For decades, black women have been excluded from society’s definition of beauty. The glorification of European beauty standards in the media, particularly straight hair, painted the narrative that our textured hair isn’t beautiful. This non-inclusive messaging projected the stereotype that natural hair and hairstyles like braids, locs, and twists are unkempt, unprofessional, and unworthy of being worn in public spaces.
But thanks to the ongoing boom of the natural hair movement, black women have felt empowered to redefine and reassert their own standards of beauty. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen more and more black celebrities, influencers, and real women alike embracing their curls, coils, and kinks—think: Solange Knowles, Issa Rae, and Lupita Nyong'o. The widespread growth of the natural hair movement online and offline has inspired a generation of women of color to forego applying perms, relaxers, and excessive heat to their hair. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Mintel, 40% of black women are most likely to wear their hair natural (no chemicals) with no-heat styling and 33% natural with heat styling.
If you were to ask many of today’s curly girls about how they learned to love the way their hair grows naturally, many of us would point to natural hair vloggers. Between 2008 and 2009, natural hair videos began to trickle onto YouTube and the curly-haired women in front of the camera showed us all that textured hair was beautiful despite what society says. Within the past decade, the constant diffusion of natural hair content on YouTube has equipped women like me with the knowledge needed to properly care for our curls and sent a clear message to the world that natural hair should no longer be left out of conversations surrounding beauty.
Ahead, we’re talking to three natural hair content creators who have been pushing for more representation in the beauty industry and helping thousands of women achieve healthy natural locks for the past 10 years.
Whitney White, better known to her YouTube subscribers as Naptural85, has been sharing her secrets to maintaining healthy type-4 curls since 2009. Known for her hairstyling tutorials and DIY hair product videos, White has garnered a hefty following of more than one million subscribers and has over 100 million views to date. As a natural hair vlogger, the seasoned influencer has worked with brands ranging from SheaMoisture to CoverGirl and has appeared on The Real Daytime. Most recently, the beauty entrepreneur teamed up with her sister, Taffeta White, to launch her own natural product line called Melanin Haircare.
On what inspired her channel...
"I decided to transition to natural hair after graduating from college in 2008 and went fully natural in 2009 with a 'big chop,' White recounts. "I then decided to make a few photo collage videos. I created a hair journey video, complete with pictures of my hair while transitioning and then after with my teeny ‘fro. White adds, "Anything new is going to be a challenge, and it’s not going to look perfect right from the start. You have to make a lot of mistakes, as with anything in life, before you get good at it. So, for me, it was just a matter of committing to learning how to [work with my hair] in its natural state. I saw so much potential, and I’m still constantly learning new things about my hair and new reasons to love it."
"The positive feedback and genuine connection I was forming with all these different women across the world encouraged me to keep sharing more of my experiences," White shares. "I found myself coming up with new techniques and simple solutions to care for my hair, and I couldn’t wait to share what I had learned online with my new friends. I also realized that there [wasn't much representation of women] with my hair type at that time, and any information I could share regarding how I was managing to care for my coarse, tight-coily hair would be helpful to other women. Stick with it, learn from the challenges, and try to have fun with it. Look online for inspiration. Even though your hair type may be different from those you’re learning from, you can try to use the tips they give on your own hair and adjust if necessary."
On increased representation...
"I’m really proud to be a part of a community that has truly been a catalyst for change," White says, "in not only the haircare industry but the entire beauty industry as a whole, as well as mainstream media. The organic passion for encouraging self-love and unapologetic black beauty that was birthed within the natural hair community alone has uplifted and emboldened the black community to do so much." She explains, "We’ve challenged workplace and government policies, demanded better representation in mainstream media, including advertising, television, and movies, rallied together for more beauty products catering to black hair, skincare, and makeup."
White adds, "We’ve come together as a community to support, encourage, and uplift black-owned businesses to help our community grow and prosper. It’s truly something amazing to be a part of, and I don’t think any of us hair bloggers who sat in front of our little dinky cameras back in the day, or huddled over our computers writing blog posts could’ve predicted the effect the community would have. There truly is power in loving yourself as you are—and encouraging others to do the same.
On Melanin Haircare...
Melanin Haircare was birthed organically from the requests of my online community. Our products are directly inspired from my homemade DIY hair product recipes but enhanced for increased performance. Our Multi-Use Pure Oil Blend ($18) soothes away irritation and hydrates your hair, skin, and scalp without leaving a filmy, greasy residue. When you use our Twist-Elongating Style Cream ($17), you’ll experience moisturized hair that feels just like that: moisturized, healthy hair.
