When toxic straightener, motherhood and hair politics intersected Amy-Rae Rispel had to act.
The Cape Town-based journalist -feminist-twenty something-mom was losing clumps of hair and was questioning the straightjacket that society was set to impose on her baby girl’s curls. At the time a social movement, agitating for natural hair, was gaining traction in the US. These moments set off the transition during which Amy-Rae was to rediscover her own hair; a process that has subsequently moulded her into one of the natural hair enthusiasts leading the Natural Hair Movement pack in Cape Town.
The movement’s champions are part of the woke generation, an online community of mostly millennials who are harnessing the oxygen of social media to fuel societal change. They do battle in a digital space with blogs, vlogs and hashtags such as #naturalhair #teamnatural #blackgirlmagic and #naturalista#southafricannaturals #bossiekop #frolife #curlygirlshavemorefun #kroesrocks.
Actors, models, authors, journalists, thought leaders, academics, designers, musicians and artists are leading the spirited pushback against outdated discriminatory ideas like the notion that textured ethnic curly hair has to be reconfigured, reshaped and repackaged to be beautiful. They (see list below) are setting the tone in a hair conversation that is both provocative and educational.
Against the backdrop of apartheid’s pencil test, which politicized hair by abusing it as an ethnic qualifier, and ongoing racist language, the groundswell in support of a new hair order is as much a political uprising as it is a personal liberation.
Amy-Rae explains: “Common Jo Soaps are questioning the status quo. They are asking why do I have to wear my hair in a Eurocentric way? Why do I have to relax or manipulate my hair? Why do so many people (of colour) wear their hair in an unnatural way?”
There has been a dramatic growth in the Natural Hair Movement from 2015 when a group of about 100 Capetonian women started to talk about hair online (this group is the Cape Town Naturally support group). “The group has grown to over 3000. In my own space both my sisters [have considered going natural] and several of my cousins have gone natural. I can’t say I was the only reason, but there has been a shift,” she says. In fact, the current membership of the Cape Town Naturally support group (closed group), which uses the hashtag #ctnaturally, sits at 3674. About 210 new members have been added recently (https://www.facebook.com/groups/328370390659704/?fref=nf). Founder Amanda Cooke, a frontrunner in the movement in Cape Town, has noticed more followers mid-2015 and has tracked a steady increase since. She says she gets over 100 new membership requests every day. Last year the group gained over 2000 members and counting.
Amy-Rae believes some of the growth was sparked by the protest of schoolgirl Zuleikha Patel in August last year. Patel, who was 13 at the time, and proudly wearing her natural Afro crown, resisted when her school’s her police told her to tame her fro. Her defiance went viral.
For Amy-Rae two of the movement’s fundamental elements are choice and self-love. “If you choose to blow dry, wear a wig or a weave – do so. You have a choice and freedom to wear your hair however you like,” she says.
For youngsters Amy-Rae also has a message: Accept who you are [own your hair-type], surround yourself with like-minded naturalistas, listen to afro-centric and black-power music and follow natural hair pages which can toughen your mental armory if you decide to go natural.
“Self-love is important. Byt vas. Embrace your natural hair. By embracing your hair, you are embracing yourself. You are coming into your own. I used to be very, very stressed about my hair. Will it mince? I hated going to the beach, I hated rain and did not like going to gym. Now I am no longer worried about water and sweat. I enjoy life to the full” She often repeats this message to her daughter. She does not only tell her that she loves her tresses, but she tries to surround her with images that she can relate with – be that the black Disney character Doc McStuffins or a chocolate coloured doll with curly hair.
“It definitely would have helped me growing up to see women of colour with different types of beautiful natural hair in TV, movies and magazines. Messages reinforcing the importance of living your truth and promoting the unique beauty of kinky coily hair. I truly believe representation matters,” she says.
After a dramatic transition involving the big chop and experimenting with many products, through trial and error, this naturalista is “delighted” about new ranges like My Natural Hair that could serve the Natural Hair Movement.
Want to go natural?
Amy-Rae suggests some helpful resources if you are considering to begin the journey of liberating your hair. These include facebook pages and activists who will provide support and encouragement.
South African Naturals https://www.facebook.com/groups/SANaturals/?hc_ref=SEARCH
Open group 42 044 (884 new members on daily basis)
* Its All Natural https://www.facebook.com/groups/1750851911828533/
Closed group 22 101 (524 new members)
Other Facebook groups (you can just type in “natural” and you’ll see all the groups that pop up)
Naturalistas to follow:
Hashtags to watch out for:
#naturalists #naturalhair #afros #beautifulhair #kroeskop #kinkyhair #naturalhairsa #teamnaturalsa #ctnaturally #naturalhaircommunity #sanaturals #southafricannaturals #bossiekop #frolife #curlygirlshavemorefun #kroesrocks
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