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Curly Nikki

Natural Hair and Generational Differences

By January 27th, 202139 Comments

Natural Hair and Generational Differences
Shawna writes:

I’m currently in my fourth month of transitioning to natural hair. I did a mini chop, and have been slowly cutting off more relaxer as it has grown. I’ve gotten reactions that run the full gamut- from great compliments, to luke-warm, on down to “you need to do something to your hair”. Lately, I seem to notice that I get better reactions from younger people. My grandmother and others her age seem to almost always have something negative to say.

Has anyone else felt that love for natural hair seems to be a generational thing?

Share your experiences!


  • Marie Mason Felton says:

    I'm over 60 and love natural hair. I come from the black power/black is beautiful generation that really 1st started wearing and glorifying natural hair during the civil rights movement. Worn mine that way for decades. I was disappointed when younger generation turned away from natural beauty to look like kim kardashian instead of india arie. I thought our natural beauty was lost in a morass of media hyped definitions of beauty. So glad my young sistahs have brought it back. I cant imagine an older woman who came up in my time not identifying with and appreciating natural hair. In my youth my big 'fro, hip hugging jeans, platforms and a african print halter top was the look of choice for me. My man had a 'fro, I made him a dashiki and we went to political rallies together. Today I suggested a braided fro hawk to my granddaughter because she's so artistic and creative and beautiful. To women of all ages: Let's not create a generational divide over our own beauty. We have other important issues to deal with. We're all beautiful and in this together.

  • Samantha says:

    This is a common question that I often contemplate. I think it is generational but I don't think that because of negative experiences I've had with older people.

    All of the women in my family are natural with me being the last to succumb to the curly way of life. When I was discussing that fact with my oldest sister she resentfully told me how lucky I was that our mother was supporting my hair choices.

    My oldest sister was the first to go natural by growing dreads. Apparently everyone was against her decision to do this and she tells a story of how my mother tried to comb/cut them out of her hair when she started them. (I don't recall this happening at all but I may have been too preoccupied with playing with my dolls as I was only about 7 or 8 at the time)

    Sometime after, however, my mother got dreads. My other sister inadvertently grew out her perm and I big chopped in Dec '09.

    When we talk about hair in my family, the generational gap seems to come from my sister not from my parents or grandmother. Everyone tells me how nice I look, even random strangers. So I feel that my sister is resentful at how accepted my decision is as opposed to hers. She endured scrutiny in a time where natural hair was not viewed as presentable and yet now I receive praise.

    But in my defense I am much more properly educated on how to care for my hair then she was at the time. If I was less informed or perhaps had she been more informed she would hold less of a grudge against me.

  • Tonya says:

    Such a great topic and I agree that it's generational. I've been natural for over 5 years and my mom (64) has given me 3 compliments at best. It used to bother me in the beginnig but not anymore.

  • Anonymous says:

    Whenever my mom (72 yo) says things like "why don't you do something with your hair" or other disparaging comments, I go all liberal arts college on her and say that she is suffering from internalized racism and that she shouldn't be ashamed of her blackness. It irks her so much she generally with leave me alone about it for the rest of my stay.

  • Anonymous says:

    Post my big chop a senior lady at my church told me she liked me with longer hair and that I didn't have my glory anymore. ::blank stare::

  • Anonymous says:

    Both my dear grandmothers are gone, but there is an Italian lady I work with who is 81(!) and who is very vocal about sharing any opinion she has. She hated my hair in braids and she thinks I "did" something to my hair to get the curls and coils that have been growing out for the last year. I tell her that the difference is that I'm not doing anything to it and she still doesn't believe me. -Norma

  • Jackie says:

