The natural hair conversation is something I have taken part in for almost ten years. I waved goodbye to chemical relaxers and never looked back at 19 years old. Since then, I have seen the movement continuously grow as more and more Black women across the world have embraced their natural hair.
While embracing my natural hair was met with support and encouragement here in the UK, I found the reaction in Nigeria to be quite the opposite. Going to a hair salon in Kaduna while I was transitioning from relaxed to natural hair, I remember the stylist complaining that she couldn’t do my hair. My roots were a little tough as there was plenty of new growth and she didn’t want to deal with it. Instead of finding a way to work with my hair as it was, she proceeded to complain and tried to convince me to just relax my hair anyways. I wasn’t having any of it. I was on my natural hair journey and I wasn’t about to stop it because of one woman’s complaint. I later found a hairstylist in Abuja who had not only gone natural herself but was also encouraging of my process and knew how to handle my hair appropriately.
Although wearing your natural hair is not a foreign concept in Nigeria, it was still a slightly radical idea at that time. Straight styles are seen as more professional and appropriate, while natural hair is sometimes seen as “village” hair and unkempt, despite being the hair that’s coming straight out of your head. Nigerian women of all social backgrounds will spend money on weaves and extensions because that’s what society has taught them is more appealing. But over the years, thanks to the rise of social media and as the world has become more connected, more and more women have embraced their natural hair. On the streets of Abuja and Lagos, it may not seem as though it’s always the case, due to women covering their hair with hijabs, head ties or even weaves and extensions. But underneath all those accessories could be a curly head of hair.
Despite the growth of the movement over the years, as a Muslim woman, I am aware of the absence of women like myself. When I first made the decision to go natural, there was an abundance of information teaching me about black hair care. However, when it comes to those of us that cover our heads on a regular basis, I have noticed the major gap in the natural hair community. Black Muslim women are missing. Whether it be in advertising, forums or at conventions, there is a large scarcity.
Although online content exists from Black Muslim women discussing managing their hair, there is more of a focus on how to style hijabs and turbans with your natural hair. When our hair is covered all day, it is at risk of experiencing dryness and sweat, causing breakage if not taken care of properly. It would be great to have videos on actual haircare.
We also need to be wise in the actual scarves we use to cover our hair. The fabric can contribute to unnecessary hair loss and further breakage. In addition, before our daily ritual prayers, we have to perform ablution which involves putting our hair in contact with water. This raises yet another concern. Because of these everyday factors, it is vital that more Black Muslim women are included in the conversation. We have to treat our hair different than other Black women.
I understand that there are limitations in the way in which Black Muslim women can be showcased in the natural hair conversation. However, we need to be given the same exposure. Put on the same platforms. Be considered when we are having this conversation. The onus should not be on non-Muslim natural hair influencers to make Black Muslim women feel included. It would be refreshing to see an image like myself projected in natural hair campaigns and advertising.
It was only at the beginning of 2018 that L’Oreal made history as they cast the first hijab-wearing model in a hair campaign. Despite not being able to see her hair, casting model Amena Khan showed there is value in representing diverse voices. It was a necessary statement supported by a global brand. Seeing more campaigns like this and Black Muslim women in the future will hopefully correct common misconceptions about Muslim women and their hair.
When it comes to the natural hair conversation, I hope to see more women who look like me in campaigns. Natural hair brands need to make an effort in diversifying their campaigns to reach a larger audience. It is an entire untapped demographic for these brands. Black Muslim women would greatly benefit from hearing hair care tips from natural hair enthusiasts going through similar daily experiences.