'Fro is back- Hairstyle symbol of freedom

Saturday, March 9, 2002

CHICAGO -- Rocker Lenny Kravitz sported one, round and full, on a recent cover of Ebony magazine. Basketball player Ben Wallace has been known to tie his up like a pineapple stalk, to the amusement of his fans in Detroit.

The Afro, a hairstyle that shouted "black is beautiful" back in the day, is experiencing a revival among students, young professionals and celebrities -- many of them black, others not.

For those born well after the civil rights movement, the decision to go naturally curly, and sometimes big and bold, is often more about being trendy than any big political or social statement. The trend fits right in with other popular "retro" styles from the 1960s and '70s, from bell bottoms to mutton chop sideburns.

But having an Afro can also be about self-expression, says William Humphrey, a master stylist at Loop Styles salon in suburban St. Louis. Today's Afros come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes incorporate braids, twists and beads.

"It's more of an accepted thing, but it's also kind of rebellious. It's, 'Now you're letting me do it, so I'm going to go all out with it,"' says Humphrey, who's getting more requests for Afros lately.

Several football players and even a few cheerleaders at Ferrum College in Virginia arrived at school last fall with Afros. And at a recent talk given by poet and activist Nikki Giovanni in Chicago, many young, black audience members had Afros and other hairstyles -- like braids and dreadlocks -- that don't require hair to be chemically straightened.

Jennifer Coates, a 23-year-old Chicagoan, says the trend made it easier for her to get a short Afro -- and finally make peace with hair that, she believes, didn't look good long and straightened.

It's a decision that is an especially big deal for black women, she says. Many spend hundreds of dollars a month to get their hair straightened and softened -- a ritual some say is a misguided attempt to fit a white "ideal" of beauty.

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