Generally speaking, Afro-Europeans see my natural hair as something that needs to be fixed with perm or covered up with a wig and this kind of thinking frustrates me. Living in Berlin I can honestly say that I miss seeing women wear two strand twists, afro puffs and dreadlocks. Apart from the occasional American tourist, black women in Europe typically rock straight hair, weaves and extensions. I imagine the pressure for a women of color to appeal to the European standard of beauty must be stifling in Germany. Ironically, that pressure doesn’t come directly from the Germans themselves but from other Afro-Europeans.
I experienced similar peer pressure in America when I went natural ten years ago. The most vocal critics of my decision were my black family members, colleagues and friends. The naysayers took their own insecurities and misconceptions about natural hair and tried to pass them off as the overall perception of the dominant culture. I see the same behavior here in Germany but even more so, as if to wear your hair in its natural state is an indicator of being “too black to handle” or unwilling to conform to the German way of life.
The pursuit for long, straight and “manageable” hair sometimes creates casualties. Not only does the quest take its toll on the tender psyche of young German colored girls but concern for overall hair health is thrown out of the window. The primary motivation of many is to cover up, not cultivate their hair so little time is spent learning how to keep their locks growing healthily. When I take a quick visual survey of Berlin’s colored girls, I often see missing edges, fried ends, matted extensions and poorly executed weaves. I do not have hard statistics but I am amazed at the number of side-eye-worthy heads I have seen during my time living and traveling around Europe. The women here seem to prefer “damaged yet straight” over “healthy and nappy.”
There are a few contributing factors to the state of black hair care in Europe, beginning with black women don’t make up a significant percentage of the population. The small brown numbers result in less demand for products which leads to less hair care techniques and tools, leaving stylists being years behind their counterparts in places like America. There is almost no pressure to have any representation of black women in the media due to the low buying power of the black woman in Europe. There are no magazines like ESSENCE and few websites like Parlour Magazine are published in European languages. Many women don’t have high expectations for their hair because they don’t see many examples of black women, nevermind black women with healthy hair. Environmental factors such as climate and water can also be damaging. Berlin has some of the hardest water I have ever experienced, it’s loaded with calcium and other minerals that leave my hair dry and damaged. It took me months to sort out the right routine for my dry scalp (hint: water filters are awesome).
Black hair care in America is not perfect but it is light years ahead of Europe. Outside of major cities with larger black populations like London and Paris, black women in Europe rarely take advantage of their hair’s versatility and usually linger around the straight end of the spectrum. Permed hair, weaves and extensions are not bad but they seem to be the only options many women entertain due to limited education about natural hair.