As a black woman, Kerri Taylor says her hair is her "crown of glory," and has been since she started having it styled when she was 8 years old.
That crown of glory can be frustrating depending on the weather, require high maintenance and also is expensive to maintain, said Taylor of the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township.
Black women spend big money to maintain their tresses and the black hair care industry is worth billions of dollars as stylists cater to clients who will spend hours inside a salon each month. But more than just commerce, local hair salons also are social centers, where women meet to repeat a ritual that began under the skillful hands of their mothers.
"My mother always said, 'If you're feeling bad, go get your hair done,'" said Taylor as she waited to get her hair done at Expressions II Salon in Pleasantville.
Owner Charlotte Golden has been braiding hair in her neighborhood since she was 10 years old. Golden is African American, but says her salon is multicultural and embraces all races and types of hair.
Over the past 40 years or so she has seen black women's hair go full circle in style trends, Golden said.
"It started out in 1978 we all had afros and then everyone wanted cornrows, then it was jheri curls and then the perms, then the weaves," she said.
She points to the black women's desire to be versatile with the style of the hair for the consistent and constant change in styles.
Sam Ennon, founder of the Black Owned Beauty Supply Association in San Francisco, Calif., said hair styles change every 15 to 20 years in the black hair care industry.
"We are very creative in terms of the way we look. A black woman for decades has been able to give you a different look six times and can change her hair any time she wants to. That is more difficult for a white woman," Ennon said.
Black celebrities make hair care and styling look easy - but Golden and the women who come to her salon say it's anything but easy. Black women struggle with the difficulty in growing their hair, which is typically easier for white women, Golden said.
And then there are cardinal rules black women adhere to when it comes to their hair that have been passed down through history.
Tanaesha Regley, 10, of Egg Harbor Township, said she has known since she was very young that you always have to keep your hair and scalp greased or it will dry out.
"When you sleep you have to wrap it up in a scarf and you can't wash it every day," Regley said as she had her hair styled at the salon.
Regley said she learned very quickly that she had to be careful when she slept on her hair as to not disturb the style. It can be uncomfortable, but it's worth it, she said.
And what about swimming in the summertime? This is a difficult activity because chlorine in a pool can destroy the hair, said 14-year-old Brianna Barnes who was waiting patiently to go under the dryer.
"Yes, and it's very frustrating because how our hair looks depends in the climate. If it's raining your hair might shrivel up," Taylor added.
The African American Registry, a nonprofit education organization traces an early push to embrace hairstyles and beauty methods that reflect popular European standards of beauty back to the early days of slavery in America.
When Africans were first brought to the New World it was necessary for them to be accepted by the white culture and white masters.
As time passed though, blacks turned to their West African roots and their own imagination to create hair styles and standards that crafted a unique black culture.
Black women and men have historically struggled with looking white and European by straightening their hair, Ennon said. Blacks turned to chemical relaxers to straighten their hair and with that came chemical burns and hair damage, Ennon said.
"We always wanted to straighten our hair. Whether it was a relaxer we used, a finger wave, hot comb or a marcel iron. When you straighten it it's easier to manage and it's also more socially accepted," said 70-year-old Ennon.
Taylor can spend hours in the salon if she is getting a weave sewn into her hair. On a recent Saturday, Taylor was changing it up and adding a weave, featuring an asymmetrical cut. It's not the typical style she dons, but the bright red color was a nice change, she said.
"It's not that I am ashamed of who I am, but straight hair is more socially accepted. We're not taken seriously if we have dreads, or locks or braids," Taylor said.
"Black is beautiful, but if you want to make money and be taken seriously the white look is more accepted," she said.
Golden said she is thankful for weaves and synthetic hair because so many black women have experienced hair loss as a result of chemicals, over processing and stress on their hair.
To this end there is a natural hair movement amongst black women - a return to their roots and embracing free-flowing hair, Ennon said.
The natural hair generation movement came after the period when black women were using synthetic hair weaves, putting them in and taking the weave out incorrectly and also pulling their hair out.
"They were gluing it in and pulling it out and not going to a salon to have it removed properly. Then they moved towards natural hair because they are unable to grow hair easily and have gotten older," he said.
This natural hair movement has become a culture and almost a lifestyle, he said.
For 47-year-old Charlene Anderson, of Egg Harbor Township, keeping a natural style is preferred over putting chemicals in her hair. Anderson has been coming to Golden's salon for the past 10 years. As a child, her mother did her hair and as she got older she turned to salon care, she said.
"I'm going to always keep my hair natural. I'm black and this is me," Anderson said.
Dorothy Mister, 62, of Pleasantville said she remembers from her childhood her mother's pressing iron that was used to straighten her hair. At that time, there were no perms to straighten the hair and even though they're available today she isn't interested, Mister said.
"Myself, I like my hair natural. I think it's a statement. It's a black thing," she said.
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