Catherine Paige never thought twice about the decision to stop using relaxers and other chemicals in her hair.
Although she had used various chemicals and experimented with numerous styles for the better part of two decades, Paige concluded there was nothing wrong with the hair she naturally inherited.
The mirror didn’t lie either, going natural looked good. It also felt good, Paige said.
The Carlisle resident has adopted a theme that seems to be catching on in many African-American communities: More black women are opting to go natural — with styles ranging from afros of varying lengths to braids and locs — rather than applying sodium hydroxide and other chemicals to their hair.
The switch to natural didn’t bring any complaints from Paige’s husband of 29 years, Victor. “He encouraged it,” she said.
It couldn’t hurt that the savings realized from not purchasing various hair products and regularly visiting salons could be better used, said Paige, who estimated her savings to be more than $200 per month.
Change in style
A recent report issued by the New York-based consumer spending and market research firm, Mintel, said black women are increasingly moving away from products that chemically relax or straighten their hair.
About 36 percent of black women surveyed in 2011 quit using chemical products, according to Mintel. That was up from about 25 percent the year before and, at the same time, sales of relaxer kits dropped more than 17 percent, Mintel reported.
Terrie O’Neal, the owner of Carlisle’s Visions of You Hair Salon at 138 N. Hanover St., said she first noticed the natural hair trend about a year ago.
“I think it’s wonderful,” O’Neal said.
The trend has just as much to do with the ease which women can maintain their natural hair as it does economics, she added.
“If not properly cared for, a relaxer can do some damage to the hair so some think going natural is easier. It’s not for everyone, but I’m considering going natural, too,” O’Neal said, as she touched up the natural hairstyle of long time client and Carlisle resident Evette Carbone.
“The older you get, the more you really don’t want to mess with your hair,” Carbone said. “Before going natural, I had to use a blow dryer, flat iron and a curling iron. In today’s economy, you have to be savvy and smart, and going natural saves a lot of money.”
Most, like Carbone and Paige, who have experienced styles such as the bouffant, the bob, wrap, curl set and pixie, haven’t regretted going natural.
“The biggest thing is that black women don’t really know their hair,” said Paige, who went with the natural style 3 years ago. “Most are afraid of it. But, it (knowing one’s hair) is a process and you have to educate yourself.”
That education includes how to treat natural hair, said Paige, who uses drops of vitamin E, shea oil, virgin olive oil, tea-tree oil and grape seed oil to help keep her natural hair healthy.
Going natural also is, in some ways, a nod to the African American heritage, Paige’s 17-year-old daughter, Ciéra Paige said. “You’re being true… going natural is being true to your hair,” she said.
The new hair trend has also stirred a great deal of celebrity and media interest.
Recently, popular African American magazines such as Essence have been featuring more women who have gone natural.
Hollywood’s ideology of the long and straight-haired women has also taken a backseat to the new style as an array of image conscious celebrities and statement-making fashionistas have turned to the look that have many remembering the pre-modern day black woman.
Best Actress nominee Viola Davis created a stir earlier this year during a red carpet appearance at the Academy Awards when she sported a short, amber-hued afro.
“My husband wanted me to take the wig off,” Davis told InStyle magazine. “He said, ‘If you want to wear it for your career, that’s fine, but in your life wear your hair. Step into who you are!’ It’s a powerful statement.”
Where once unacceptable — in 1981 the U.S. Supreme Court sided with American Airlines who fired a flight attendant because they said her corn rolls hairstyle was “too ethnic” — Americans now are embracing the natural look.
Motion pictures and television shows have also tackled the issue, most notably in the 2009 film, “Good Hair,” where comedian Chris Rock poked fun at the various ways in which black women used chemicals in their hair.
Rock’s film, which Carbone credits with leading her to decide to go natural, highlighted the various natural styles women could have such as the teeny-weeny afro, coils, braids, twists, locs and dreadlocks.
The comedian showed how many black women regularly stressed over their hair styles and he set out to counter the ideology that straight hair equated to being good looking while wearing a natural style was reflective of an unkempt or unprofessional women.
“I know of one girl who lost who she was because of her hair,” Catherine Paige said. “If she couldn’t have a weave in her hair, she couldn’t go out in public.”
What ultimately changed her friend’s perception?
“It started with the first hair-cut. It liberated her,” Paige said. Also, one of the better compliments, Paige said, is when it is realized how many different styles a person can wear with the natural look.
“But, the best complement is flattery,” Ciéra Paige said. “When I go to school and I’m told how cute my hair is every day. Everything revolves around hair for women. Hair becomes a way of life.”