Although her career as a professional Hairstylist never took off, Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, still enjoys braiding hair. That becomes very clear when watching her create Bantu knots and sculpting locs for a couple of her friends in a video shared by vogue magazine.
Disappointed by the African braiders in New York, the natural haired actress made sure she learned how to braid when she went home one summer and got trained by an aunt who owned a hair salon in Kenya. Without the hearth to ask for money her idea to make hair braiding her side hustle flew out the window when she returned to her film and theatre studies in Boston but the love for natural hairstyling only evolved. The gifted student naturally refined her craft by styling her friends’ hair during the weekends just for fun.
The way Lupita approaches each head in the video, the way she smiles while braiding and talks about African hair is more than joyful to watch. The love for her own natural hair texture expressed in those two and a half minutes, the meticulousness with which she takes care of each head as well as her delight, sends a message and is an experience the Western world had yet to see.
Styles like Bantus, dreadlocks and cornrows are usually presented as an exotic anomaly in the fashion industry. The rare times that we get to see them the naturally Black styles are created on straight hair because models with Lupita’s hair texture are a rarity in the western world of beauty. A world in which models born with beautiful African hair like Lupita are convinced they need to wear straight haired weaves to even get a chance. An industry that is already tough for women in general let alone for those for whom there seem to be only a few spots open.
So what people may fail to see is that as exotic as those styles in that video clip may seem, they are normal styles for people born with African strands. Braids, cornrows and dreadlocks are the way Black people naturally maintain and style their hair.
What companies and institutions like Howard University and the military don’t get is that these styles are not a fad, extreme or to be compared to a mullet or a Mohawk.
Just as extreme as an afro is for straight hair, just as extreme is a bob style for African hair. Straight strands fall down naturally, African hair naturally stands out. It is an injustice to force rules based on straight strands upon African hair because the texture is genetically different. Black follicles that have silently carried the injustices for centuries are now paying a heavy toll.
An overwhelming 73% of African American women suffer from what experts call relaxer induced alopecia, a hair loss disorder that disproportionally affect Black women. While African American babies are usually blessed with lots of hair, in comparison often more hair than other ethnic groups, the teenagers are the first to experience hair breakage. Driven by the straight hair policies that are deeply ingrained in our society Black girls start perming their strands and wearing weaves when their follicles haven’t even matured. This alone should be reason enough for all of us to be thankful for this video.
Not only does the world get to see natural hairstyles in a different light which will hopefully bring more understanding and less stereotyping. With Lupita expressing her love for her natural texture and demonstrating her delight in natural hairstyling, there will definitely be more Black girls who will send her letters, just like the one she shared at the Best Breakthrough Performance Award from Essence magazine.
Lupita who stopped praying for lighter skin when Alec Wek arrived on the scene, read part of a girl’s letter who didn’t go out to buy a whitening cream to bleach her skin because she saw that the dark skinned beauty was so successful in Hollywood.
Because of this new video, little Black girls all over the world will stop praying for a different texture and stop buying harmful chemicals to straighten their naturally beautiful strands.
The way Lupita chooses to wear her hair as a fashion icon supported by the picture Vogue painted is a powerful image that is paying forward Black beauty. Lupita’s simple honest words are as effective as action. Girls will be transformed by watching the clip and hearing her say: “What I love about my hair texture and this kind of hair is that you can do all kinds of interesting angular shapes with it. Braiding just tells a story. And finally learn to believe that “Your hair is your friend.”
Mireille Liong, author of Going Natural How to Fall in Love with Nappy Hair and founder of Going-Natural.com, is a Social Entrepreneur with a Master Degree in IT. This August she celebrates the 10th anniversary of her book and website with an exhibition named Bad Hair Uprooted.