SPECIAL REPORT: Natural Hair Revolution
COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Curly...kinky...spiraled... crowns, is how some local women describe their hair.
More and more African American women are embracing their natural tresses, but with change sometimes comes controversy.
Hair texture and controversy seem to go hand in hand. Who can forget the media uproar when radio personality Don Imus described a group of African American athletes' hair as "nappy" and called them derogatory names.
And in recent years in Shreveport, La., former Meteorologist Rhonda Lee was allegedly fired for defending her natural hairstyle on Facebook. after a viewer demanded she wear a wig.
In Orlando, Fla., a 12 year-old student was reportedly threatened with expulsion if she did not cut her self-described "puffy" hair.
At what cost are African American women paying to fit in? Statistics show women of color contribute around 30 percent to the multi-billion dollar hair industry, spending six times as much as other races.
"Our perception of beauty, I think, that we really have to embrace who we are," says Deborah Dukes, mother of two.
Dukes says she had enough of not knowing who she was. At a young age, Dukes chemically straightened her thick locks.
A few years ago, she started growing her natural hair out, which is referred to as transitioning. Then, one day she decided it was time to let go by cutting off her hair. She says she took one look in the mirror and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh...Where are the curls?"
Another obstacle that African American women face is that most curly, kinky, coils do not reflect light but instead refracts it, giving off sheen instead of a shine.
Dukes says the lack of sleek, shiny curls can cause an overwhelming fear of rejection.
"I know a lot of people are nervous about how they may look. Some people they're not going to be accepted into the corporate world," she says.
A Columbus employment recruiter with decades of experience says hairstyles may disqualify job candidates.
"Someone actually said, 'It's really hard for me to concentrate and look at her with her hair,'" says the recruiter. She goes on to explain, "If they don't choose them, I'll say, I thought that they would have been a good fit and she would say, 'I'm really put off by the hair.' We've had that on more than one occasion."
Dukes says someone's hair should not determine whether or not they are an asset to a company.
"You want someone on your team who's confident about who they are, because once they start doing that work they're going to start showing the same attributes. They're confident in their work. They didn't hide to get in there."
Raymond Torregano lll, owner of Rhythm Hair Studio in Columbus, says not all women who have natural wear it curly.
"We've learned that we can get the straight look without the chemical, which keeps the cuticle thicker, which keeps the strength of it stronger. We're getting longer and stronger hair being relaxer-free. And no woman doesn't want longer and stronger hair," says Torregano.
He continues, "The natural hair revolution has been going on for years and believe it or not, many people are looking to the White House as the reason this hair train shows no signs of slowing down…They literally came in the salon with pictures of [Michelle Obama] saying I want Michelle Obama movement. I want Michelle Obama fullness. I want her hair."
Dukes says she, like many African American women, had no clue what her natural hair texture looked like.
"When you go natural it kind of feels like you've been born again."
Like a newborn, Dukes had to learn how to take care of her hair. She says the revolution was not televised... it was streamed. Thousands of women come to Youtube every day to watch hair tutorials. Some even call it the holy grail of how-to, DIY curls.
"You're constantly being updated on new products, new hairstyles, new trends. I found it being a whole community that I can actually relate to," says Dukes.
She even got in on the action by starting her own Youtube channel. She now makes video's in the living room of her Columbus home.
"People think it's a trend but I don't believe so I do believe this is the new normal," she says.
And the new normal may be slowly but surely changing the way people view each other. The employment recruiter says in recent years more companies are starting to accept natural hair styles than ever before.
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