    I am of biracial heritage (black & puerto rican) and for an exception of two horrible years, which I had a texturizer in my hair, I have always been natural. However, I have never worn my hair completely natural with no heat until this past year. I always straightened it with a flat iron just for the sake of saving time. I always wanted to style my hair in a heat free natural way, yet I was very ignorant as to how to care for my own hair in it's natural state & because of a blunder with an elderly woman at my church. We always considered her to be a grandmotherly figure yet her reaction to my brothers short curly afro put a bad taste into my mouth. One day my brother, who normally wore his hair in a picked afro, came to church with curly twists after wetting his hair. The following Sunday, the same woman who I had always looked up to, handed my brother a gift bag filled with a pick, detangling products, hair spray, and a letter which read, "whenever my son walked around with his hair looking like yours my father would tell him to do something with that mop of hair that looked like it belongs on a sheep ass." It sickened me when my mother had my brother write a thank you letter to this "Christian Woman." Regardless of what any person young or old has to say about your hair, wear your hair natural. NO person can look ugly or should need to do something with the hair that god intended for him or her to have. And although the comment made me sick I pity the woman who criticized my brother. Her comment simply exemplified her low level of self esteem & confidence in her people's natural being, while serving as an painful reminder of America's ugly past in which we were taught to hate ourselves. Be proud of who you are & take into little consideration the opinion of others!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Many in the age range of the boomers have a mixed reaction to natural hair; there are some of us who never went back to straight hair after the 60's revolution(Nikki Giovanni, Angela Davis and others) Then there were the ones in our generation who, like now, hated natural hair and even hated the words: "black" and/or "african" american.
    Then there are some of us who are re-emerging with a sense of pride that young woman are embracing, and from the looks of it, determined to keep natural hair as viable option without a sense of shame and guilt. Because of this I'm proud and think you all look beautiful and I'm back to natural and will NEVER turn back. Now my mother's generation(about 68 years old and older) have some real issues with natural hair. Returning to natural again in my 50's was devastating to my mother.
    So if you can please don't think ALL older people have this attitude; there are some of us who think it is wonderful and especially for the boomer generation it has been short of amazing watching America embrace our hair in all its styles and phases. I don't hate on straight hair; but I love natural. I find nothing wrong with that.
    Here we are in a world which sits on a precipice of going towards a better world or much worst and I find it shameful that the major preoccupation many blacks have is with their self esteem and hair in particular. I think there would have been less resistance if our boomer generation continued to embrace natural hair instead or returning back to chemicals.
    I can tell you that life without worry about what people think is freeing. The question is: do you want this type of life where it doesn't matter what your friends and family think about your hair. You've got to go deep within, find the answer, make peace with it and then let go. Good luck on your journey.

  • Bronxgirl says:

    LOL. This question brings back fond memories. In the late sixties when I was 13, I decided to 'go natural' which meant a huge 'power' 'fro. It wasn't hard for me to achieve as I've never had relaxed hair. So I washed my hair, applied my Afro-Sheen spray and picked it out-viola! My grandmother took one look and called for my dad, "Oooh John, come look at this child's head!" I told her that "Oh Gama, this is the style." I don't recall my parents' reactions at all. Most likely they saw it as a welcome alternative to a boy crazy daughter, so they pretty much left me alone to fight with my brother (rocking his own fro) over the bathroom mirror. The next time I 'went natural' was in the 80's, rocking cornrows and braids. I was well accepted amongst my peers, and once again-my parents left me alone as I was an adult by then. Now, the previous generation is all gone and I do what I want with my hair and never give it a second thought. I have wonderful friends all going through their own transitions in their middle ages-so "it's all good", as they say!

  • Juanita says:

    I know this question was about whether there are generational differences, so it makes sense that most of the answers are a yes or know/with explanation and horror stories. I just wish the young women here (I'm in my 40s) would take a second to find out from the women in their church or the elders in their family why they feel like they do. Someone wrote a real nice statement about what some elders experienced about their hair. Young women, you don't have to take it personal, even if it is meant sortof personally. It may actually be that someone is trying to protect you by redirecting you, because they have experienced negative consequences in the past about having hair that wasn't flowing. And if you have a wider set of choices today, that is a blessing that you can explain rather than just discounting the shoulders that you stand on (even if it seems they are trying to buck you off! lol) Just something to think about….

