Solange Knowles 

By Kristin Denise Rowe

It’s hard to put an exact start date on the natural hair movement, as it began organically online between Black women. However, folks who write about the movement often mark its beginnings to the late 2000s—perhaps around 2007 or 2008. During these early years, newfound social media usage, an interest in organic products and going green, DIY culture, and natural-haired celebrities all opened up a space for the movement to spread.

Over the past decade, a number of natural hair-related moments have made us smile, scream, and think. Here are 5.

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1. Solange’s Natural Hair Journey (2009-2012)

Photo via Nappyheadedblackgirl.com

By 2012, she was wearing her natural afro, and in a May 2012 interview with Essence, Solange stated, “I honestly was just tired of the energy surrounding my hair. So when I cut it, I didn’t think about what anyone else would think.”

Many young Black women and girls, were inspired by Solange’s style, art, and natural hair journey. Hair is a continued theme in Solange’s story, as her 2016 single “Don’t Touch My Hair” explores hair, boundaries, consent, and intimacy.

2. Students in Pretoria, South Africa Protest Ban on Natural Hair (2016)

Photo via Ebony.com

In 2016, conflicts around dress codes, racism, and Black girls’ hair came to a head at Pretoria High School for Girls.

The school was founded in 1902, while South Africa was under European colonial rule. From 1948 to 1990, a strict system of institutionalized separation and discrimination called “apartheid” previously only allowed white students to enroll in the school. Since 1990, the school has been open to all races.

The dress code in the school’s code of conduct banned cornrows, braids, and locs that are more than a centimeter in diameter. Afros were required to be pushed back and tied up. Many students recall being told that they need to “fix” their hair.

During fall 2016, over 100 girls at Pretoria High for Girls began protesting the restrictions placed on their natural hair. The protests spread throughout the country. An online petition against the hair policies garnered over 10,000 signatures, and the hashtag #StopRacismatPretoriaGirlsHigh began trending, calling international attention.

On August 30, 2016, the Gauteng Department of Education, which oversees the Pretoria High School for Girls, put out a statement agreeing (among other things) to review the code of conduct, and “the mocking of learners’ hairstyles must cease.”

The situation at Pretoria High School for Girls reminded us all of the global implications of anti-Black racism and colonialism, as well as the diasporic connections we can potentially forge worldwide. For these girls, the protests were about so much more than hair–but about carving out space to exist in a school, a country, and a system that rarely values them or their bodies.

3. Viola Davis Sports a TWA on the Red Carpet at an Oscars Luncheon (2012)

Photo via pinterest.com

In February of 2012, actress Viola Davis debuted her “teeny weeny afro” (also known as a “T.W.A.”), causing a buzz online and on television.

The actress wore her own natural, very short, and golden-brown afro at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood celebratory Oscars luncheon. Black women everywhere supported the look and Davis’s choice to deviate from the straight hair and long extensions typical of Black women (and most women) at formal red-carpet events.

“As a woman with an afro, I applauded her,” wrote the editor of MadameNoire. Davis said her choice to go natural was “a powerful statement.”

However, Davis’s decision to wear her natural afro wasn’t universally supported. Some questioned whether natural hair was “formal” enough for a Hollywood red carpet. Wendy Williams commented negatively on Davis’s afro, as well.

These diverse reactions reflect the ambivalence many Black women also face by their colleagues, significant others, and family after “going natural.” This ambivalence reflects the sorted and complex ways beauty standards and social norms are mapped onto Black female bodies, through hair politics.


4. Beyoncé Claps Back at Critiques of Blue Ivy Carter’s Afro (2016)
Photo via phasionista.com

In 2014, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Sean “Jay-Z” Carter were criticized online for the appearance of their daughter Blue Ivy’s hair.

Back then, Blue Ivy’s hair often stuck out in an afro; however, her critics would have preferred that Blue’s hair was straightened, permed, smoothed down, plaited, or otherwise contained and made smaller.

One woman created a Change.org petition requesting that Blue Ivy’s parents “properly” comb her hair. While likely created as a mean joke, the petition garnered over 5,000 signatures. Karrueche Tran also joked about Blue’s hair being unkempt.

Fast forward to Beyoncé’s lead single “Formation” (2016) on her critically acclaimed album Lemonade. Here, Knowles-Carter sings, “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros/ I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” The lyrics directly call out normative, Eurocentric standards of beauty, while also serving as a direct clapback to critics.

Knowles-Carter’s discussion of Blue Ivy’s hair reveals the ways that hair and beauty politics are passed down intergenerationally and are rooted in Black women’s girlhood.

5. Viola Davis Takes Her Wig Off on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder (2014)

Photo via Uk.businessinsider.com

On the ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder, the complex, dynamic Black female protagonist Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is a cutthroat lawyer/law professor.

One 2014 episode featured an extended, climactic scene of Annalise removing her wig and revealing her own natural hair to the viewer. This scene garnered a huge reaction from diverse audiences, impressed by Davis’s vulnerability and commitment to the scene. 
People magazine called the moment “a shocker,” while Huffington Post called it “one of the most memorable scenes of this year’s television season.” BuzzFeed writer Kelley L. Carter and comedian Franchesca Ramsey positively commented on the relatability of the scene. 
Viola Davis was public about her own role in helping to create that scene. On The Ellen Show, Davis said: 

“I was so adamant about it. I said, ‘Listen…she cannot be in that bedroom with a wig on, because women don’t go to bed with their wigs on.…a whole portion of women out there are marginalized. I wanna be a real woman.’” 

In her New York Times bestselling book, Black female comedian and writer Phoebe Robinson describes the wig removal scene as “THE SINGLE GREATEST MOMENT IN BLACK WOMEN TELEVISION HISTORY” (49). For Robinson, the scene resonated in large part because it involved a “reflecting back” of the beauty routine that she practiced in private for so much of her life. Like with many Black female viewers, the authenticity of the scene gave way to a feeling of exposure and vulnerability.



In spite of the natural hair movement, Black women still grapple with beauty standards of their past and present. They still face structures of sexism, racism, classism, colonialism, heteronormativity, and more that attempt to tell them exactly who and what they are. 

However, moments like the ones on this list open up spaces, as steps towards self-recognition and ultimately self-acceptance. 

Do you have any favorite moments?

Kristin Denise Rowe is a writer, scholar, and instructor whose work interrogates beauty and embodiment on the axes of race and gender. She is currently a doctoral candidate in African American and African Studies (with a specialization in Women’s and Gender Studies) at Michigan State University. Her research examines contemporary narratives within art/ popular culture of Black women’s experiences with natural hair, arguing these representations are sites where concepts of beauty are negotiated. Learn more about her work by following her on Twitter and Tumblr.

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