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Students brush off natural hair styling stigmas

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Aryn Plax
News Editor

Misty Levingston, assistant director of multicultural affairs, teamed up with iSlay Naturals to host the event Natural Hair Journeys, Wednesday in room B101 of the Athletics Pavilion.

Levingston and iSlay Naturals co-founder Jacqueline Ashley came up with the idea when they talked about their own experiences with styling their hair naturally at this year’s Diversity Retreat.

“I’m going through my own natural hair journey,” Levingston said.

For black people, particularly black women, styling their hair in ways that allow them to maintain its natural textures comes with certain stigma, because such styles do not conform to European-centric norms, Ashley, doctorate student of organizational leadership said. Thus, a “natural hair journey” refers to the experience of embracing and learning to work with one’s natural hair type.

Ashley and iSlay Naturals co-founder Ericka Taylor presented their experiences with the natural hair movement.

Taylor said she stumbled upon it nine years ago, when she stopped straightening her hair and started following YouTubers and bloggers who gave advice on how to take care of curly-textured hair. Many of the bloggers had small platforms when Taylor first found them, and the natural hair movement has since grown, she said.

“A lot of those same bloggers are getting paid on YouTube through sponsorships,” Taylor said.

Ashley has been part of the natural hair movement for five years. She attended Clark Atlanta University for her undergraduate education and Texas Southern University for her master’s degree.

Since both were historically black colleges, she said that transferring to the University of La Verne resulted in a culture shock.

“In my program and in my year, I was one of three black students,” Ashley said.

Ashley added that non-black students have asked her insensitive questions about her hair.

“They don’t know how ignorant it sounds,” she said.

Ashley and Taylor picked freshman Kiana Gonzalez as the subject for their demonstration of the “Wash and Go” hairstyle. The style is something only done on wet hair, Taylor said.

Throughout the demonstration, Taylor and Ashley talked about the hair products used for this style – in this case, Mielle Organics styling gel – and answered audience members’ questions on hair care.

For example, Ashley explained porosity levels in hair. Hair with a high porosity level gains and loses moisture quickly, while hair with a low porosity level retains moisture for a long time. Looser curl patterns need to use lighter products.

Levingston, Taylor and Ashley hosted a discussion with students, asking if they had felt discrimination in a professional environment, have had people touch their hair without their permission, and if “going natural” was rewarding to them. They also asked if students thought that the natural hair movement was inclusive enough to people with curlier hair types.

“A lot of bloggers are not Type 4 hair,” Ashley said.

Hair types range from Type 1, straight hair, to Type 4, tightly coiled hair.

Curly hair requires more care than straight hair because the strands coil around themselves and are more prone to breaking and tangling, Taylor said.

Oil from one’s scalp takes longer to travel down curly hair strands than straight ones. Thus, curly hair requires fewer washings and more conditioning.

Gracyn Brown, junior criminology major and secretary for Sigma Gamma Rho, learned about the event from an email that Levingston sent to the Black Student Union and her sorority.

“Because the campus doesn’t have a particularly strong black community in terms of size, we’re for anything that brings the black community together on campus,” Brown said.

Brown added that she started “going natural” three years ago when she could no longer get perms, a long-lasting chemical process used to straighten curly hair.

She said that she used braids as long as she could, however, her hairstyles prompted questions from those who did not understand how she maintained it.

A common experience among black people who embrace natural hair is the tendency for non-black people to want to touch their hair, Brown said.

“It’s kind of a joke in black communities,” Brown said. “We know it’s not meant to be invasive, but it is. It makes me feel alien.”

Taylor Payne, senior sociology major, helped Levingston advertise the event.

Payne said she started using relaxers, or chemicals that straighten your hair for three to four weeks, when she was 13. She was told she had to be careful when using relaxers.

“If these chemicals get in your scalp, it would literally burn your scalp,” Payne said.

Nine months ago, she stopped using relaxers when her boyfriend told her to stop using the “creamy crack.”

“Stop caring about what everybody thinks and go natural,” Payne’s boyfriend said to her.

At the end of the event, the first 20 students to attend received free giveaway bags that contained various hair products, including Cantu leave-in conditioner and Miss Jessie’s Curly Meringue.

Aryn Plax can be reached at aryn.plax@laverne.edu.

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