African-American men and women gathered together Sunday afternoon to embrace and celebrate their natural hair.

The third annual Natural Hair Expo was held at the Quality Inn Conference Center, 2843 NNW Loop 323, and was sponsored by Jade Simone and Tyler's Natural Hair Divas.

The event featured a natural hairstyle show with intricate hair designs created without using chemicals and speakers on natural products and practices.

The natural hair movement is made up of women who embrace their natural hair and refuse to use chemical relaxers to straighten their hair, a longstanding practice in the African-American community, said Kalae Whitman, a local hairstylist who also sells natural products.

Some natural hair styles include afro, locs, twistout, wash and gos, braid outs and finger coils.

A hair relaxer, or perm, is a cream that straightens curls by stripping the hair. The cream is typically alkaline-based, and a neutralizer then put on the strands to stop the chemical reaction. The strong chemicals often damage and destroy portions of hair, make it more brittle and can give the person chemical burns on their scalp, event organizers said.

It also requires frequent trips to the beauty shop. As weeks go by, and the natural unchemically treated texture of the hair begins to sprout from the scalp. Therefore, touch-up treatments to straighten the new hair is needed again. Depending on how fast the hair grows, touch-up treatments may be needed anywhere between a couple weeks to a couple of months.

Mrs. Whitman, 27, has been natural since the eighth grade, and said her decision initially met resistance from loved ones.

"My family hated it," she said. "It was really a battle for me and my self-image to be accepted and learn to accept myself."

Mrs. Whitman said for generations of African-Americans, beauty was based on trying to look Anglo. She said for generations of women it was a way to assimilate into an Anglo-dominated society.

Kathy Arteaga, 57, of Tyler, embraced the natural hair movement in 2010. She said initially, she started getting away from relaxers because she was curious on what her hair texture was.

"My mom, she still wants my hair to be relaxed and straight, and (thinks) you're not pretty unless your hair is straight, but the damage it did to your hair was so great a lot of black women didn't have a lot of hair because of the damage it caused," she said. "You have to put a lot of heat on it or use a harsh chemical to straighten it. It would break and shed, and a lot of people would end up with no hair at all."

Mrs. Whitman said making the transition is an emotional experience for most African-American women. Women transition by allowing the relaxed hair to grow out and trim it slowly off.

Other women opt to do "the big chop." Instead of waiting months for new hair to grow, they simply cut all the relaxed hair off.

"Doing the big chop is an emotional experience," she said. "You love it for a while, but you have crying days — days you don't want to go to work, and days you don't want to be seen in public, and you need to get your makeup and earrings on and tell yourself you're beautiful."

Natural hair also requires different maintenance techniques to keep it healthy and moisturized, including a variety of natural oils, such as olive, coconut and shea butter.

The founder of the group Natural Hair Beauties, Gwen Gitchuway, 56, said the group is a place where men and women, who have gone natural, can share their success and frustrations on what has worked for them and what has not.

Ms. Gitchuway said a friend got her into the movement, and she liked the results so much she started the group, the Hair Expo and even makes her own hair products.

"I love being natural, she said. "I'll never go back to the chemicals."


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Faith Harper is an East Texas native working for her hometown newspaper. She specializes in digital content for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. In her spare time, she loves tacos, road trips and is currently learning to sail.