Stanford alumna emphasizes the political and social importance of natural hair

July 29, 2021, 8:14 p.m.

How would you describe your relationship to your hair? 

Well, attendees at the virtual “A Hair Affair” event hosted by Roxy Reaves ’16 on Wednesday gave a range of responses. 

“Tumultuous,” “impulsive” and “negligent” were all words used. A few responses mentioned their mom as a major player in the participants’ hair life. Reaves empathized and expanded on their points. 

Reaves, the founder and CEO of Coastal Curl, an eco-friendly salon experience for people with textured hair, highlighted hair’s biological, historical and social significance at the virtual event hosted by the Stanford Young Alumni Bay Area club. Reaves graduated from the Cinda Aveda Institute for cosmetology, and soon after graduating she founded Coastal Curl because she was frustrated with how “confusing, unpleasant and expensive” it was to take care of her natural hair. 

“It’s interesting to think about how other people’s influence impacts our relationship with our own head,” Reaves said. 

The ongoing natural hair movement encourages Black women to embrace their natural kinky hair texture. It’s a global initiative that pushes back against Eurocentric standards of beauty, Reaves said.

“The political history and the social importance of hair, particularly in the United States, has a lot to do with what we have been messaged and internalized around beauty status, wealth and what is desirable,” she said. “And so much of that comes rooted in white supremacy.”

Hairstyling dates back to 1550 B.C. in ancient Egypt, according to Reaves. Egyptians had different hair rituals and styles that changed depending on their social classes. Wig-making was popular among elite and Socratic classes of men and women, Reaves said. 

“They even designed rules around who could wear certain styles of hair,” she added. 

Much later, a 1786 New Orleans law stipulated Creole women of color had to wear tignons, a large piece of material wrapped around the head to cover their hair, in public. Even after the law was repealed, Black women reclaimed the headpiece. 

A similar process of reclamation occurred in the 1960s as the Black Power movement ushered in a reclamation of Black pride and self-determination. Natural hair became a symbol of power, and the natural hair movement was born. 

“Black culture continually turns those lemons into lemonade,” Reaves said. 

The natural hair movement is not just confined to history. On Jan. 1, 2020, California instituted the CROWN Act, which protects people from discrimination at work and school for their hair. Other states have since followed up with their own versions of the CROWN Act. Reaves referenced a study finding that Black women face the highest instances of hair discrimination

“We have seen that blonde yellowish hair, fair skin and blue eyes has been this global standard of beauty that has been promoted by major media publications worldwide,” Reaves said. “The natural hair movement seems like part of a pushback against that across the world.”

Iliana Garner was a Stanford Multimedia Program Participant.

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