African-Ethnic Hair (2)

African woman with very curly hair
Photo: Depositphotos
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Processed Hair versus Natural Hair
I recently sat down and watched Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” on the beauty industry and how it relates to African-ethnic hair, specifically the fact that the practice of processing, straightening, and outright replacing natural African-ethnic hair is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It is an industry that only includes a nominal percentage of Black-owned businesses.
The processing of African-ethnic hair refers to "relaxers" and "perms," which are meant to loosen the wave pattern of the hair and either reform it into larger, softer curls, such as with the Jheri Curl, or to simply relax the tight wave patterns so that the hair appears smoother and straighter (relaxers). These chemical processes would often be combined with heated combs and irons to further manipulate the final appearance of the hair.
The replacement factor of the industry comes in the form of wigs, hairpieces and weaves made from hair harvested from women of other countries, usually Indian, where the hair color is a better match but the texture and wave patterns are more in line with what is desired. Depending on the source and quality of the hair used, the prices vary greatly.
You may find wefts of hair for use in waves and extensions made from yak hair (or other long-haired animals), and you can also find full-cap hair weave-in systems made of carefully harvested human hair that can cost thousands of dollars and which are custom-made for the clients in question.
The industry was born from the fact that, at some point in history, Black women (especially) became convinced that their natural hair was undesirable and should be more like the hair of Caucasians, which is smoother and straighter. Perhaps it was because there were some Black women whose hair was smoother and straighter, and they were seen as more desirable, or were favored in other ways, but the end result was a near-universal quest for "good hair".
African woman with straight relaxed hair
Photo: Nzewi Confidence/Canva
Unfortunately, the desire for a specific type of hair also carried the stigma of branding the hair that African-ethnic women were born with as "bad". There is a movement in today's society to fight that perception, but the fact remains that billions of dollars are still spent each year on products to either alter or replace the natural hair that African-ethnic women are born with.
As a non-Black individual, I do not have the same frame of reference or experiences as someone of African-ethnic descent when it comes to hair. Therefore, it is easy for me to say that you should be happy with what you were born with. Yet, the desire to have a different hair trait isn't only limited to those of African-ethnic descent. Caucasians spend their money on perms to add curl, straighteners to remove curl, and chemicals to alter the color of their hair to any of hundreds of shades and hues.
I would also be a hypocrite to advocate against altering hair when that is how I make my living. What I can do is put in some time and effort to help people understand what can be done, how the processes work, the pros and cons, and let them make informed decisions on what should be done with their hair.
See also:
African hair Q&A
African-Ethnic hair styles 101