Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Changing Shapes Of Women's Afro Hair Styles (with January 2018 Update)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Update: January 21, 2018

[Pancocojams Editor's comment: This pancocojams post was originally published in 2011. I made a few changes and additions to my 2011 written editor's comment, including the addition of a brief comment about some Black female natural hair styles after 2000.

I replaced a video of African American folk singer Odetta since the one that I had previously published was no longer available. I also replaced a video of African American R&B singer Aretha Franklin with one of South African singer Miriam Makeba since that video of Aretha Franklin was no longer available, and since I already showcased another video of that singer, but hadn't included one of Miriam Makeba. And I added some additional videos of early 21st century Black women's large, unstyled natural hairstyles and other natural hairstyles.]

An "afro" (also known as "fro") is an African American term for a natural hairstyle that is worn or was worn by some Black females and Black males. For centuries people in some Black African nations, and some Black people in other part of the world such as in the Fiji Islands and in Australia have been sporting what Americans would consider to be "afros". However, since the early 20th century, with the development & marketing of hair care products for Black people by Madame C. Walker and other Black hair care entrepreneurs, chemically or heat straightened hair were the principle ways that Black women (in the United States) wore their hair. Until the mid 1960s, few African American teenagers and women would have even considered wearing their hair naturally out in public.

The emergence of the afro and other Black natural hairstyles in the United States during the 1960s was closely tied to the "Black is beautiful" movement. That Black pride movement was fueled by the large number of African nations that became politically independent from Europe rule in the 1960s. The hey day of afros for African Americans was in the 1970s. It appears to me that particularly in large urban US cities, more Black people-including teenage females & males-wore their hair in afros during the 1970s than in any previous time or to date. Check out this Soul Train television show video for an example of the different ways African American males & females wore their hair in the 1970s:

Soul Train Line Dance to Curtis Mayfield Get Down

Uploaded by bysolo65 on May 3, 2011


In the 1960 & the 1970s, the wider & bigger the afros the more they were highly valued by afro-centric (African cultural centered) Black folks. Indeed, because of the wide and also sometimes "wild" appearance of many afros, one vernacular nickname for the afro that Black folks used was "bush". Calling someone's fro a "bush" could be positive, negative, or neutral depending on who said it, and when & how it was said.

For many Black people, afros are just a hairstyle. I started wearing my hair in an afro in 1966 and I've consistently worn my hair in an afro style ever since then. For me, the afro is much more than a hair style - it's a statement of Black pride. I remember when some Black males and females started wearing their hair in afros, a lot of Black folks were incensed that we would show the world our "back to Africa" roots. And many non-Black folks thought that everyone wearing their hair in a fro was a radical who hated White people. That of course wasn't true then and it isn't true now. Furthermore, lots of people who didn't wear afros- including some Black people - thought and still think that people who wore/wear their hair in afros didn't wash or comb or style or nourish their afro hair. That is also untrue.

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, it seemed that very few African American adults chose to wear their hair in an afro. For example, during that time period the only women I saw wearing afros in my adopted city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were a few Black women over the age of 40. I purposely wrote "adults" because even in the 1960s and 1970s, and also today it seems to me that very few African American children under 18 years old wear their hair in afros-although this may be slightly changing now with the attention being paid to more natural hairstyles for Black folks such as corn rolls & dreads (dreadlocks).*

*Added January 2018- This has definitely changed since I wrote this comment. I think that it's less common nowadays to chemically straighten Black girls' hair, particularly before the age of 13 years or so. One commonly found hairstyle for many Black American girls under 12 years of age is wearing their natural hair (or extensions) in multiple braids, often with small plastic beads attached. And a lot of Black American females over 12 years girls wear their natural hair out in long, undefined hair styles that are the same as those shown in the videos for Black women that are found near the end of this updated post.
-end of addition-

Nowadays [written in 2011 but still true in 2018] there appears to be more styles for afros than I remember in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the early 2000s or so, I've been seeing younger Black women wearing closely cropped (very short) afros, or moderatedly short but styled 'fros. And this year (2011), I've been seeing more young African American women (and African American men) sportin' large wide naturals*, but not halo shaped as Angela Davis' hair style was. I think that there are many reasons for the (still moderate) increase in Black folks wearing their hair in afros (or naturals, since I think the term "afros" is rarely used). One reason is the recycling of fashion trends. In addition to the reasons I have already mentioned, some females who wear their hair naturally indicate that they do so because that style is easier to take care of than relaxed (straightened) hairstyles and/or the belief (which I think is fact) that natural hairstyles are usually healthier for the hair.

