What is this Protective Styles Nonsense?

10/04/2012 | By | More

Is it just me? I don’t understand why some people act as if there hair is seasonal. I wear natural hair year round. Snow, sleet, sunshine, rain. Never been sick or anything else. So when I see people saying I’m wearing a protective style when it’s cold this winter, I’m baffled. Never knew your hair hibernated!

No, its not just you. I’ve wondered the exact same thing and come to some interesting conclusions that I’ll share with you.

There are dozens of black women that have made a fortune creating videos on You Tube and books on the natural hair wave now sweeping Black America.  Many of the women watching these videos have NEVER worn their natural hair, having had relaxers in their heads since childhood. So for them this is all new. These women have no clue about how to care for their natural hair or what to do with it…I call them The Newly Natural. They are looking for guidance on what to do with their hair and how to do it, and when to do it. Okay, how to care for your natural hair – that’s the first part.

The second part of the equation is hair length. In black culture long hair on females (whether it comes out of your head or out of a package) is highly prized. Black women are fascinated with long hair and have resorted to ridiculously long fake hair that they use in braids, hairpieces or in total head weaves to achieve the look. But when a women decides to leave all that behind and go natural, her entire world changes and she’s like a babe in the woods. She wants to be a part of the new wave of natural hair wearers, but doesn’t know what to do.

So, when you combine a lack a knowledge about hair (that you’ve always trusted to a stylist) with a desire for long hair like the girls in the videos, you have millions of Newly Natural women hungry for information. Nothing wrong with that, and if you don’t know something you should seek information and education on the topic.

But what is happening is that hundreds of thousands of Newly Natural black women are seeing women on You Tube with long flowing natural hair and they want that look.  Regardless of genetics, regardless of dissimilar hair textures and types, women want to look like the women on You Tube. This usually means adopting the hair styles and the hair care techniques they see on You Tube for themselves, as if the You Tubers are the natural hair goddesses in whose hands the gift of Long Natural Hair is held.

So if the You Tubers say “oh, you must protect your hair by wearing a protective style if you want length like mine!” the Newly Natural buy into it.

Protective Styles vs. Low Manipulation Styles

Black hair is delicate, there is no denying that, and wearing styles that are as stress-free on the hair as possible makes sense. Reducing the amount of heat, use of harsh dyes and chemicals, and the daily handling (aka combing, brushing and hot or roller curling of your hair) means you would choose low manipulation or “protective” styles.

For those unsure of the definitions, protective styling means you wear a style where the ends of your hair are tucked in and protected from the friction of your clothes and exposure to the elements. Low manipulation styles are those which you aren’t required to style, comb, or manipulate your hair very often such as twists, braids, and cornrows. Both protective and low manipulation styles are touted as options for women that want to prevent hair breakage so they can retain maximum hair length and evidence of growth.

Natural Hair as a Fad

For the majority of black women going natural these days, natural hair is just the latest fad. In my lifetime I remember Jheri curls in the 1980s, then women had to get butt length “Justice braids” like Janet had in the movie Poetic Justice. That was followed by the Halle Berry cut in the early 1990s, then came blonde hair on black women in the mid-1990s, followed by the bone straight weave with the Dutch Boy bangs in 2006… all recent hair fads amongst black women.

A key component of fads is special lingo and actions associated with that fad. To me, all this talk of “protective styles” (like these are new creations recently invented) is designed to add to the mystique and sense of awe.  Business people have a nose for money and know a fad when they see one! This is why dozens of companies have created lines of fake “natural hair” for weaving and braiding; there are also fake “natural hair” wigs and hairpieces available for sale.

Do You Need to Wear Protective Styles for Winter?

Do black women need to worry about protective styling for winter months? I say no. The solution to protecting your hair in the winter is simple: when its cold outside, wear a hat or scarf. When its hot outside, wear a hat or scarf.

Women have argued that you can’t wear hats everywhere. Huh? Women used to not be considered properly dressed unless they left the house with something on their head, gloves and matching purse and shoes! I remember my mother, grandmother and aunts going through these changes and putting on their hats or headscarves before leaving the house, so this stance regarding female attire is within my lifetime. Even Ms. Manners explains that only women can wear hats indoors – men are required to remove theirs. That means women can wear hats anywhere and everywhere. And if you don’t want to wear it inside, you merely take it off when you get there, just like galoshes, coats and gloves.

Wearing what are now called “protective styles” is nothing new. Black women have been wearing their hair in chignons, buns, french rolls, single and double french braids, Bantu knots, cornrows and updo styles since forever. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s women of all races wore beehives, pin curls, and finger wave low manipulation styles in their natural hair. The video attached to this post shows a modern woman replicating a hairstyle popular in the 1940s/1950s. I have a picture of my Grandmother when she was young wearing this exact style .

What About the REST of Your Hair?

The concept of a protective style is great, don’t get me wrong; but what about all the hair on your head that’s out and not protected from the elements? Hair is hair and the same issues that apply to the ends re: exposure and the elements apply to the entire hair strand.

Hair can come out at the root, break or split mid-strand, or split and break off at the ends. If you are truly protective of your hair, the best way to protect it is to wear a hat or scarf.  However, black women have argued that they don’t want to wear a hat, but they are going to wear their hair in a protective style and that should be enough for them to retain length and grow their hair out because that is what the You Tuber said to do.

The Slouchy Beanie hat is a cute and hip style of hat that you can cover your entire head with and still look cute. Click to see samples.

Sigh. Let’s analyze that.

Many naturalistas promote loose hair in the summertime; braid outs, twist outs, coiled styles, and big afros have all been promoted as fun, fabulous styles for summer wear. But if you are truly protective of your hair does that really make sense?

In the summer the weather is burning up hot. In some areas of the country the temperatures reach over 100 degrees regularly during the summer months. If you’re enjoying the weather outdoors, it means your cute little twist-out hair has its ends and entire hair shaft exposed to the hot sun; your hair is being fried while you sit there looking cute.  Then you go inside where there is air conditioning, or in your car where you turn on the A/C.  So now it’s cold.  Why is no one promoting protective styles for the summer heat if exposure to damaging elements is the true concern?

So here we are in October, enjoying pleasant but mixed temperatures of fall. We are approaching winter when the temperatures will drop and it will be super cold outside – in some areas of the country the temperature gets down low to the teens, with a wind chill factor and snow, sleet and ice. I know you want to wear your protective style and all, but why would you not wear a hat to protect your body from losing valuable heat through your head? You wear gloves, you wear a coat, you wear boots, right, but you don’t want to wear a hat to protect your head and hair?

Then you go inside where it’s warm to get out of the cold. Once inside the heat is on. It’s dry heat too – no moisture in the air because its winter time. According to the You Tubers you “need” a protective style for THESE elements, but you didn’t need one during the summer months when the drying effects of the sun, UV rays, heat and air conditioning are just as potentially damaging?

Plain logical analysis should tell you that the mandate that black women need to utilize “protective styles” is nothing but b.s. Put a hat on that head of yours when you go outside in the cold, or when you go outside in the sun and you and your hair will be just fine.

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Category: Protecting, Questions/Answers, Videos

About the Author ()

Blogger, writer, relationships/dating expert, fitness trainer and natural hair enthusiast since 1997. Sharing information from grandmomma, books and scientific journals, as well as my personal discoveries and experiences with natural hair as we journey from relaxers, flat irons and weaves together.

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