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Black in Berlin: Why My Natural Hair is … Unnatural in Germany

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.

Last 5 posts by Nicole is the new black

  • Wow, so glad to hear someone else say this! I am permed and now transitioning back to natural, but even my “straight” hair suffered in European stylist’s hands. my hair is 2-4 inches shorter due to poor skill.

    But anyway, the main issue is the state of MANY black women’s hair! My family was really worried about that. They found the state of many women they would see on the Paris and London streets’ hair appauling and worried I’d end up with ragged, damage hair. Caring for my hair here is more difficult, but I’m finding my way and seeing results. Moving to natural as I prepare to have children and plan for their acceptance of their black identities is just the next step in learning, loving and caring for my hair.

  • Mahogs

    AWESOME post. I have been STRUGGLING out here in London and my hair is on the verge of falling out in protest against the hard water that it has been forced to deal with over the past year.  Great take on a very real topic.

  • Syrel

    Interesting to hear this view from across the sea. Perhaps the Internet will help Afro-European women the way it has helped many of us here, who learned to appreciate and care for our coils and kinks through “natural” websites & blogs.

    All the best to you,
    Syrel

  • Syrel

    ….by here, I meant, here in the U.S.

  • Beauty Hair

    Looks like you’re really well. Congratulations!

    denman brush for natural
    hair

  • Nikki

    The key to surviving with natural hair in Berlin and the harsh water/cold…omega-3 oil capsules and omega-6 (evening primrose oil). Best discovery EVER! I take at least one of each a day. My hair has never been so thankful.

  •  Yeah I take evening primrose oil tablets 🙂

  • Krissminceymusic

    LOVELOVELOVE. Thanks for this article. Baby sister’s made it to age 13 w/o a perm (miracle), and feels the flat iron and extension are the only solutions.

  • Faderkinta

    I have lived in a few countries and with the exception of Italy I would say, I am glad I am not a black woman living in another country. Looking for black products abroad is epic, from make-up to hair care. Glad internet shopping came along but really; however, most black girls only make it less than two years in Japan. It’s slowly getting better but if you can manage your own hair you’re better off.

  • Exberliner

    I’ve lived in Berlin on and off forever. Only I  recently I found someone
    who was skilled to cut my type of hair- thick, straight-wave combo hair…
    Somehow they just don’t get it in Berlin. Just have a look around and you can see…why.

  • Fifi Dee

    Hi! I live in France and I was wondering if there are any natural hair care salons you could recommend. I will travel! 🙂

  • NGR

    Fuck conforming to a crackers wishes or apperance a black person must really fucking hate him or herself to want to resemble the appearance of there once slave owners

  • NGR

    Natural black is beautiful and always will be

  • Mick

    You have hit the nail on the head!! I’ve been living in Düsseldorf for roughly 8 months and it’s been a struggle to find someone who is somewhat knowledgeable on healthy Afro haircare. I will be investing in a water filter.
    Thank you for this article.

  • disqus_6Fti9wX3wD

    Hi, I’m in Werl, an hour away from DÜsseldorf and I was wondering what you found out about water filters around here. My hair is suffering badly and if I mention a water filter the only response I get is, it’s already filtered. Do you have any recommendations for brands and places to find waterfilters.

  • Mick

    Unfortunately I have not yet discovered a good water filter for my shower head.

  • Mick

    Unfortunately I have not yet found a good water filter for my shower head.

  • Jasmine

    Ladies I think it’s time for a change and I totally agree with you all that Europe doesn’t express or give any attention to black hair or black women at that. I am currently working on a all food and nutritional based hair care line mainly for black women but fot all hair times. This summer I will be touring Europe in 2016 and what I plan to do is offer a full natural product line that is inspired by all countries in Europe that I will visit. One everything is in place I promise to spread the wird by media, facebook, twitter and so forth. Also what I like to do is open up a shop in London, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and of course america. I would love to give you women the opportunity and chance to run one of those shops on your own to spread awareness for not only black hair but women of color having the power to run a successful business in Europe.

  • Freddie Coleman

    Thank you. Somebody besides me said it.