Black hair care is a $165 million industry in the U.S. with about $46 million spent on relaxers, according to Mintel, a market research firm, though future projections show sales of relaxers declining slightly.
A recent study from haircare giant Alberto Culver Company found that while 81 percent of black women said their natural hair makes them feel more in tune with their heritage and culture, only 26 percent said it makes them feel more confident in social situations.
"It is ignorant that we can't actually embrace ourselves in the raw state," said Nia Long, one of several Hollywood actresses who appears in Rock's documentary. "You have to kind of say, ‘Okay, am I getting a weave and a perm because it is a style choice or is it that I'm actually denying a part of who I am?'"
Long admits to wearing several tracks of hair weave, a process in which hair from another source is glued or sewn into existing hair. And Rock confesses that while he shot footage related to natural hair it didn't make it into the film. The stuff about relaxers and hair weaves was much more exciting, he said.
But what many black women wonder, is why the stuff on top of their heads is so divisive?
A hair revolution of sorts came in 2005 with the release of India Arie's single "I Am Not My Hair" in which she suggested that black women should wear their hair however they choose.
"That freed a lot of people to do what they wanted with their hair," said Leslie Leland, owner of Hair-Ex which specializes in hair extensions. While the song gave many women courage, there is still a stigma attached to Afro-textured hair, she said. Hair weaves offer black women the option of having straight hair, while retaining their natural texture underneath. "People are really preserving their natural hair," Leland said, "They will braid it up under a weave and then by summer they will wear their own natural texture."
Adrienne Leak, salon director of Lux Salon in Grant Park, agreed hair should be about choice, as long as the choices are healthy. "Hair is like a beautiful piece of jewelry and if you don't take care of it, it starts to get tarnished," said Leak, who offers a range of straightening solutions including heat straightening, relaxers and a new keratin smoother. About 40 percent of her clients are natural, she said, adding that kinky hair isn't just a black thing. "It is more about the texture of your hair than the color of your skin," Leak said.
Still, black women continue to fear that their hairstyle will turn them into a stereotype. "I don't think a white woman who wears an Afro instead of wearing her hair straight is going to be considered militant," said Haskins, who still has moments of hesitation even though she has been natural for years.
In July, Haskins and Logan founded L.Y.N.K.H. (love your natural kinky hair), to support other women transitioning to their natural hair. They met two years ago when they bonded while trading hair-care notes. They now have 73 followers on Facebook who attend monthly meetings and special events. The group is planning an outing to see Rock's movie with a discussion to follow.
Haskins and Logan are encouraged by what they've seen among group members and beyond. Recently, they were walking in downtown Atlanta when they crossed paths with another black woman with natural hair. "We didn't know her from Adam," Logan said. "But we all looked at each other, we were all natural, and our eyes lit up."