Tuesday, 6 December 2011

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

black women with natural hair in europe
Natual and lovin' it in London. (I'm on the right)
The following entry is a repost of one of my articles written for Parlour Magazine. Parlour Magazine is the premier online destination for women across the globe, offering the best in fashion, beauty, politics, music and breaking news. I write about living in Berlin from the perspective of a Black American Woman.

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.

Be sure to check out my weekly feature and the rest of the great content over at Parlour Magazine



  1. It's true that I have seen some JACKED UP weaves here in London! It's definitely for the reasons you've mentioned. I wanted to get my locks maintained but the few salons I found were charging wayyy too much money.

    I also wanted to comment that as a Black Canadian, I have noticed that hair care products that cater to Afro textured hair are scarce in Canada. We just don't have the range and variety that you do in the States. I'm from Toronto and remember that any time I would go to the States with my mom that the FIRST thing we would do was load up on hair care products to bring back to Canada with us.

  2. It's unfortunate how few products there are...glad I found your blog though! via twitter (AsWeTravel). Always good to see a fellow American living in Europe! Especially proud to see some diversity living in Berlin!

  3. When I first started my quest with going natural it wasn't a big thing on the east coast of the U.S. so I can say that I do understand what you are saying even though we are miles and miles away. Now there are so many products I had lost control with being a pj until I locked it up. I have to say it took me close to 30 years to love my natural hair and I will NEVER look back! It was a liberating experience for me and I am glad that I finally kept my promise with myself and my husband.
    I found a natural hair site based in the UK a year ago it is called The Natural Lounge for any of your readers that feel helpless like I did in the beginning. Of course, there are numerous natural hair sites on the web but at least this one can help some women in Europe with local products. I will have to agree with you on your comments about why Black women in Europe are still wearing their hair chemically altered. Hopefully one day they will take the blinders off and realize that their crowning glory was not meant to be tamed!
    I am a little late here with finding your blog and videos but your bookmarked now. I love your blog and youtube vids keep up the good work. You are inspiring me to plan a trip to Europe sometime in the future!

  4. I'm mixed and I have a head of crazy curly hair, and I'm not a fan of straight hair. I see a lot of black ladies here (in Nürnberg) with straightened hair and it's just a little sad. I had to get my hair trimmed so I went to another black lady that spoke English and her suggestion to me was to restructure my hair to make it more manageable. I was like- nahhh I'm good, I love my naturally curly hair, although it definitely is tough to get good hair care products here without going online. I love that you talk about this topic, it is something I'm learning here.

  5. @nikki welcome! and thanks for commenting. there are quite a few americans and loads of diversity. my friends alone comprise of peeople for like 20 different countries. it's totally bananas

    @sunnie ooh i should check out the natural lounge, i used to belong to a site called nappturality. It's great that is local and can advise on products. being natural in america is not the same as being natural here. the reaction from the men is also different here :) welcome really glad you found me!

    @elliegoestogermany wow restructured, that is a new one! afro germans come up to me and touch my hair and make faces like 'oh this is not good, perm it, fix it, what is this, is it braid, time to takei t out or it will fuse' i am like chick, where are YOUR edges you need to be checking for those!

  6. For what it's worth. If anyone is in Amsterdam, the De Pijp is a neighbourhood where there are beauty supply shops with haircare products galore. Name the product you can find here.

    Going with the fro!


  7. Hi thanks for the article! Is there any good salons you would recommend in Berlin? I am 10 months natural ( did the big chop a week ago). I am living in Austria (and there is no good salons out here). I would love to get some color and maybe a shape up. Thanks in advance!!