*"A natural" is another term for an "afro" and other hair styles (such as dreadlocks) for tightly curled* hair that are typical of people of Black African descent when that hair is not hot combed or chemically treated. Person who have natural hairstyles (i.e. afros, twists, locks etc) shampoo and condition their hair. Females or males may highlight their hair with colors and may put beads or cowrie shells in their twists or dreadlocks. Furthermore, afros may be texturized (chemical treatment may be added for a shorter time period)to loosen some of the hair's natural curl. If this happened in the 1960s - 1980s I didn't know about it. Also, females & males may choose to have their afros cut & styled in beauty parlors or barber shops. That said, there is a trend nowadays for some big afros to be worn seemingly unstyled - or maybe I should say that the seemingly unstyled wide afro is a current style.

I attended an event this week (August 2012) and saw a Black woman who was probably in her forties with a very short closely cropped afro that was probably texturized and also dyed blond. I also saw another Black woman around the same age who wore her natural hair (not a wig or hair pieces known as "extensions") in an unstyled wide afro. Her hair was dyed brown with red tinges. Those colors were almost certainly the result of a beauty parlor or barber shop treatment. Furthermore, her hair may have also been chemically treated as it wasn't tightly curled but somewhat straight. Instead of the hair in her afro being tightly curly and close to her head, and big (meaning touching her shoulders in length), her hair was away from her head and went every which way. But she (like me and other Black people) may have some portions of her hair that are naturally straighter than other hair portions, and therefore her wide somewhat straight afro might have been all natural except for the hair colors. Also, there are some Black people who have naturally brown hair or other non-black hair color but in that woman's case her afro hair colors probably weren't "natural". I should also note that these women were very attractive.

*"tightly curled" is the term I prefer for various textures of hair that is considered typical of the hair texture for people of Black African descent although it isn't hair textures of all Black people and isn't hair textures which are exclusive to Black people. I say "textures" because there are a range of tightly curled hair textures. Other terms for "tightly curled" hair such as kinky, nappy, frizzy, coarse, woolly often have negative connotations and can therefore lead to negative consequences by those who use them.
Added January 21, 2018
The terms "afro" and "'fro" and the purposely halo shaped short or wide natural hair appear to have been retired from use. Since at least the early 2000s, Black women, in particular, have been wearing their hair in a number of natural hairstyles, including large coils with undefined shapes. This hairstyle is largely the result of combing out multiple thin braids and leaving the hair "as is". That natural hair style is quite different from the purposely rounded, halo shape of 1970s afros. Some examples of these early 2000s to date [2018] Black women's natural hairstyles are found near the end of this updated post along with a few other examples of Black women's natural hairstyles.

This post showcases several music videos of Black women wearing their hair in an afro. Videos are presented of featured vocalists from four African nations and from the United States. I've also included a video from the Fiji islands to show examples of what Americans would consider to be afros in that Melanesian nation.

Each featured video is presented with my subjective description of the length and style of the afro given in parenthesis*. By no means is this a comprehensive presentation of the ways that Black women wear afros or the nations of the world where females wear afros.

*I'm not a beautician. My apologies if these descriptions of afros are subjective and simplistic.

Without further comment, here are the featured videos of female afro styles from very closely cropped to very wide:

Angelique Kidjo –“Mallaikka” (Benin, West Africa)

Uploaded by equinoxrox on Apr 28, 2007

African singer Angelique Kidjo from Benin sings love song ballad in Swahil at the Africa Rollback Malaria Concert. English subtitles. On March 12 and 13 in 2005, some of Africa's greatest musical talents got together to play for two nights in downtown Dakar while trying to spread the message about combating malaria.

[a very closely cropped afro which has been dyed blond; Since about the 1990s, a small number of African American women also began to dye their straightened hair blond and dye their (usually) closely cropped or relatively short afro blond.]

