Fernanda accepted her curls and started showing her looks on her blog
The topic of hair has long been as issue and a hot topic of discussion in the African-American community. There is often much strife, doubt and conflict that comes along with a black woman trying to decide how she will wear her hair. Although the Black Power Movement of the late 60s and early 70s briefly saw black women proudly wearing their hair in large afros ala Angela Davis and Pam Grier, this era didn’t last long and the vast majority of African-American women again began straightening and relaxing their hair. In deciding how they would wear their hair, black women had to consider what was acceptable in the workplace, what was aesthetically pleasing to black men and their peers and still consider what was best for the health of their hair.
In Brazil, this was also the case. Until very recently, there was never even a question as to what type of hair was considered attractive. If you had straight hair (cabelo liso), you had “good hair” (cabelo bom); if you had nappy/kinky hair (cabelo duro, cabelo pixaim, cabelo crespo), you had “bad hair” (cabelo ruim). There was no question or debate because everyone, black, white or anywhere in between accepted this standard. The interesting thing about Brazil is that even those women who African-Americans would consider to have had “good hair” of the loosely curled variety didn’t necessarily like their hair. Again, the standard was straight hair. Either you had it or you didn’t.
The past decade has brought about many changes in the way that Afro-Brazilians see themselves. In reality, the roots of the new Brazilian-styled black pride is an extension of the early to mid-1970s era when inspiring images of James Brown, the Jackson 5, Aretha Franklin, the Wattstax documentary and blaxploitation films began to permeate black circles in Brazil. For Afro-Brazilians that lived in large, urban cities of the country, the “black and proud” images of their distant cousins in the United States sparked a sense of self-esteem that had never previously existed. In the 21st century, this self-esteem is leading many black Brazilian women to accept their natural kinks, curls and waves in numbers that didn’t seem possible only a few decades ago.
Journalist and author of the blog So Shopaholic (in Portuguese), Fernanda Alves, 26, publishes her looks in her blog and displays with pride her voluminous, curly hair, which was not always like this. “I started relaxing my hair at the age of 10. I spent my childhood and adolescence with it almost straight”, she says. At the time, Fernanda saw chemicals as a way to “tame” her locks, and only in adulthood did she understand that he didn’t need to do this to have beautiful hair (Fernanda’s hair journey is common in Brazil. See here for another example).
After showing her natural curls on the blog, she became an inspiration for other girls. “I get e-mail from readers asking what people will say if they leave their hair natural, if they will think that they are a mess in the workplace. There is prejudice, an idea that curly hair is uncontrollable”, she says.
Accepting a physical feature that was once viewed as a defect depends on a dose of self-esteem. And while it is clear in theory, in practice it is not so obvious how one improves self-esteem. “From when does a teenager see themselves in this way? Why does this start? These are the points we try to discover and work on”, explains psychologist Bruno Vaz. According to the professional, the first step to take in accepting oneself is understanding why there is difficulty in liking oneself.
* – Article is a collaboration between the author and Nathália Ilovatte whose piece was translated from the original Portuguese.