Djuana “Dfitz” Lewis
Last year, I began shooting Naturally Me, my first documentary film, which challenged me to explore the role that hair played in my life. The earliest hairstyle that I remember was the Jheri Curl because my mother and a few of her friends rocked what they thought was the sexiest style of the 1980s. The Jheri Curl wasn’t an option for my grandmother because she covered her hair with a wig. When I was a kid, I wore braids and sometimes my hair was straighten with a hot comb. I felt like my cousins were ahead in the hair game because they had relaxers. Looking back on my childhood, hair played an important role in each generation in our family.
The 1970s marked a time of black empowerment and the shift to natural hair was symbolic of our cultural revolution. The Black Panther Party encouraged black people to spend money with black owned businesses, to look out for each other, feed the hungry, and to fight the power structure. During a time of extreme social unrest, women in The Black Panther Party wore Afros and their huge Afros were respected in the community. Also, creative cornrows and braids hairstyles with colorful beads were also very popular. During The Panther Era, we learned to embrace our kinky hair and to accept our uniqueness. The 1970s was the beginning of us learning to love our hair and ourselves.
As the 1970s came to an end, The Jheri Curl which was made famous by artists such as Michael Jackson, Ice Cube, and Lionel Richie. The Jheri Curl showed the significance of hair in our culture because it made it to Hollywood. Who can forget the “Soul Glo” commercials in Coming To America and The Gimme My Activator, Man scene in Hollywood Shuffle?
What most people don’t know is that the Jheri Curl was the creation of an Irish man named Robert Redding (his nickname was Jheri), founder of Jheri Redding Products and Nexxus Products. Redding grew up in the farming industry but he recognized the potential profit in the hair industry and decided to change his career path. He became one of the first licensed male cosmetologist in the state of Illinois. He was the first to introduce the pH balance factor and the importance of shampoo and conditioner. He experimented with the idea of permanent waving on extremely curly hair using a toothpick and soon the Jheri Curl was born. The Jheri Curl has a huge impact on black hair until the late 80s and early 90s.
In the 1990s, it seemed like every magazine cover had a skinny white girl with long blond hair. I noticed African-American female television stars beginning to wear hair weave or relax their hair. During this time, I was heavily criticized for not relaxing my hair. In middle school, I witnessed a young girl harassed to the point of tears because her mother didn’t use chemicals in her hair. The next day, due to being harassed, the young girl attempted to relax her hair by herself which resulted in her getting chemical burns on her face. She returned to school bandaged up and she barely had hair on her head. The jokes about her and her hair went from bad to worse.
As we brought in a new millennium, the playing field seemed to level as it related to hair. If you didn’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on hair, then you couldn’t afford to purchase good human hair weave but you could purchase a variety of hair and create new hairstyles. Bob Braids, Crochet Braids, Quick Weaves, Weave Pony Tails, Sew-ins, Glue-Ins, and who could forget The Wrap? The early 2000s was a good time for black women and their hair. We were all taking part in another hair evolution.
Fast forward to 2010 and things begin to change again. It seemed like we were returning to the spirit of the 1970s again. The Natural Hair Movement caused African-American women to throw out their relaxers and hair weave and shun the notion of “you look better with long flowing blonde hair”. During the past five years, large numbers of African-American women appear to be more concerned about the health of their hair as opposed forcing their hair to confirm to cultural norms. Personally, I hopped on the natural train only to find out that it wasn’t for me. Shortly after going natural, I rejoined Team Relaxer but I am still very concerned about the health of my hair and the chemicals in products.
In the 1970s, the shift to natural hair was considered a part of the Cultural Revolution. Are we experiencing a Natural Hair Revolution or another cyclical shift in hairstyles? In my documentary, Naturally Me, I challenge viewers to think critically about The Natural Hair Movement. Are we experiencing a Natural Hair Fad or a National Hair Revolution? In the next five or ten years, will everything shift again or are we showing society that we control what goes in our hair from now on?
Check out my documentary entitled Naturally Me which will be available in May 2015. Visit dfitzworld.com for more information about Naturally Me.