hierarchies, hair typing and the divisiveness of natural hair
The natural hair movement, which can be traced back to the 1960s when the Afro was worn as a political statement and a symbol of black power, has reemerged in recent years among a new generation of black women. Much less about politics and more to do with self-care and acceptance, many women are choosing to embrace their natural selves out of concern for the adverse health effects of perms and relaxers on their hair. Identifying as “naturals” and “naturalists,” these women wear their natural hair as an expression of black female beauty and self-empowerment.
The significance of today’s movement is not be underestimated. According to Mintel’s Black Consumers and Haircare executive summary, in 2014 sales of black hair products reached $774 million, up 12 per cent over a five-year period. In the same timeframe, the consumer research group also noted a 34 per cent decline in the sales of hair relaxers.
“The natural hair trend is driving an increase in sales of styling products such as styling moisturizers, setting lotions, curl creams, pomades, etc.,” Tonya Roberts, multicultural analyst at Mintel, told the Atlanta Black Star. “A look at expenditures from 2008 to 2013 shows steady growth in the Black hair care category for all categories except relaxers and perms.”
It’s heartbreaking but a lot of women with kinky hair still don’t want to accept what their hair looks like. – Ijeoma Eboh
In addition to its impact on sales of black hair products, the increasing number of women choosing to embrace their natural hair has taken social media by storm. Many women have used the platform to build profitable brands based on natural hair care. Popular Instagram pages like “Healthy Hair Journey” boast close to one million followers, while on YouTube, beauty vloggers have become the go-to inspiration for do-it-yourself natural hairstyles and hair care tips.
But while social media has been instrumental in promoting the modern movement’s foundations of natural beauty, empowerment and self-care, some naturalists believe it has contributed to a discriminatory classification of hair textures, in which curly hair is often favoured over others.
It’s a discussion that isn’t new in the natural hair community.
Bronx-based blogger Tamara South knows this all too well. After transitioning to natural in 2010, she says it was difficult to find hair care tips and styles for her coarse texture.
“I had to do extensive research. If you go on YouTube and type in ‘curly hair’ or ‘kinky hair,’ you’re still not going to get our texture,” she says.
South’s hair texture is commonly referred to as a “4C” under the hair typing system many naturalists have adopted. The system, which categorizes hair according to the looseness of its texture, has become a staple element in the natural hair movement. Ranging from one to four with letter subcategories in between (1a, 1b, 1c, etc.), each hair texture is assigned a respective category. Straight, loose hair is categorized as Type 1, while thick and kinky hair is Type 4 (curly hair falls within the 3 range).
Yet despite it being somewhat of a pillar in the community, some naturalists believe hair typing has created further divisions among black women.You got to take it all off and look in the mirror, because that’s you. Click To Tweet
Women whose textures fall within the Type 4 category say they’ve often found themselves snubbed by the companies that make black hair products, as well as by the women who buy them. Perhaps most notably, in 2014 natural hair blogger Jouelzy expressed her frustration over the lack of support for kinky hair bloggers—predominantly from consumer brands—in a YouTube video that quickly went viral (the video has since been made private).
But some women say the real issue runs deeper. In a response to Jouelzy’s video, natural hair and lifestyle blogger Ijeoma Eboh suggested the real problem lay with women who refuse to accept their natural textures.
“As a community, we’re failing each other,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking but a lot of women with kinky hair still don’t want to accept what their hair looks like.”
Yet in the midst of a movement that appears to have ironically created the same feelings of division it was meant to conquer, self-acceptance isn’t always easy. Eboh, who in 2010 launched Klassy Kinks, a YouTube and blog that aims to “change perceptions of kinky textured hair around the world,” is well aware of the criticisms women can face when embracing their natural texture.
“I definitely think there’s been a lot of progress in the past six years with how people look at kinky hair,” she explains. “But in 2010, I can confidently say that most people saw kinky hair as nappy, unprofessional, reminiscent of slave hair, unkempt and unattractive.”
The progress Eboh alludes to just might be the silver lining the natural hair community needs. Although many naturalists still say the movement should do more to represent and support diverse textures, they also say that things have improved.
“I don’t see [our textures] as much as I could, even with Instagram and Facebook,” says Valerie Robinson, founder and editor in chief of Unapologetically Us. “But over the span of the last four years I can honestly say I’m seeing more coarse textures represented—at least more than there used to be.”
But in the meantime, kinky-haired naturalists will have to embrace their roots—literally—on behalf of the consumer brands and buyers that don’t.
“Don’t look to what you see on TV or to what you see portrayed in the media,” says South. “You got to take it all off and look in the mirror, because that’s you.”
But that’s just According to Adrienne.
Images courtesy of Devin Trent. Watermark has been removed.