Big chop. Pre-poo. Protective styles. To the average person, these words may not mean much. But to a natural, these words are a way of life – the natural-hair life.
Women, men and children from across the Mid-South came together on July 27th and 28th at the Memphis Cook Convention Center for the 2nd Annual Naturals in the City Hair and Wellness Expo, hosted by A Natural Affair Salon.
A one-day hair show in its inaugural year, this year's expo was a two-day event complete with seminars and workshops by industry professionals, including Jenelle Stewart, Editor in Chief of Kinky Curly Coily Me!, holistic health expert Dr. Nina Ellis-Hervey and national makeup artist and Memphis native, Nikki Chanel of TeamFaceGyrl.
In the African-American community, the term "natural" means to be free of chemicals that manipulate the natural state of the hair pattern. Chemicals in these straightening or relaxing agents can include alkaline or lye, which can be harmful if used improperly or too often. For A Natural Affair Salon owner Takeisha Brooks, that damage is what drove her to the lifestyle.
"When I first started doing natural hair, I had a relaxer. My clients wanted to know, 'when are you going to practice what you preach?'" Brooks, who opened A Natural Affair in 2009, said what made her go ahead and take the step to be natural was that the last relaxer she did herself burned her so bad. "I had pus and blood coming out of my skin. I went for it and never turned back."
Women who sport natural hair have a plethora of style options, including flat-twists and coils and even locs. Because it is also somewhat of a holistic approach to hair care, many naturals limit the amount of heat and eliminate products containing ingredients such as mineral oil, petrolatum and isopropyl alcohol.
Despite the potential benefits – various hairstyles, easier maintenance, reduced hair care costs – natural hair doesn't come without criticism. Strange looks and phrases such as "Natural doesn't mean nappy," and "Natural isn't for everyone," have been seen and heard by many adopting the lifestyle.
Thanks to social media, and events such as the expo, women have access to tutorials and guidance. More importantly, they have support from a community that has endured natural hair struggles of their own. With Youtube channels from self-made natural hair experts such as BlkIsBeautyful, GlamSwagger and BeautifulBrwnBabyDol, women are able to learn from and communicate with individuals who openly share their natural-hair journey.
Twenty-three year-old Adrienna Brown, who traveled to the expo from Jonesboro, Ark., remembers being one of those women who frowned upon natural hair in 2006. Now having reached her first full year being natural, she is thankful for the community of online support.
"When I decided to do it (go natural) I had Youtube, Twitter and Facebook to utilize," said Brown. "Social media is definitely vital in the natural hair community."
Being natural is more than a phase or a fad. It's a commitment to healthy living. As she wrapped up the 2013 Naturals in the City Expo, Brooks playfully rubbed her half-shaven/half-braided natural mane.
"It can be for anyone. You can't look at everybody's hair and think that because your hair is not that way, that you shouldn't be natural. You have to learn to embrace what you have, and do what you can with what you have."
(For more information on natural hair services, visit www.ANaturalAffair.com."
(Follow her on Twitter: @NicTheEditor.)