Au naturale

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Whitney Patterson is the co-founder of Sporty Afros, a blog designed to help women maintain their health and hair. The site offers healthy recipes and tips for women going natural. Photo credit: Myca Williamson
Gavanne Davis always loved to dance. But she knew becoming a dancer probably wouldn’t pay the bills.

So today, Davis is a cosmetic chemist who studies the science behind natural hair and the products used to enhance its natural beauty.

The New Orleans native had always been inspired by the image of the natural dancer, which was composed of a beautiful black woman who embraced her big, natural locks.

“Why are people so afraid of being who they really are?” asked Davis after “going natural” over three years ago.

The phrase “going natural” refers to the process of growing out the hair that is not processed or chemically altered. The most common form is a perm, short for permanent, which uses sodium hydroxide to straighten out naturally textured hair. For some, “going natural” means wearing an Afro, natural curls or braids. Whatever the style, the widespread trend has women getting rid of their straightened tresses and welcoming their God-given kinks.

For many stylists that specialize in chemically treating African American hair, adapting to other styling techniques outside the use of “creamy crack”, otherwise known as a relaxer or perm, can be trying. According to owner of Studio 5012 Ryan Johnson, the only stylists that really struggle with the natural movement are the ones that don’t have the skill set to keep up with current trends. However, the Deep Ellum hairdresser is far from affected.

The natural trend “has just expanded my arsenal of different skills,” he said.

Stylists are not the only ones who have had to make changes to their normal routines. Women that are transitioning to their natural hair often state not wanting to “sweat out”, their hair as one of the main reasons they have difficulty with maintaining an active lifestyle. The phrase “sweat out” means getting newly straightened hair wet from sweat produced during physical activity.

“You have to make a choice to put your health over your hair,” said Whitney Patterson, co-founder of Sporty Afros, a blog dedicated to enabling women to lead an active lifestyle in conjunction with maintaining healthy hair.

Sporty Afros offers resources on hair care, exercise and nutrition for black women and addresses the obstacles they face when it comes to their health.

“We are dedicated to connecting the dots between health and hair care,” Patterson said.

Patterson and her partner Alexandria Williams offer manageable workout hair care solutions and they are major proponents of wigs as protective hairstyles. However, Patterson stressed the importance of also having a healthy diet.

“I was a fast food connoisseur,” Patterson joked about her previous lifestyle.

Because food has such a cultural significance in the black community, Patterson said, black women and men experience hardship when it comes to changing their diet.

According to Johnson, the reason many women make the transition to their natural kinks is simply because they’ve had a traumatic experience with a poorly trained hairdresser or a self-applied perm. However, while “going natural” means fewer chemicals, it doesn’t necessarily mean less money. Products used to treat natural hair, which include leave-in conditioners and organic oils, can range from $20 – $50 per container.

“Natural doesn’t mean low cost or no maintenance,” he said. “It can be almost just the opposite.”

The African American hair industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Walk into any beauty supply store or major grocery store and there is often an entire section solely dedicated to ethnic hair.

According to Davis, however, you can’t be sure about some of the products on the shelves. Many of the perms often sit for months and can make you physically ill if not applied properly. Not to mention, most of the black hair products are made my white and Indian men.

“Who are they to make products for me?” Davis said.

Davis’ goal is to launch a global cosmetic brand that consumers can trust.

“I’m glad we are redefining beauty using our own natural features,” said Layla Gulley, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University who is in the process of transitioning to her natural hair.

Like the majority of young girls in the black community, Gulley had been getting perms since she was about 5 years old. From a very tender age young black girls are subjected to the excruciating pain of a relaxer burning their scalp.

“I had never seen my natural hair except in baby pictures,” said Patterson.

While it has taken some women decades to unveil the luscious locks beneath their chemically processed hair, Davis says it’s never too late to make the change.

“You’re missing the beauty of accepting yourself.”

Myca Williamson is a sophomore from Garland, TX, studying Journalism, Fashion Media and French at Southern Methodist University.

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