  • gloria says:

    AS a 50 + Natural( I even started a Meetup for over 40 Naturals) I have many friends and associates over 50 who are natural. I would say it is not so much generational as it is individuals who think straight hair is the only way. In fact if you start looking around at your over 50 sisters you will find more of them Natural than you thought.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think it's also important to point out that beauty is subjective, and the issues that you may have gotten from society did not impact us all equally.
    So some families have always been happily afrocentric and loved natural hair of all textures and sported tiny afros.
    I kind of dislike the generalizations (even the one that I just made).
    Just like I never hated my natural texture, plenty of other black women aren't just now deciding that they are pretty with natural hair.
    It's pretty myopic and self-centered to think that how you feel about yourself is how everyone else feels. The thing that you hate most does not somehow become universal, and yeah, I don't think my skin and hair are less even if they aren't represented as often in the media.
    We should have a discussion about WHY some people feel so insecure about this and why others managed to grow up feeling good.

  • Anonymous says:

    I don't think old people have more issues with natural people than younger people. A LOT less of your 70-90 year olds had access to relaxers. And is your family from the city or the country? Are they American or immigrants? There seem to be different habits based on your origins.

    My mom has been natural for all but a couple of her 60 plus years, and several of my aunts, and one grandmother too, as well as just a lot of older family friends. I had natural hair until college, so they always complimented my hair for being super thick. I grew up getting told my all of my relatives that my hair was quite beautiful, and plenty of them had natural hair for years and years, esp. those who came of age in the 70's.

    It's a bit revisionist to act like love of natural hair is a new phenomenon. How people have done their hair has changed a LOT over the past century. Add that to the fact that we also don't have the same hair either, so plenty of people were happy with what they had. I think that this world of 2 year olds with relaxers and women with weaves is CLEARLY one trend that is very new. A lot of folks grew up with not a lot more other than a jar of Royal Crown hair grease.

    I think that it also depends on how old your grandma is and where you are from. So if you have a grandma who is under 60, then yeah, she's probably grown up with access to relaxers, curls, etc., and she's young enough to have possibly jumped on those trends. If you are talking about women who are 70, 80, 90, use of chemicals was probably not as common, a lot of people never did it, or didn't do it until late in life.

    But yeah, my other grandma had a curl of all things(she was from the country and yeah, people down in little towns in the South still do that), but her other sisters mostly had their natural hair their whole lives, and one of my oldest great aunts kept her curly hair in a short style and figured out which products helped keep her curls from frizzing (and trust me, you couldn't have told her that she wasn't cute, so not everyone is a slave to the idea that long hair is better).

    But I seriously doubt your moms had relaxers put in when they were 9, and even pressing was probably for special occasions. In the pics I see of my parents' siblings, everyone had to make do with what they had, long or short, curly or straight or wavy or kinky, it was "plaited" up for the most part(no one in my family ever learned to french braid or cornrow and I can't either), and sometimes they had pigtails.

  • Anonymous says:

    Every time I see my Grandma…she asks me when I'm going to get a perm. She asked me when I had locs nearly 6 years ago and then when I combed them out. She's old…I don't take offense…I just laugh.

  • Anonymous says:

    For me its definitely generational. I BC'd in May of last year and my great aunt and maternal grandmother HATED it (I don't know why because my line up was FRESH lol). Now me and my granny are close so we talked about it and she was cool. My great aunt on the other hand was the WORST. I wasn't feminine, I HAVE to wear big earring and have a full face of make up (I don't wear makeup at all), black men love long hair and therefore I would be manless FOREVER, oh and the BEST ONE OF ALL was "Jesus told me to tell you to not be a lesbian" (really? Jesus told you that?? Lol) etc. etc. I had to, with as much respect I could muster, let her know that I understand her preference, it has absolutely nothing to do with me. We're cool now, I love her dearly, but I was kind of taken aback by her reaction.
    My cousins/friends LOVED it, and are very supportive of me and my hair. My parents didn't say much either way but they love me whatever I decide to do =).

