Naturally Right: Knox Black Women Join Hair Revolution

Article excerpt

Winning gold at the Olympic Games is an achievement of a lifetime. But for Gabby Douglas it was almost overshadowed by stories about her -- hair? A quick search of "Gabby Douglas hair" on Google renders an astounding 422,000 results.

At the start of the Summer Olympics, Douglas wore her hair in a not-so-coiffed ponytail, with clips and gel holding it in place. Her hairdo caused an uproar on social media, even making it to the national news. Before long she had secured the services of a professional stylist and her look dramatically changed.

Black women were either appalled by her disheveled look or angry for the misplaced focus on Douglas' hair rather than her athletic achievement. Either way, one thing remained clear: hair is important. And in the black community, the topic has historically been central to image.

Writers, professors and historians have long discussed the social, political and sexual aspects of women's hair. Some, like Tracey Owens Patton, University of Wyoming professor of African American and Diaspora Studies, would argue that a desire to obtain straight hair resulted from the influence of Anglo culture. Chemical relaxers were developed in the early 1900s to assist black women, whose hair is typically coarse, curly or both, in obtaining straight, manageable hair. Many relaxers contain lye, and the FDA warns that any relaxer has the potential to burn the skin, namely the scalp.

Gabby Douglas aside, hair is back in the news. Filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa presented a documentary on black women trading in their chemically processed hair for the natural look, focusing on her own decision to do the same. The film was featured in a New York Times story in May, noting that sales of chemical products had dropped 17% between 2006 and 2011 as evidence for a natural hair revolution.

A group of young women in Knoxville aren't only embracing this look, they're meeting together to discuss it.

Dasha Lundy, 32, of East Knoxville, decided to go natural in 2010. Chemical relaxers were causing her hair to thin.

"I watched the movie 'Good Hair' (a 2009 documentary by comedian Chris Rock) and they put the relaxer on a Coke can and it melted, and ever since I've been natural. I cut it and my hair has grown so much," said Lundy.

The thinning hair had affected her confidence and knowing she would need to cut her hair short in order to go natural left Lundy anxious and emotional. "When I cut my hair I cried, and you shouldn't be that way. You shouldn't be that attached," she admitted.

Eventually her angst gave way to a revelation that her hair had been excessively important to her. Lundy began to embrace her natural look.

"I felt liberated, and I'm not less attractive," she said.

Lundy once visited the salon every two months at $70 minimum per visit. Going natural has saved her money and time, but she warns the temptations to buy products and become focused on hair remains.

"Once you go natural you can become a product junky, and it can become frustrating. Everybody is marketing," she said.

Some of her inspiration to keep it real has been from the site curlynikki.com, but her real support comes from a group of friends who gather for a natural hair meet-up to bounce off ideas and enjoy camaraderie.

"People get discouraged and just give up. There's a need to have a meet-up to help others. We can be supportive. It's really about being healthy," she said.

At a recent meet-up among friends several of the women shared their journeys from relaxed to natural. …