The Curly Corner

The Year of the Afro: The Natural Hair Movement of the 1970s

Destiny Johnson | 2/1/2017, 12:35 p.m.
Following the riotous 1960s where lasting political and cultural changes defined the decade, Black Americans, formerly known as “Negroes”, were ...

Following the riotous 1960s where lasting political and cultural changes defined the decade, Black Americans, formerly known as “Negroes”, were redefining their identity. This sudden surge of pride for being a Black American was especially visible in the new natural styles such as Afros and cornrows. Prior to natural hairstyles spilling into the new Black American aesthetic, Black men and women went to great lengths to straighten and style their hair to assimilate into the Eurocentric beauty standard. Using perms and heat straightening techniques, their natural tight curls and kinks were temporarily hidden to make way for longer, straighter, manageable hair.

Following the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960s, Black people began to take more pride in both their communities and appearance. Praising the natural texture of African-American hair was more socially acceptable. Men and women wore “Afros” or “Naturals” to visually represent their connection to their ancestral roots in West Africa.

Natural hair was now a political statement by revealing your allegiance to Black culture and people. Natural hair was also an act of rebellion against Western beauty standards that required women to have long, straight hair. Men and women who wore their hair natural were now more concerned with having healthy, voluminous tight curls that characterized African-American hair. In addition to Afros, braids, puffs and other styles that avoided heat and chemicals were also trendy.

Many Black leaders, politicians and celebrities at the time wore their hair natural as well. The famous Jackson 5, a legendary boyband, sported thick Afros that helped to define their look during the early part of their career. The Black Panthers and even politicians such as Jesse Jackson, wore Afros to further reveal their alignment with Black Civil Rights and culture.

In the 1970s, Black was definitely beautiful and the Black community’s acceptance of natural hair became one of the most defining moments of the decade. Although the larger American society did not yet acknowledge Afrocentric beauty as the standard, Black men and women were now more confident than ever in their appearance. For the first time in centuries, natural African hair was not considered ugly, dirty or unkempt. African hair was appealing all by itself without manipulation.

The natural hair movement of the late 2000s and 2010s was also a response to the return of Eurocentric beauty ideals seeping into the Black Beauty Standard. Black women were once again tired of manipulating their hair, often with damaging results, to emulate a hair type that they did not naturally have. The natural hair movement of today is certainly more inclusive, since now women with curly or wavy hair also want to wear their hair how it grows naturally without heat straightening or the use of chemicals.

The natural hair movement of the 1970s set the tone for decades to come. Black beauty is now more diverse than it had ever been. Having natural hair is now essential to highlighting your pride in your West African roots. In accordance, natural hair may have begun as a tend almost 45 years ago, but now it is a lifestyle meant to revitalize the love Black people must have for our hair, our communities and ourselves.

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