  • Anonymous says:

    I definitely do NOT think that it is a generational thing! I am a middle school teacher, and my students are the LEAST accepting of my natural hair. A few weeks ago I got a blow out and my students LOVED my hair straight. When I went back to rockin my curly fro, they all told me that I needed a perm!!! Hahaa! the older women at my school LOVE my natural locks and ask me for tips :) It's definitely not generational.

  • Unknown says:

    I'm actually going to have to go against everybody else here and say, NO, for me it is definitely not a generational thing. I have gotten more flack (sp?) from my mom and my sister about going natural and not getting perms anymore than I have from my grandparents. My grandma seems to really like my hair whenever I put it in braid-outs during my transition and has even told me that my mom is not really happy that I'm going back to natural, but she thinks I should do what make me happy :) However, my mom and my sister always say my hair looks a mess if I ever have it down in braid-outs and bantu knots. My sister keeps hackling me to get a weave put in and "do something with my hair" (i have nothing against weaves, they're just not for me right now) and my mom always makes snide remarks like "You should go get your hair done and get a touch up" or "I don't really think you have good enough hair to stay natural." The thing that kills me is the fact that I was natural for FOURTEEN YEARS! I've only had a perm for about 4 years now, yet she acts like my hair is gonna be unmanagable. Also, MY SISTER IS NATURAL. Granted, she always has her hair in weaves and my mom says she has a "nicer hair texture", but my family is a little outrageous. So yeah, for me, it's definitely not generational.

  • Erika says:

    It's most definitely generational! Remember, it was not too long ago that a black woman could be terminated from work for having braids, dreads or a fro. Also, natural hair has been, until recently, associated with being militant and trying to "stick it to the man" lol, so for our grannies, they are seeing someone who is standing up against a losing battle, so to speak. Needless to say, embracing natural hair as beautiful is a fairly recent phenomenon. So, though you may look gorgeous with your kinks and curls, an elderly woman won't be able to get past those negative connotations. It's unfortunate, but with time, they will accept!

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm 21 and my grandmother is in her late 70s, and she HATED my relaxed hair. She was always going on and on about how pretty my hair was when I was a kid and how she had no idea why I would ever want to change it. Needless to say, she's happy that I'm nappy again. :)

    Also, my 53 year old mom's been natural for most of my life, so she's happy that I'm natural now, too.

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with your statement….I went natural July 2009…during my transition period the previous month, I got a comment from "one of my mommies" who visited me at work; she looked at my transitioning tresses and asked, "what wrong with yo' head"??!! of course, I was pissesd…I looked at hers and answered "nothing, what's wrong with yours?!! (tee hee – she wears her hair relaxed); when I went to NC in August to visit family, one of my aunts referred to my hair as "stuff" (asking the question, "do you ever comb that stuff?") I replied, "what stuff"?(she knew she had struck a bad nerve with me!!) I replied "what stuff"?….she saw the expression on my face, then I answered, "you mean my HAIR"? of course, I comb my hair!!! A lot of the sisters/friends my age give nice compliments and are supportive and the older women who give nice and positive compliments are those who wear their hair natural….and welcomed my natural "home coming" with open arms!!

  • MrsPharmD says:

