Hair is a fraught topic for African-American women. Workplace standards have been racist for a long time. Hair that is straighter, smoother, and longer has been considered more “appropriate,” and hair that is kinky often seen as “messy” or “unkempt.” In salons and at home, women and girls chemically straightened their hair because “respectability” and “professionalism” demanded it. “To go into the workplace to be a CEO or to be a nurse, your hair had to be straight and look different than what it naturally was,” says Tori.
Slowly, the culture has started to shift. A surge in natural hair products and YouTube how-tos are showing women how to style and care for their hair in new ways. In turn, sales of relaxers, once the biggest sector of the black haircare market, have plummeted nearly 40 percent since 2012, according to the market research company Mintel. It found nearly 80 percent of African-American women have worn a natural style of some kind within the last year. But the movement away from relaxers doesn't mean everyone’s going curly; more than a third of women reported they used heat to press their natural hair straight.