Over the past 10 years, Jessica Lewis has captured the attention of millions of curly-haired women across the world. Her channel, MahoganyCurls, boasts 432 thousand subscribers and her videos—which cover everything from wash-day routines for short natural hair to twist-out tutorials—have received 32 million views and counting. As a longtime authority in the natural hair space, Lewis has had the opportunity to collaborate with brands like DevaCurl, SheaMoisture, and Curls. Lewis is currently enrolled in cosmetology school in an effort to deepen her beauty expertise and help more women feel their best.
On what inspired her channel...
"I was inspired to start my channel when I did my big chop in 2009. I had to learn how to care for my curls due to having a relaxer most of my life. I didn’t know what to expect when I went natural, but I told myself that my hair was beautiful. I was determined to master natural hair. It motivated me. The hair that grows from our scalp is beautiful, and we should embrace it. The natural hair space on YouTube wasn’t extremely popular at that time, but it was starting to grow," explains Lewis. There were natural hair bloggers that had long natural hair, and I loved it. However, I cut my hair, and there weren’t very many with short hair. I decided to document the process for myself and possibly others in case they felt like watching. From there, my channel began to grow," she says.
On increased representation...
"I feel great about it," Lewis laments. "I remember how hard it was to find product 10 years ago. Finding a new natural hair care product was like finding a unicorn. I used to frequently visit honeybrownsugar.com, NaturallyCurly.com, and CurlyNikki.com to learn about different products that would work on our hair. I feel like, now, we're able to show companies there's a massive opportunity in the natural haircare space, she says."
She adds, "The advice that I would give someone that is struggling with their hair is to take your time and be patient. I would also suggest they follow people on social media that have a texture similar to theirs. This will give them realistic expectations for their hair. They can get style ideas and inspiration that will help them in their journey. Natural hair is amazing, but it does take some time to master if you are unsure about it. Ask questions and do your research. This is their crown, and they should wear it with pride."
On her go-to hair products...
Rochelle Graham launched her channel, BlackOnyx77, in 2008. By sharing her natural hair journey via tutorials and advice videos, Graham has garnered more than 16 million views and built a community of over 112K subscribers. The beauty influencer is known for creating the LOC Method (Liquid Oil Cream Method), an innovative haircare routine that helps to protect and maintain healthy natural hair. Her background as an accomplished beauty content creator inspired her to create Alikay Naturals, a haircare and lifestyle product line, which is now sold in 150 retail locations worldwide.
On what inspired her channel...
"My journey started when I went through my own hair transition," Graham says. "I grew up wearing my hair natural," she explains, "and I got a relaxer when I was around 10 years-old. But, it was just a phase in my hair journey. I did my own big chop and found a community to connect with on Fotki, an online platform where women can share their hair journeys." Graham muses, "Doing the big chop represented me falling back in love with my natural hair, and discovering a love for myself."
She adds: "I began posting on YouTube as I learned new styles, which allowed for other woman to feel inspired during their own hair transition. When a lot of us did the big chop, we didn’t have many resources or support from friends and families. I wanted to serve as that support and change that standard."
On Alikay Naturals...
"I decided to start Alikay Naturals when I cut my hair for the second time and swore of products with chemicals. I wanted an oil to aid in the growth, so I made my own," Graham shares. "Then, so many of my subscribers started asking me to make bottles. With Alikay Naturals, the needs of the natural hair community always serve as our foundation for development," she says.
Graham recommends, "For kinky and curly hair, I recommend our Lemongrass Leave-In Conditioner ($14), Lemongrass Sleek and Shine Finishing Oil ($12), and Glazed Argan Oil Silkener ($16). And for wavy hair, I recommend our Lemongrass Hold It Styling Gel ($12), Dulce Hydrating Curl Lotion ($16), and Aloe Berry Styling Gel ($11)."
On the challenges of beauty entrepreneurship...
"Access to capital is a major struggle for minority owners," Graham laments. "Because we are a self-funded beauty brand, it is a challenge for us to launch products quickly—and in this industry, it's important to always drop new, innovative products. When I started Alikay Naturals, I wasn't even 30 years-old. As a young African-American woman with big hair, I had to deal with people not taking me seriously as a business owner. We had to deal with a lot of backlash and bullying when we first became vocal about natural hair in the beauty industry."