Laura Mvula -"She"- (In South Africa) - by Damian Weilers

Laura Mvula, Published on Nov 17, 2012

Shot by South African director Damian Weilers in Montagu, Western Cape.
'She' is taken from Laura Mvula's debut EP available now
Vocalist Laura Mvula was born in South Africa but grew up in the United Kingdom. Her hair is worn in a closely cropped afro.

Hat tip to for alerting me to this video.

Cesaria Evora - "Mar de Canal" (Cape Verde, West Africa)

Uploaded by alcom34 on Jun 8, 2007

Voz d'Amor - 2003

[a short afro which appears to be "texturized" (slightly chemically treated?)]

Rebecca Malope - “Hamba Lenquola” (South Africa)

Uploaded by MAURA MACIVER on Apr 13, 2008

[moderately short, styled afro]

Miriam Makeba - Pata Pata (Live 1967)

Miriam Makeba Official Channel, Published on Mar 17, 2015

[moderately short afro]

Aretha Franklin - Jump (Soul Train 70's) (United States)

MyRhythm NSoulTV, Published on Apr 10, 2014

[moderately big/wide afro dyed light brown]


pining4apple, Published on Nov 23, 2011

[moderately short, styled afro]

Fiji Music (Fiji)

Alexey Bekmuratov on Nov 18, 2009

Vinaka Vakaniu Collection-2

[moderatively big afros]

Also, click for other photographs of Fijian females and males with what Americans would all "afros".

Ethiopian Music Kassahun Taye (sora ye wello bahlawi)

[long style with partially braided hair on top; Americans would call this look a natural hairstyle which if worn out might be called "afros". That said, Ethiopians are unlikely to consider this style an afro.]

Natalie Cole - This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) 1975 (United States)

Uploaded by jondbee56 on Aug 8, 2010

[very big/wide halo shaped afro]

Esperanza Spalding BLACK GOLD- OFFICIAL (credits) (United States)

Uploaded by montunoartists on Feb 5, 2012

Official Site:

...This song is singing to our African American heritage before slavery. Over the decades, so much of the strength in the African American community has seeded from resistance and endurance. I wanted to address the part of our heritage spanning back to pre-colonial Africa and the elements of Black pride that draw from our connection to our ancestors in their own land. I particularly wanted to create something that spoke to young boys.

[very big/wide round shaped afro]

[Update January 21, 2018]

Viola Davis speaks at Women's March

CNN, Published on Jan 20, 2018

Actress Viola Davis gave a passionate speech at the Women's March in Los Angeles.

[very large, unstyled, undefined shape with hair coils emphasized, i.e. left uncombed]


iamthedaisha, Published on May 18, 2016

90s house vibes! EP "I Am The Daisha" drops May 20th!

[really very large, unstyled, undefined, hair coils, with other Black women's natural hair styles]

Janelle Monáe - Electric Lady [Official Video]

janellemonae, Published on Jul 30, 2014

Janelle Monáe - Electric Lady [Official Video] - Directed By ALAN FERGUSON

[various Black women's natural hairstyles]

Cardi B, Michelle Obama and other celebrities show their natural hair!

M.C.rush, Published on Apr 3, 2017

Cardi B, Michelle Obama and other celebrities show their natural hair!

After wearing her hair in protective styles at the White House, now Michelle is free to let her hair hang down. You go girl!

Clips of celebrities included:
Michelle Obama
Uzo Aduba
Brittany Sky
Jessica White
Gabrielle Union
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Whoopi Goldberg
Kim Fields
Esperanza Spalding
Jenifer Lewis
Kimberly Elise
Leela James
Jhene Aiko
Porsha Williams
Teyana Taylor
Winnie Harlow
Aja Naomi King
Keri Hilson
Denise Boutte
Jasmine Tookes
Toya Wright
Karlie Redd
Cardi B.
Masika Kalysha
Tahiry Jose
Tammy Rivera
Kenya Moore

[various Black women's natural hairstyles]

RELATED LINK "Videos of African American Males (Music & Natural Hairstyles), Part 1"

That post presents videos of afro hair styles worn by various African American non-religious music performers (from 1969 - 2002). That post also includes an essay that I wrote on "The Psycho-Social Implications For African Americans of Natural Hair Styles".

Note: I haven't updated that series on Black male hairstyles to include post 2002 fashions.

The content of this post is provided for historical, cultural, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in this videos and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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