caring about 'straight hair' standards, and eventually, having curly hair will also be considered a global beauty standard too. I’ll always be inspired to motivate others to love and care for their natural hair because ultimately that’s how we create change — normalizing seeing all kinds of confident women rocking their natural texture in any work field and any occasion."
Shannon Fitzsimmons AKA UK Curly Girl
YouTubing since 2014, 9.3K
"When I first began researching how to get my curls back to health, I came across so many US bloggers. Although the advice was amazing, a lot of the products they were talking about weren’t available here in the UK. I knew there must have been a lot of UK women that felt the same, so I thought I could be that go-to girl for women in the UK who need help with products and their routines.
Our drugstores and supermarkets now sell brands such as Shea Moisture and Camille Rose Naturals. Six years ago, I’d have to spend so much money on shipping just to get the products here. We have to thank our buying power for creating that change and seeing the popularity of natural hair routines on social media with sharing what ingredients and products work for healthy natural hair. The influence even extends to celebrities and publications as they now showcase more diversity and Black women with their genuine natural hair texture, which we never saw before."