Hairstyle / Presently, my hair is in dreadlocks. I started wearing an Afro in high school in the mid-70s. I switched to dreadlocks after my marriage in 1992.
Reason for wearing a "natural" hairstyle / My high school years coincided with the latter part of the Black Arts/Black Power Movement. Though I didn't know much about The Movement back then, I was interested in it and emulated the style. Bob Marley and Rastafarians gained popularity during my post-undergraduate days and people began wearing dreadlocks. The man I eventually married was wearing locks when I met him and an old college friend helped me switch styles shortly after the wedding. I admire Bob Marley and enjoy some Reggae music. But I have never been a Rastafarian.
Support of your natural look / The folks that I refer to as my non-biological family have been most supportive.
Negative reactions / Mostly people just tend to stare. Store security sometimes act as if they expect me to steal.
Response to negative commentary / I usually just say that my mother doesn't like my hairstyle either. The implication here is that if I am not changing to appease my own mother, then I am certainly not interested in the opinion of the current speaker.
A woman with natural hair whose style you admire / Toni Morrison. She impresses me as a strong independent woman with a clear spirit and a lot of talent.
Advice for women considering a more natural hairstyle / It's more work than it seems and be prepared for peoples' attitudes towards you to change.
Additional Commentary / When I first moved to Memphis in 1985, a woman with a short afro was considered unfeminine. When dreadlocks first gained currency, many people thought that it was not possible to keep that much natural Black hair clean and that it could harbor bugs, such as ticks, especially in warm weather, which was in keeping with the belief that the kind of people who wore dreadlocks weren't that interested in personal hygiene.
There was a time when natural hairstyles were an expression of identification with African heritage and Black unity. When I first began wearing dreadlocks I knew about everybody in Memphis who wore locks, at least by sight. Now locks are everywhere, including television news, government offices, and on non-Blacks. Dreadlocks are not synonymous with Black culture anymore, but it's good to see that something so culturally specific is no longer considered a social stigma.
Definition of "A Natural Woman" / To me, a natural woman is a woman who is a useful, nurturing part of her community without letting her personal development be confined by the expectations of that community or by the larger society.
"A. Jalani's story" is part of an on-going series I created that focuses on African American women who wear their hair au naturel. Check the archives (see sidebar on the right) for past segments, features and profiles. If you'd like to participate in the series, please email me for details (go to my blog's profile page or visit my website for contact information).
Your feedback is always appreciated. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you might have about "A. Jalani's Story," the "Natural Women: Our Hair, Our Stories" series or Black hair in general, in the section below marked for comments.