Are curls the new straight hair? [The Germany Files]

by Carolina Asuquo-Brown

Just a few weeks ago I was flipping through the pages of a fashion mag with a friend.

An editorial featuring an obviously biracial black/white model sporting a huge curly ‘fro caught our eye and that I have to say – I just loved the style.

I have been natural most of my life (not necessarily out of conviction but due to the chronic and persisting shortage of German hairstylists who can deal with wild biracial hair more on the afro side-or with any kind of biracial or black hair) save a few relaxed spells every few years after which I desperately longed for my kinks and curls to come back.

Anyway, my style of the moment is natural and the model’s medium-length curls were something I really considered desirable. The hairstyle did strike a chord with me, but my friend Jen, who has two African parents, is many a shade darker than I am and has shiny and fantastically healthy-looking relaxed tresses (which I have never managed to obtain) was a lot less enthusiastic about the model’s look.

“That’s something mixed girls get away with” she said, “They can get their hair to look like that – I couldn’t. I feel that curls are something like the latest fetish – it’s like there are black girls with great curls all around, advertisement, movies, magazines. And lately it has become a bit like what straight hair used to be-you’ve got to have it.”

It had never occurred to me, but speaking to Jen, I realised that she might be right. Over the next weeks everywhere I looked, be it the streets of my city or most of he few female black German TV-presenters – it really seemed that nowadays the fly mixed or black girl hast to have curls. Generous, semi-loose curls that is, tight enough to give you the volume but loose enough to be considered beautiful in a more mainstream way.

Suddenly I noticed that there were other mixed women like myself sporting curls and curly fros, short or big hair and that black girls with curls really seemed a growing trend in German cities. I also realised that hardly any women with tightly coiled hair, like Jen’s, wore their hair out or natural.

“That’s because of the pressure to have hair that at least gets near the look of ‘typical’ mixed race curls,” Jen complained and I feel that she definitely has a point.

The new trend that I and many other women of color have happily embraced seems to have it’s downside.

Obtaining a certain look hair seems to be almost as pressurising as it was to have bone straight hair back in the day. Only now curly hair is the new straight hair.

In Germany, the politics of (black) hair have been very different from the US. Up to this day, unlike the US, multigenerational mixed black people are almost non-existent in Germany. That is one reason why the “biracial” and “black” hair divide may be sharper than in the US. Though the first multigenerationally mixed families are only just emerging, most black Germans are still of direct African origin, be it through one parent or both.

The small “black” population after the second world war up until the 1960s was made up mainly by the biracial children of white German mothers and African American soldiers stationed in the country. From the mid-1960s onwards the fathers were mainly Africans who came to Germany from their newly independent countries to pursue their studies.

The “traditional” hairstyle for the majority of biracial Germans pre-1990s was to wear their hair natural, not necessarily because you liked it that way, but because there were no hairdresser or product options around.

In the olden days most of us had German mothers totally clueless of how to handle their offspring’s biracial hair. Bless them, I would be quite at a loss myself if I had to care for a child with bone straight European hair, and let us not forget – those were the days before the internet made black hair care tips and mail ordering stuff from the States widely accessible.

I remember that as late as the 80s the hairstyles worn by the Huxtable women in the “Cosby Show”or in MTV music clips were unobtainable for most black women in Germany. It was only in the early 1990s that the increasing number of new African immigrants led to the emergence of the African hair stylist in Germany.

Getting your hair relaxed soon became a sought after option, but even today there is a lack of well-qualified stylists and very often they are likely to be more skilled in doing braids and extensions than in relaxing biracial hair.

Following the new curly trend after many years of experimenting with relaxers, the number of German women of color wearing their curls in a natural state has increased, even if – as my friend made me aware – mostly amongst the mixed girls and women .

I went on to do my research on the internet and many a web community in which I expected women of color to celebrate the diversity of their natural hair was full of product-, money- and time-consuming tips how to obtain the perfect curl. To be fair, there are a few great sites out there catering to the needs of a diverse curl community and doing a fantastic job giving positive appreciation to our diverse hair. The positive examples I have in mind were those sites that actually gave style advice that kept in mind that you do need a certain hair type to start with – to be able to obtain a certain natural look without killing yourself for it. However my overall impression was that there seemed to be almost an obsession with obtaining a certain type of curly hair –and I wonder if Jen is right and right now society is just blatantly more accepting of the seemingly effortless shake-and-go curls or maybe a curly fro than of a tightly curled Afro? And that women whose hair just will not curl that way are left out of the new beauty standard? Once again?

It seems that what could be a liberating and long awaited expansion of a narrow beauty ideal has a flipside after all and that ultimately we should trust our hair, not the trend. Curls are great and we love them – but don’t stress yourself about them too much. Keep in mind that well treated hair is always beautiful, be it relaxed, curly or a straightforward Afro!

(Pictured: German celebrity Annabelle Mandeng)

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