‘Taking ownership of what we look like’: Natural-hair movement takes root

A girls sits in a salon chair as a man, woman and boy stand around her.
Melissa Taylor, owner of Beauty Lounge Minneapolis, gives tips about combing natural hair to Mark Myhre on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

“Right to the middle. Left to the middle. Right to the middle,” Mark Myhre called out commands to himself as he tried to get the feel for hair braiding at a local beauty salon.

An important client sat in his chair. Five-year-old daughter Nya likes her hair braided a certain way, and Myhre was focused on getting it right.

“She’s starting to get a sense of style,” Myhre said as he maneuvered Nya’s hair through his fingers. “She wants to do more.”

Myhre and other parents who gathered Sunday are part of a group of multiracial families learning to dress the natural hair of their adopted children. Myhre’s white, Nya’s black — and natural hair is becoming the fashion for African-American women.

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“Natural hair” means hair that hasn't been chemically straightened or relaxed. The style’s grown in popularity the past few years. That’s led to an information overload of YouTube videos and internet blogs — with a lot of trial and error and a need for hands-on help.

“I think for parents who have no point of reference with dealing with natural hair, they just don't know where to start. They're getting information thrown at them from every direction,” said Melissa Taylor, owner of the Beauty Lounge in Minneapolis who led Sunday’s class. “They just want to do a really good job and it can be really overwhelming for them.”

More black stylists in the Twin Cities are teaching natural-hair techniques. Taylor’s been doing hair for over 10 years but found a need to educate her clients on black natural hair. Although there's plenty of information online, It's hard for many to find education from professionals.

Wearing natural hair for many black people has not always been the norm.

Taylor said wearing your hair in its natural state has been a struggle, especially for black women. There's a need to assimilate into mainstream culture and look the part.

“It's Eurocentric. Let's just be honest. It's a very Eurocentric perspective,” she said. “It's not just America, it's any colonized country. We've had to subscribe to this colonizer's beauty standard in order to get access to things, in order to get jobs, in order to be seen as acceptable.”

As people began to wear their hair natural, it became more accepted, but access to learning tools were still pretty limited to online.

“For the longest time we've had to change our hair texture to fit into mainstream society,” she added. “Now we're reclaiming that power, but at the same time, it's hard because you've never had any experience with it.”

Taylor said she didn't learn much about black hair care in cosmetology school, only how to chemically relax it. Teaching Eurocentric styles remain the standard at most cosmetology schools.

The need for broader professional hair care education has pushed many other stylists to begin making it a priority.

“Now, I feel like as black women, we're taking ownership of what we look like again, and whatever that is,” said Dre Demry-Sanders, a local hair stylist who specializes in textured hair and has noticed the shift among her clients.

“Whatever you want, however you want to show up fully is how we're starting to do it now,” she said, “and consequently it's showing up natural.”

A woman touches holds her hands on head as another woman works on her hair
Hair stylist Dre Demry-Sanders works on client Nicole Parrot-Wilson’s hair on Tuesday at her studio suite at Sola Salon Studios in Minneapolis.
Tarkor Zehn | MPR News

Demry-Sanders designed a monthly subscription for her clients, the Reflecting Beauty Cooperative, to create consistency with their hair care routine.

Members pay a monthly fee for hair services and education.

“Just like everything else — you go to the doctor, you tell the doctor what your body's feeling and then the doctor does what it needs to do,” she said.

“Same thing with hair. Tell me how your hair is doing and I can figure out where the issues are and how to make solutions for them.”

Her client, Nicki Parrot Wilson, started to learn how to do her natural hair online just like many black women who decided to go natural. She learned a lot, but found having a regular stylist who specializes in natural hair care invaluable.

“You can do all of the YouTube dives you want, you're never going to find someone with your identical curl pattern, curl density — all the things that make your hair unique,” Wilson said. “So, it's good to have someone who has worked on hair like yours and then has worked on your hair on a consistent basis who can give you recommendations and suggestions and give you feedback.”

Taylor believes black natural hair education should be standard, and more people should have access to resources beyond what’s online.

“The same way we treat straight hair with that respect and we go into the science of straight hair and we understand the way that the bonds are and all of those things,” she said. “The same respect is due to natural hair.”