Mambo Awasum’s hair journey mirrors that of many young black girls.
When she turned 8 years old, her mother took her to a salon to have her hair chemically straightened. It was a rite of passage, of sorts, for Awasum, leaving behind her kinky braids and Afro-puffs for a more polished look.
“It was my first perm,” she recalled. “I had really thick hair and when my mom asked me if I wanted one, I thought it would be easier.”
Twelve years later, she would cut off her chemically processed hair to return it to its natural texture. Years of wearing a relaxer had weakened the strands.
“It was thinning in some places,” said Awasum, a Barry University graduate student. “It wouldn’t grow.”
In natural hair circles, it’s called “the big chop”— getting a close-to-the-scalp cut to rid the hair of chemicals.
Now, 26 and sporting an Afro, Awasum is part of a growing community of black women in South Florida who are shunning chemical straighteners. Motivated by different factors — damaged hair, the economy, self-love — the popularity of natural hair has gained traction in recent years.
At the Oscars
Hollywood has embraced the trend. When actress Viola Davis walked down the Oscars’ red carpet this year, wearing her close-cropped curly Afro, “this was a moment that said, ‘we have arrived,’” said Patrice Grell Yursik, a leading Chicago-based natural hair blogger.
O Magazine’s September edition addresses the issue head on, as Oprah Winfrey appears, for the first time, on the cover “without blow-drying or straightening her hair.”
Mainstream retail outlets also are picking up on the natural hair trend. Once hard-to-find products for curly hair and Afros, once relegated to a dark corner in ethnic beauty supply stores, now are readily stocked on the shelves of Wal-Mart and Target.
But it still can be a touchy subject in the black community.
“Historically, hair and skin color have been cultural signifiers of the black community,” said Yursik , who blogs about natural hair at Afrobella.com. “This really does go back to the days of slavery where skin color and hair texture could determine your position in life. I don’t believe that it’s true anymore, but it’s still ingrained in us.”
During the recent Olympic games in London, gymnast and gold medal winner Gabby Douglas, who wears her hair straight, faced a backlash on social media and in the blogosphere about the texture of her hair.
It wasn’t straight enough at the roots, critics carped.
Yursik started Afrobella.com while living in Kendall. Part of her motivation, she said was the lack of information available to women who wanted to go natural. Her blog educates and uplifts, she said.
“When I was in Miami, there weren’t any women I could look to who wore their hair natural,” she said, so she turned to the Internet.
That has since changed.
Now, South Florida women who are natural or thinking of going natural have support groups and social events targeted to “naturalistas.” The Fabulous Miami Naturals group on meetup.com hosts monthly sessions and other social events for curlfriends.
At a recent meetup in North Miami Beach, about 15 women settled down with cups of java at Starbucks to discuss tips and products. It was part informational and part support group.