Seeking an authentic look, how Black women are using their hair to spread a message of beauty | KLRT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The world is changing and accepting more things, and hair is one of them.

Some women may stray away from wearing natural hairstyles, but Little Rock hairstylist Alisha Davis pushes to change the narrative in Black hair care.

Davis is the owner of Real Natural Salon in Little Rock. She jumped on a slow movement in central Arkansas in 2010, but fast forward 12 years and she is booked and busy with a clientele of all age groups seeking an authentic look.

“Oh, I got a waitlist, I got about two or three people texting me now wanting appointments,” Davis noted.

However, she also said that there are clients who face challenges.

“I’m learning how to love myself and how I look because it’s a different look for me and I struggle with it some days,” client Kinsey Williams said.

The struggle is real. Dr. Cherisse Jones Branch explained that history taught Black women to choose straight hair over natural.

“African descendent women with African hair, African features, were somehow less attractive, not beautiful, inferior,” Branch said. “Beauty, by large in this country for a long time, has been set by a very westernized standard- which typically means Eurocentric features and hair.”

At the turn of the 20th century, Black women were encouraged, even in their own communities, to straighten their crown and glory. Companies selling hair products would run ads in Black-owned newspapers making condescending remarks on natural hair. 

One 1889 ad shows a before and after sketch of what a product claimed to do – making stubborn hair grow long, straight, soft, pliable and glossy.

Branch said it was interesting that the ad described natural hair as unmanageable, kinky, unattractive and unruly, noting that those words suggest that if you don’t have straight hair, your hair is a problem. This is a belief that society has combed over for generations, often denying people of color jobs if their hair was natural. Now, the issue is how some Black women feel about their real hair.

“I’ll get some people to come in here and bash their own hair, and I’ll say no, we don’t do nappy hair,” Davis said. “We say natural, and it’s supposed to look like that.”

Branch believes that deep-seated attitudes can’t be brushed off.

“It does take some time to undo that messaging we have received since we were little girls,” she said.

Though there may be clients who struggle with their natural hair journey, people like Nia Robinson hear a different message, loving her thick, long locks.

“It’s a look you can’t get anywhere else. We have a style that straight hair can’t get. You have to be natural,” Robinson stressed.

She joins a long list of Black women who’ve embraced the image in the mirror and are encouraging others to do the same.

Davis agrees that while these styles may not be for everyone, the message is. Beauty comes in a variety of hair textures.

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