1 June 2012

Embracing Naturalness | Transitioning through one filmmaker's eyes

Yesterday the New York Times published the op-doc (opinion documentary) of British-Nigerian filmmaker, writer and broadcast journalist, Zina Saro-Wiwa. Zina might be better known for the film, 'This is My Africa' which was telecast earlier this year in the US on HBO. This latest contribution is entitled, 'Black Women's Transitions to Natural Hair'. 

Below is a photo of Zina Saro-Wiwa as well as the link to the article on the NY Times page: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/opinion/black-women-and-natural-hair.html?smid=pl-share

My Observations
I, for one, applaud the filmmaker's candidness. She unmasked herself for the camera and the public as she shared her own story. As she originally said, it was not her intention to be a part of the documentary. But as things progressed, it would seem that her desire to be totally honest about her own struggle had propelled her to take a stand and to step away from her usual braided hairstyle (which she has done for about 20 years). So strong was her love affair with her natural tresses, that her initial experiment of a few weeks with natural hair has now turned into 7 months. Zina spoke of her awareness of needing to change her lifestyle on a whole as her transition could not now be limited to her hair alone. And with this point I could not agree more.

The interviewees themselves are also to be complimented for sharing their story. Nevertheless, this film struck an even deeper chord with me. As I listened, she touched on several commentaries which have reverberated across the natural hair community:
  1. Being beautiful with natural hair and public stereotyping
  2. Self-acceptance and lifestyle changes
  3. Learning to manage natural hair when transitioning and after
  4. The increasing number of black women who are transitioning in the US/the silent revolution
  5. Black pop-culture icons still with permed hair, wigs and weaves
  6. Transitioning to natural = reclaiming one's political voice
As the filmmaker is prepped for her shave and about to get going, I could not help but pause when Zina exclaims, '...I can just see myself getting uglier..."; and, '...do I finally look gorgeous?' But why? Because you are suddenly revealing those lovely full lips? No more hair to tuck behind the ears or draw another's gaze upward and away from your gorgeous cheekbones? Girl, behave!! You are beautiful the way you are!!!

I will not go over verbatim what Zina shared in her video but I want to encourage you to watch it. At the end of the day it is undeniable that more and more black women are embracing their natural hair, resulting in the decline of chemical relaxer sales. Is it a fad? For every last woman who has transitioned, I doubt. I can only speak of life here in Barbados and in many cases it is not about just getting a look. Many women have experienced serious damage caused by chemical straighteners. It has to be about personal choice. About what YOU want for YOU. 

I do agree with Zina's point though, and that is that transitioning can be seen as making a political statement. Whether we wish to endorse it or not, the scissors snipping away those permed ends does symbolize a cut of the ties that bind us to the negative stereotypes; the being '...ungroomed and unedcated' stereotyping that has dogged us for many generations. Those changes start with altering our own mindsets to being more positive. 

No-one is asking us to tread with history tied to our backs into the present. Contemporary life is informed by our past. Our history has shaped us, true, but WE get to choose how we will use those events of our past to order a better life in the HERE AND NOW. Embracing our naturalness is a firm stand of personal affirmation and ethnic solidarity. It's about being black. 

Love it or leave it.


  1. Great review! Silent revolution is an awesome word and it's encouraging to look around and see more and more natural sisters. It's been 12 years since I went natural and the scene today is so much more encouraging then back then. As the natural movement grows, I think that black actresses/musicians, etc will feel comfortable choosing that option. I think there are a lot of undercover natural stars out there. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you very much, @Kareen T. !! I agree that it is encouraging indeed to see even more natural sisters in Barbados and quite frankly, for whatever reason, it is really none of our business why they transitioned. It is just heartening to see them make that initial step and hopefully, it becomes more than an experiment. The potential impact of the natural hair movement on pop culture as we know it can be quite great but these men and women have much pressure (I guess from the powers that be) to be marketed a certain way and have that 'megastar' appeal. Time will reveal lol lol lol

    And 12 years natural?! Kareen, that is definitely a milestone!! *Woot Woot*

  3. There are large economic reasons behind the Black Hair Business..and as I found out in my documentary BLACK HAIR 1996..there are billions of dollars involved, and very little of it makes it way back to the Black Community. Here is a link to my Black Hair documentary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p96aaTSdrAE


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