The history of natural hair activism was discussed during the fall Healthy Hair Summit. Honored by the presence of Dr. Tiffany Gill, who is an associate professor at the University of Rutgers. She is the author of Beauty Shop Politics. Moreover, she served as a Consultant for Sephora and was the historical archivist for a Netflix documentary based on Michelle Obama. Dr. Gill was the perfect person to lead this discussion.
Black women and hair - History of natural hair and activism
When we talk about history, we cannot skip the part of Black women. And we cannot separate the discussion of hair when talking about Black women.
Healthy hair and the struggles for black lines
Dr. Gill discussed the prospective hair care for black women when she was talking about the history of natural hair and activism. You might think black women's struggle is not related to hair but let me tell you, the struggle goes way back. The stylists in the industry came together not only to style our hair, but also for making sure that we could maintain healthy hair.
Beautifying black women in the era of racial violence and discretion was more than just about self-care, but was a political space. In history, Black women have a very complicated and complex relationship with the American culture of beauty and respectability politics.
Beauty shop politics - History of natural hair and activism
Throughout history, Black women were not considered beautiful by European standards. White people singled them out and deprived them access to salons. Even during the time of slavery, Black women tried to style their hair and dress to match certain beauty standards.
During this time of enslavement and exploitation, these women became creative with styling their hair and creating beauty standards. As free people, they took pride in their appearance and the way they dressed elegantly.
20th Century for African American women
In the 20th century, it was evident that the beauty industry was becoming an enterprise for African American women. At this time, the black women were entering into different industries and had a voice in consumer culture. They contributed to popular hairstyles and focused on healthy hair.
Some women who suffered from scalp issues and needed hair care products. These health issues sometimes was associated with diet and required special products. The history of natural hair activism includes the beauty and hair industry also contributing to that. The industry was not based on beautifying the hair but on enhancing the health of the hair.
Black women transformation
In the 1950s and ’60s, powerful Black women transformed the beauty salon into political spaces. They were already a gathering and safe space for women. Many civil activists would educate women for their rights and political activities as well. These activists made up of salon owners. They did not fear getting terminated from their job. History of natural hair activism created a sense of freedom.
Even now, the salon owners and beauticians are working side-by-side to provide the black women a space to talk and heal by offering them access to a sort of therapy. Women who open up in front of the beauticians and stylists can trust a little more and get help.
Since the Civil rights movement, everything has changed in black women's lives and the beauty industry. But during COVID, we have seen a lot of violence for black people, not only women. And as an educator, each one of us has the responsibility of creating awareness among the people.
The beauty industry, which has a deep relationship with the history of natural hair and activism, can provide avenues of hope for the black woman and beautify them.
You can find Dr. Tiffany Gill on Twitter and Instagram @Sablevictorian, and her book is available on Amazon. You can also get it on bookshop.com. To watch full talk/chat please visit: healthyhairsummit.com