February 2, 2012
ST. LOUIS — Hair is such a defining element for most women that any change is often greeted with unmitigated fear. Many a hairstylist has been confronted with rage after “just a trim,” and many a mood has been wrecked by a bad hair day. Hairstyles are infinite, but a standard of long and straight persists.It's a curious standard that tends to cause lots of self-doubt and self-reflection for black women. Because black hair is typically tightly coiled, getting it long and straight usually requires chemicals, weaves or hot irons. Yet despite the extra work, the majority of black women still seem to prefer some version of straight hair.“I am kind of addicted to weaves,” said Sandra Dee, a master hairstylist at Salon Edge and Vatterott College Beauty School in St. Louis. “My hair is natural underneath, but my hair texture is very fine, and I guess I just like the look of fullness.”She alternates between wavy and straight weaves and her natural hair, which she wore braided in a faux mohawk most recently. Dee is one of the speakers at a healthy hair series started by her cousin River Fronczak.The series is called Miss Jessie's Presents Coffee, Curls & Cupcakes.Dee said that many people still assume that a black woman with natural hair is more in touch with herself and that a black woman with a weave is trying to be something she's not, but the reality is that “it's just hair, and you have to do what makes you comfortable and makes you feel like you.”Fronczak, who is related to Dee by marriage, started experimenting with natural hair in 1999 and she says that she was terrified.She said that it's just hair, but it is one of the first things people see when they look at you, and it's one of the first things they use to judge you. If you look different than most people, the perception can be that you're not as pretty, not as professional or not as nice.“You have to have the confidence to look different,” Fronczak said. She noted that wearing her hair natural elicited compliments and awe. The most common compliment from other black women is, “That looks great on you, but I couldn't wear my hair like that,” or “I wish I had the courage to wear my hair like that.”It surprised and upset her. She said that wearing her hair natural is now a source of pride, but it wasn't always. She remembers that some people laughed at her, and her self-esteem wasn't always as high.“I have so much freedom now,” Fronczak said, speaking of both the variety of styles she can wear and the mental freedom. She wears her hair straight sometimes, courtesy of a blow dryer and a flat iron, but she doesn't feel like she “has” to wear it straight to be pretty or accepted. She said that it took time to get comfortable, but now she feels so liberated that she'd encourage everyone to try it.Dee noticed the change in Fronczak and says that it influenced her to go natural in 1999 as well, but she still loves to wear weaves. And they both agree that one thing has nothing to do with the other. At the time both Fronczak and Dee were novices in dealing with natural black hair, so they had to educate themselves.When Fronczak sought out sources to learn more about maintaining natural black hair and options for changing her style, it led her to YouTube. There are a wealth of vloggers (video bloggers) who document their hair care regimens. Fronczak was inspired to start her own vlog, Thick Roots, because she wanted to show off her hair journey.But she really wanted to connect with other women who were looking for information on the best ways to keep their natural hair healthy and wanted options on how to style it.If a woman who has worn her hair straight her entire life suddenly decides to start over with a natural hairstyle, it can be traumatic. Fronczak said that it usually starts with a “big chop,” a drastic haircut to get rid of all the hair that was chemically straightened. She said she wanted to make that process easier and less scary.Her YouTube channel quickly started attracting thousands. She decided that she wanted to do more for those interested in natural hairstyles and who needed encouragement, advice, options or just examples.