Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Natural Trend: Is Breastfeeding Next?

Recently there has been a resurgence of the "natural hair" movement in the black community. More and more black women are choosing to stop chemically processing their hair and are wearing it in its natural state, whether that be an afro, dreadlocks, twists or kinky curls. In the last few years, women who’ve gone natural have blown up as beauty bloggers. One look at a site like AfroBella or Curly Nikki will tell you how popular the movement is. There are tons of products on the market now specifically for maintaining natural hair. Creams and conditioners that used to only be available online or in specialty salons are now sold at Target and Walgreens.  Many women have even started their own businesses selling botanical haircare products for their fellow naturalistas.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the connections between natural hair and breastfeeding. In her book At the Breast,Linda Blum conducted some interesting research with low income moms, both black and white. She found that for the black moms, the promotion of breastfeeding as the "natural" way to feed an infant was actually a turn off. The moms equated the term with being dirty and animalistic. Yet this is how we typically advocate for breastfeeding, as being natural. So I am curious now that many black women are embracing being "natural" will this change? Will the natural hair movement extend to pregnancy and birthing and breastfeeding?

The are already parallels between the natural hair movement and breastfeeding advocacy that are almost funny. For example, when actress Kim Coles decided to go natural recently she stated in an interview with Patrice from AfroBella, "I will try to stay away from debating what is more ‘natural.’ Nor will I be pushing others to take the steps that I am taking. I think that you get to choose your kind of beauty. I do however want us all to be honest with ourselves as why we make the choices that we do." On the website Nappturality, the introduction states, “If you are still relaxing your hair you are welcome here, however be warned...We don't debate the wonders of relaxing and we don't talk about the benefits of chemical or heat straightening on Nappturality because frankly, there aren't any benefits to using high heat or that caustic chemical.” 

It's very obvious from some of the discussions you see across the internet that this is a touchy subject. There are the women who say, "I am doing this for my own benefit and whatever choice you make for you is fine" and those who believe that natural hair is so vastly superior that it's obvious that every woman should go natural.

I personally have been natural (besides hair color and bleach) since I was 15. I didn't do it for any reason other than I was tired of the scalp and hair damage I was suffering after getting my hair permed. I didn't particularly love (or even like) my curly hair, but it was wash and wear and made my life simpler. Many of the reasons women give for going “natural” include health benefits (no more inhaling lye at the salon, no more hair loss or scalp damage) and financial costs (maintaining a perm is expensive). Many have never considered going natural until they saw another black woman at work or on the train who had beautiful unprocessed hair.

Again, you can see the parallels between breastfeeding. As more black women choose to breastfeed, their friends and family will be influenced by seeing them do it, as will strangers out and about in public. As more black women choose to breastfeed, they will talk about the health benefits to their babies. As more black women choose to breastfeed, they will how cost effective it is, saving them money on formula and bottles, as well as related medical costs.

So can we let this “natural” trend extend to pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding? Because, really, it ain't all about the hair.

*Photo credit Dio Burto

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