New App Celebrates the Beauty of Black Women’s Hair
I grew up studying ballet, which meant slicking my natural curls back into a tight ballerina bun. It isn’t a hairstyle that is easily achieved for dancers with tightly coiled or kinky hair—chemical straighteners or flat irons are essential to achieve the look. But I did it because it was expected, and I didn’t want to stand out from the other mostly white dancers. I often found myself looking at my straight-haired peers and asking, “How can I get my hair to look like hers?”
That’s just one example of the way narrow standards of beauty make women of African descent feel like they need to alter their hair texture. “We’re still passing on these kinds of messages about Eurocentric beauty as being the acceptable mainstream sign of beauty,” Patrice Grell Yursik, the creator of the natural hair and beauty blog Afrobella, told TakePart.
“I interact with a lot of women who still believe or have been taught that natural hair is not acceptable for a corporate workplace,” Yursik said. “I think when you’re starting out in the corporate world, a lot of the women around you might encourage you to straighten your hair for the job interview or, you know, then surprise people with your natural hair once you’re established in a workplace.”
That’s what makes a new social app, Tress—the latest community for sharing and finding information and inspiration about hairstyles—so appealing to black and mixed-race women. Launched earlier this year by Ghana-based software developer Priscilla Hazel, the app gives its 50,000 users a supportive space to share product tips and hairstyle ideas.
“Black women are the people who spend the most amount of money on their hair,” Hazel told Newsweek in December. “In fact, black women spend over nine times more on their hair than any other race in the world.”
The value of the black hair care industry is estimated at as much as $500 billion. “The reason that so many women around the world spend money, the way that the black community does on hair is because it is something that is handed down to us, and we are taught culturally that it is of extreme paramount importance to take care of and to maintain the beauty of your hair.”
“It is a hallmark of our beauty. It is something that goes back to the roots of our history, where it is a cultural practice—of how we know how to style and create different looks for our hair,” said Yursik.
The early 2000s saw a surge of natural-hair message-board communities, such as Naturally Curly’s Curlmunity and Nappturality. “I think more and more of us do feel free from the shame, but it is still there. It’s still in our community. It’s still in the way that some of us speak about our hair or treat our hair,” said Yursik.
Through her blog, Yursik teaches and spreads a message of inclusion and self-love no matter what style a woman chooses. “I would like to think that we are moving toward a judgment-free time where if you choose to wear your hair straight or to rock a weave, it’s not my place to judge you because I wear natural hair,” Yursik said.
The great thing about new apps like Tress, she said, is that as an online community, “you can take it anywhere with you.” As a result, black women with natural hair who live in less diverse parts of the world don’t feel as isolated.
“This really takes me back to that history of us celebrating our natural hair on our own terms and sharing information. Just, ‘Here’s what I’m doing; here’s my look today; cheer me on; let me know that I’m beautiful, and I’m going to do the same for you,’ ” Yursik said. Because, at the end of the day, black women are free to make different choices with their hair, and “there’s no reason to judge each other’s beauty.”