What does natural hair suggest about identity, productivity and aptitude?
Really, it depends on whom you ask.
Where others might see unkempt and wild hairstyling as a personality flaw, Jessica Boyd and Maureen Ochola find beauty and self-expression in the textures of natural hairstyles.
Seven years after radio host Don Imus referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes,” Boyd and Ochola are determined to add a dynamic twist to the hair discussion with the inaugural Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina.
On April 12 at the S.C. Department of Archives and History, 10 contestants with an array of styled tresses will compete at the sold-out pageant. The pageant’s goal is to promote hairstyles that haven’t been altered chemically through perming, relaxing or straightening, but it’s also a fundraiser to jumpstart Quench Natural Beauty Boutique, a supply store dedicated to natural, Afro-centric hair.
“People really think that there’s something wrong with the way your hair is coming out of your head. That’s just not OK,” Ochola says. “We just want to show the impactful and beautiful side of natural hair.”
“For me, going natural was one of those things that I needed to do to feel like my spirit was in a good place,” Boyd adds. “It is beautiful. It’s how we were made.”
But in a society where conformity is sometimes expected, natural beauty isn’t always accepted. For some who wear their hair naturally, it’s either the straightening comb or an uphill climb professionally and socially.
“There’s a whole system you’re fighting if you wear your hair naturally, even if you don’t intend to,” Boyd says. “I’m just wearing my hair as it grows. I don’t know why that’s crazy, but it’s crazy for some reason.”
Boyd and Ochola, both 26, have been friends since they were students at Richland Northeast High School. Ochola’s mother has a natural hair.
“I’m shocked that people think it’s such a big deal to rock natural hair,” says Ochola, who is an industrial engineer for an Atlanta firm.
The joke at Spelman College, where Boyd went to school, is that after students take a class on the African Diaspora, they change their hair.
“It kind of happened that way, kind of not,” Boyd, who does small business branding and guerrilla social media marketing, says. “I’ve always changed my hair, so people weren’t like, ‘I can’t believe you did that.’”
Well, some Columbia acquaintances said as much, which is one reason why Boyd and Ochola want to open a boutique in Soda City. And Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina is like an invitation to experience a movement that invites others to wrap their heads around it.
Contestants, who had to answer essay questions about their natural hair journey, were found through social media. A few weeks ago, the Crowned Carolina contestants went to Soda City Market for an interactive demonstration, which included a natural styling competition.
“That alone is powerful, because certain people have an image of what natural hair looks like,” Ochola says. “People got to experience the uniqueness and versatility. Society makes it seem like it’s unkempt or wild.”
The participants at the market got to see what women and men who wear their hair like Boyd and Ochola go through when they do their hair in the morning.
And they got to feel the curly wigs. For a morning, at least, Boyd, Ochola and the contestants were able to avoid the, “Can I touch your hair?” question.
For the curious, the answer really depends on whom you ask.
“You don’t know where their hands have been,” Boyd says.
“I guess having your hair natural is more inviting, but most of the time they touch it before” asking, Ochola adds. “You’ve got to kind of do that step-to-the-side maneuver.”
Miss Naturally Crowned Carolina will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. April 12 at the S.C. Department of Archives and History, 8301 Parklane Road. Tickets are sold out. For more information, visit http://www.naturallycrowned.com.
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