    I think the biggest reaction I received from an older person was from my dad. It actually made me laugh. My dad asked me one day when I was wearing my hair in two strand twists what was I doing with this afrocentric/ethnocentric hair? Why am I changing? I thought it was the funniest thing! I explained to him that I wasn't changing, just tired of the relaxers. But when I rock a twist out, he loves it! Just have to love those fathers.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think our older generation was conditioned to think that our hair had to be fried, dyed, and laying to the side. Remember as kids, if our hair was wild, we would get fussed at because we looked like little "pic-a-ninnies"? My grandmother is 98 years old, and she can't stand my hair. At first it was because it was too short (twa). Then, it was too wild. The next day I did a puff and she decided she liked the hair style from the day before. She said that I just don't look like myself anymore. I told her that this is the new me. My mother wants to go natural (she is 80), and she has a looser curl, so she could definitely go, but I think she's afraid of looking like a "pic-a-ninny". You just have to grin and bear it and just let them know that this is the way it is now, and maybe forever.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think it may be generational and geographical. I've been natural most my life (save for flat ironing my hair to death!). I'm 59 live in the midwest and have seen women my age and older switch back to natural hair. When I started wearing twists and twist outs this past year the younger women started asking me for natural hair advice. Now back in the day when me and my mom were sportin' fro's it took the birth of my first daughter to get my grandmother to speak to us and she was practically a year old before we finally all got back together. Anything remotely nappy grandma hated with a passion, she actually told my mom she could get out of her house when mom's friend asked grandma how did she like mom's hair (fro)…needless to say it was definitely generational in the late 60's!

  • KayB says:

    For my family it is not. My grandaunt has locs and my grandmother is natural. My mother loves that I am natural and when I talk to her every week she always asks "how's the hair?"

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree it is a generational thing and it runs DEEP in the south. My other is in her 40's and give's me the evil eye when ever she looks at my hair. This is because she has "good" hair that is long, thick and permed, not matter how great my curls look (and they are popin') her standards of beauty are different. And as for my granny… my head is always covered when I go to see her(yes it's that bad and I BC 3 months ago and I dont want to get discouraged by harsh words). My son's hair is in a little fro and I want him to be proud of his hair and grow it out as well. We will see how that goes bc already my mom is talking about how "bad" his hair is, and he's only 8 months! Smh.

  • DvaAuNaturel says:

    I don't like to generalize and make broad statements about groups of people, like to say that ALL people of any group are one way. I don't know if it's generational or just that SOME people don't adjust well to change or what they don't know and/or understand. If your family has been used to your hair being straight for years and hasn't been really exposed to anyone with their hair like that then they probably just don't understand. Not sure how a change to one person's hair really makes it another's business to have an opinion but it happens. I remember when I first when natural in 1995 and when I became vegetarian, my family tripped out about it. Made such a big dea when I came home for family reunion. I think it's just an adjustment folks go through because natural hair is foreign to them…just my 2 cents ;-)

  • Anonymous says:

    I am 53 and big chopped 2 times in 1987 and then again in 1996 and final went natural for good 2 years ago. Each time I wore my hair in it's natural state I got some negative comments from some older people and my dad never cared for the TWA I sported. My mother and sister(who just went natural) have always supported me in my hair journey. My close friends have always said they like my natural hair too and they are in my age range. So I guess it just depends on who the person is. I use the comments as a change to educate and express my views on hair. I don't take it personally or get mad.

  • Anonymous says:

    I can agree with the author, my maternal grandmotheris from the south and when she was alive her words definitely sounded like self-hate. In fact, when she was alive I did not have natural hair, it was relaxed. When I was younger my mother would straighten my hair with the pressing comb and if it was not straightened enough to her standards she would taunt my mom as well as her granddaughter for the rest of the visit her favorite words to use were, "your too cute to have your hair look like that." My mom is now open to my natural hair, but I have yet to hear what comments might come out of her mouth when I have grandchildren who will be natural too.

  • Neesha_Cherie says:

    I'm 21 and I have the exact same problem with my Grandmother. She'll be 70 this August. Almost everytime she sees me, which is about every other day, she gives me some negative comment, and is surprised whenever I tell her about the compliments I've received that day. She also tells me that my hair reminds her of locs (Here in the Virgin Islands people often assume that natural hair is a prelude to locs). My grandmother also never fails to remind me that if I put in locs she will have nothing to do with me. I love her like crazy, but I just wish she'd hush sometimes…

  • Anonymous says:

    Well I'm 22 and my mother's mother and my Aunts on my Dad's side all love my natural hair. Many of them have been natural their whole lives but wear their hair pressed (except in the 60's when they had fro's) and love my curly tresses. My Dad grew up in the 60's and still gloats about his enormous fro (fist up, head down) haha. My friends all love my hair natural but my younger siblings and mother(age 43)HATE IT!!!! Oh well I get more positive feedback than negative so what-ev. I tell my mom all the time that she's just jealous of me haha

