10 Pivotal Moments In Black Women’s Hair History

March 13, 2013  |  
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March is women’s month, and because it follows on the heels of Black History Month, there’s no better time to talk about a topic that is very important to Black Women — hair care. Here are our top eleven moments in Black Hair care History.

Self-Styled Entrepreneur Madam CJ Walker Makes Her Mark With Black Hair Care Products (1905)

Combining both beauty sensibility and business savvy, Madam CJ Walker (née Sarah Breedlove) built a wildly successful hair empire, around, among other things, the innovation of the pressing comb, which made it more user-friendly for Afro-textured hair (she had the teeth widened for her target market). Ambitious, driven, and dedicated to her company, Madam CJ Walker became the first female self-made millionaire in the United States.

Cicely Tyson Becomes First Celebrity to Sport Cornrows on TV (1972)

Chocolate brown beauty Cicely Tyson was the first to debut cornrows to American television viewers on the show “East Side/West Side” in 1972. However, it was Bo Derek in a pre-Baywatch red swimsuit that put the look on the pop culture map in her brief, but memorable appearance in the movie “10,” starring Dudley Moore. (One could say that Bo Derek did for cornrows what J.Lo and Kim Kardashian have done for derrieres when we all know that black women have been graced with both since time immemorial). Since that time, cornrows have remained the vacation hairstyle of choice for generations of sun-burned white women and their daughters on holiday in the tropics.

Angela Davis’ Power Fro Symbolizes a Movement (1970s)

Of all the black mega-stars of the late ’60s and ’70s who wore Afros, not even super-fly bad a** Pam Grier in any of her memorable blaxploitation femme fatale roles can surpass the enduring image of outspoken activist Angela Davis and her “power-to-the-people” afro during this time.

Aunt Jemima Gets a Makeover (1989)

I know some of you might moan and groan over this one, but think about it — by replacing the kerchief-clad visual that reinforced a mammy archetype for nearly a century with a much more modern looking picture, Aunt Jemima was taken out of the servants quarters once and for all with a change of hairstyle. No longer a sanitized version of a racial caricature, this woman looks like she’s ready to handle her own affairs on her terms.

Pantene Launches Line Exclusively Designed for Afro-Textured Hair (2003)

Pantene took a well calculated risk that paid off handsomely when they became the first mainstream brand to develop a line of products targeted specifically for women of color. Since then, other brands have followed in their footsteps, but Pantene was the first to take advantage of a consumer market that was ripe for the picking. After all, it’s well documented that black hair care is a multi-billion dollar revenue generating industry.


The New Millennium Ushers in a New Attitude Towards Natural Hair (2000s)

Somewhere around the beginning of the new millennium, black women started to reacquaint themselves with their natural hair — in droves. More than a decade later, countless websites, bloggers and homegrown hair product companies have emerged as women with curly, kinky, coily and every hair type in between have taken the time to fall in love with their own special brand of natural beauty. And despite the ongoing debate about how many of us choose to wear our hair, the movement has done a lot for sisterhood in a very positive way.

Carol’s Daughter Scores With Major Retailer (2008)

Carol’s Daughter had quite the advantage when it hit the scene with backing from Hollywood heavy-hitting couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, and hip-hop stars Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige. But when Sephora stores and Sephora.com picked them up for distribution, they struck a “pop the champagne” moment. They hadn’t just hit the scene, they had arrived. In fact, Carol’s Daughter might be the only black-owned hair care  company being retailed at Sephora, which is a huge mecca for beauty shoppers. Oh, and Carol’s Daughter also collaborated with Disney to launch a line of Princess Tiana hair care products too.

Chris Rock Exposes a Few Frayed Ends With “Good Hair” (2009)

Chris Rock aired the proverbial “dirty laundry” with his provocative 2009 comedy/documentary “Good Hair.” Black viewers were forced to confront deeply rooted issues concerning our own attitudes towards our hair, while audience goers from outside of our “community” got a chance to understand why the subject of hair has been, and will probably always be, a sensitive topic for women with afro-textured hair.


Viola Davis Rocks the Red Carpet With Her Afro at the Academy Awards (2012)

Viola Davis looked resplendent in her coppery cropped hairdo at the 84th Academy Awards, where she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in “The Help.” Ultimately, she lost to another incredibly talented actress, her friend Meryl Streep, but Viola’s decision to embrace her natural curls at such a prestigious red carpet ceremony was a win for black women the world over.

Janelle Monae Becomes First Natural Hair Diva To Rep a Mainstream Cosmetics Label (2012)

People of color, but black women in particular, continue to challenge popular culture’s definitions of beauty, especially where our hair is concerned. Even as society becomes more diverse and multi-cultural, we still have a way to go in an age where a black meteorologist can be fired for responding nicely to a viewer comment that suggested that she should stop wearing her hair short (presumably because they find it unprofessional, unflattering or both). And while many of us are comfortable in our own skin (and hair), it does feel good to have our beauty acknowledged. So when All-American cosmetics brand CoverGirl decided to make eclectic singer Janelle Monae and her supremely coiffed, natural pompadour one of its many recognizable spokesmodel faces, it signified a huge step in the right direction.

What moments would you add to this list?

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