Natural style: Local black women find support as they embrace their roots

In a conference room in the basement of the Hannaford Suites Hotel in Kenwood, Mae Brazelton of MB Gallery & Beauty Supplies explains natural hair types to a crowd of 20 African-American women, whose ages range from early 20s to 60s.

Some are shorn clean; others have gone for the wild and curly look; a few are sporting afros. One woman has beautifully kept locks down to the middle of her back. The styles are different, but they have come together for one purpose—to celebrate the decision to “go natural.”

“How we feel about our hair is how we feel about ourselves,” says Brazelton, who receives some head nods in response. “Your hair is your glory.” 

Finding support for natural choices
The event, which is hosted by local natural hair advocacy group ’Nati Naturalistas, has the feel of a support group. The women discuss what products to use for moisturizing and growth. There’s lots of affirmation (along the lines of “ I love your hair” and “I wish my hair would grow like that”) and conversations about maintenance and how being natural affects not only their lives, but the lives of those around them. 

In recent years, it seems that wearing one’s hair in its natural state (without chemical manipulation) has gone through something of a renaissance. More and more black women are finding acceptance—from others and themselves—for their decisions to stop perming their hair. 

’Nati Naturalistas' co-founder Sonya Moore says she started the group because she wanted to connect with other women in the area to openly discuss the emotional and physical impact of going natural. 

“I realized not all women have an easy time transitioning, caring for or maintaining their natural hair, so I wanted to be a source of encouragement and inspiration,” says Moore, who is the director of Learning & Development at Macy’s. “I wanted to have an outlet for real conversation around natural hair.”

Moore and fellow co-founders Billie Davis and Verna Bell began hosting meetups last October, and have participated in several events with Black & Bossie, the Kennedy Heights-based company that has been manufacturing natural hair care products for over 30 years. 

“This group is allowing me to meet some awesome Naturalistas around the region to share more than just hair tips with,” says Davis, a bartender and full-time beauty school student with plans to open her own salon when she graduates. “Our end goal is to encourage and uplift as many as we can through promoting self-love. For many of us, it starts with our appearance—hair being number one on the list.”

Facing hair challenges…naturally
While groups like ’Nati Naturalists to affirm a woman’s choice to go natural, that decision still has ripple effects, particularly in some work settings. 

When LaDonna Wallace Smith of Queen City Naturals organized the “Natural in the Workplace” event, she heard stories from women who were asked to straighten their hair by their superiors, and who felt like they needed to straighten their hair when going on job interviews for fear of not making it past the interview process because of their natural hair. One woman said that a supervisor once introduced another natural hair wearer to a client and said that she [the natural hair wearer] was having a “bad hair day.” 

“In my opinion, having naturally afro-textured hair is less about its texture and more about what it represents—culture,” says Smith, who founded Queen City Naturals in December 2010 and has a robust following on Facebook, where she shares tips on maintaining and styling, answers questions from newbies and posts reaffirming messages and video clips about natural hair.

“In the legal field, professionalism, civility and work ethic are always held in high regard," she says. "I feel very fortunate not to have to worry about my natural hair at my place of employment. My work speaks for itself and my hair is just a part of my personal make-up.”

Davis, who spent six and a half years with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber before pursuing her passion for hair styling, says that during a conversation with a friend from work about her transition to natural hair, she was cautioned against dreading her hair. 

“She knew that I had ambitious goals with regard to my career, and she didn't think it would be wise,” she says. “Unfortunately, she represents some of the people who are in the positions to control our careers. There’s nothing wrong with wearing your hair natural in the workplace. However, it needs to meet the professional criteria that your industry requires.”  

Moore says whether you face hair issues at work depends heavily on a company’s leadership and culture. 

Expressing power, culture, beauty
“I’m more than comfortable wearing my natural hair at work,” Moore says. “It’s who I am and does not take away from my performance. I’m confident wearing my natural style and I do not worry about what others say.”

Like Moore and Davis, Smith thinks today’s young professionals are using their hair to embrace different forms of self-expression and culture differences. 

“Many look for ways to share a bit of who they are,” she notes. “Black women who choose to wear perm-free or natural hair have made a deliberate choice to share a bit of their culture and who they are. They are proud, empowered and beautiful and expressing it to the world by way of their natural roots.”

Want to learn more about natural hair? Join the ’Nati Naturalistas Meetup group or visit the Queen City Naturals’ Facebook page. Don’t forget to check out Soapbox’s photo slideshow of local women and their natural ’dos.   

Aiesha Little is a freelance writer and editor in Cincinnati.

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