  • Anonymous says:

    By and large, it does seem to be a generational difference in how natural hair is perceived. You must understand that many of our dear elders suffered such unabashed and open discrimination which may have helped the establishment of a cultural norm of straightening hair. It does not mean that they hate themselves or your choice. It's just that their experiences resulted in a different cultural norm and mindset in regards to hair.
    Thankfully, some things have changed and we are in a position to have (or at least feel)more freedom in changing or challenging cultural norms. Not that we are wearing our hair natural to do so, but we have the freedom to chose this as a style!

    I am kinda in the middle zone. Im 45 and went natural over ten yrs ago. At first, my mother wasnt thrilled, but she loves my hair now and never says a word about relaxing or straightening. She actually loves my curls. Told me so herself. Her older sister, my aunt has been natural for yrs and sports a TWA. My mother hates that, lol. My late grandma used to press hair , so she knew all about natural hair. She never said a word about my decision. Bless her heart.
    Anyway, I think the very old (80+) probably dont care so much. Its the age range btwn 55/60-80 yrs that probably have the most difficulty with it. Again, I think its because of the racial turmoil this country went through during the height of their young adult yrs. Just hold your head up, try to encourage others when you can and respect the elders!!!
    Hang tough!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Definitely. Today I was out with my grandmother and she spotted a man with locs…she asked me if that was his real hair. I told her yes, and she replied "that's ugly hair. It looks like a mop." She doesn't care for natural hair at all. My dad is 49 and he hates my natural hair too.

  • Michelle Collins says:

    It will always be like that. The older people were raised in a different time and era. We are living in a generation where we have more freedom and we don't care what society has to say.

  • StaceyMarie says:

    I can definitely relate! I'm a VA girl and my beloved 72 year old Granny made it a point to tell me that she hated it every time she saw me during my 8 month transition and after I BC'd, she asked if it was a financial thing and assured me that she and Grandaddy would pay for my relaxers because I had "such pretty, long hair". When I pointed out that she's natural, she said "well, I have GOOD hair!" She does have a looser curl pattern than I do, but after I discovered the kiddie perm in her bathroom, she shut up! Also, my hair has grown a lot and she's seen that I'm not bald-headed. Some of her friends like it and some don't, but it has helped having other, middle-aged relatives who are naturals. Now she says my hair looks better than theirs! (she still has relapses when she sees my hair straight after I get a trim, but I've got her on a 12-step program so it's cool…take 12 steps in the other direction and then come back)

  • Bridget says:

    I agree with you ladies. It is definitely generational. My younger family members and friends absolutely love my natural hair, but I get side-eyed and murmurs of disapproval from older relatives AND strangers. (I'm looking at them like "Do I even know you?")

  • Nakia Naturally says:

    there's an older lady at my job who consistently asks me if i got caught in a wind tunnel on my way to work. i think we're still dealing with the old standard of beauty in older generations. i'm in the south and it's MUCH more prominent here than up north. not sure how many naturals there are at debutante balls these days. it would actually be interesting to know. =)

    regardless. i LOVE it.

  • ❤cherelle says:

    I bc'd in July 2010 after transitioning for 6 months. The older women at my church (the mothers as we like to call it) have no problem whatsoever telling me to my face that they do not like my hair. My grandmother never once said that she doesn't like it, but she always reminds me that my hair looked so pretty when it was straight. Guess it just comes with the territory.

  • karla4805 says:

    It is diffently generational, I have the same issues with my grandmother and other family members around the same age as her. Change is hard for them to accept when it comes to beauty standards.

  • Anonymous says:

    I know I have experienced a generational difference when it comes to natural hair. I think older ladies are more prone to hanging on to the old standards of beauty because some are not as accepting to change. IMO, younger ladies are accepting of the new trend that is natural hair. It's whats "in" right now.

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