Navigating Natural Hair: Texturism and the Face of the Movement
Another layer to the natural hair movement, this time focusing on texturism and how the face of the movement has completely changed.
Written by: CIMIRA CREWS
“Your hair is so nappy!” “What are you going to do with that head?” “When are you going to get your hair done?” All things I’ve heard from friends, family and even strangers during my time finally embracing my natural hair. I don’t have the type of hair that is always defined and bouncy, and due to texturism, the perception is that it always had to be.
Texturism is the idea that certain hair types on the natural hair pattern spectrum are more desirable or beautiful. I call it the sister of colorism
Texturism is the idea that certain hair types on the natural hair pattern spectrum are more desirable or beautiful. I call it the sister of colorism; they typically go hand-in-hand. Whether it be family classifying your hair as “nappy” or “hard to tame,” or a random class member taunting you for your kinkier hairstyle, most Black women with a tighter curl than what the media shows have an unfortunate tale to tell. Texturism is an issue within the Black community and the natural hair movement is not exempt from perpetuating these ideals. Women who have heavily supported and pushed for change in legislation and even in everyday life are pushed out of their deserved spotlight, while women who benefit from texturism and colorism are praised and crowned.
Hair types typically found in Black people are type 3 and 4; Type 3 is Curly-Kinky, and Type 4 is Kinky-Coily.
Breaking Down Hair Type & Texture
Natural hair resides on a spectrum of type and texture. Hair types typically found in Black people are type 3 and 4; Type 3 is Curly-Kinky, and Type 4 is Kinky-Coily. Within these types, there are texture breakdowns from A, B and C to differentiate the tightness of the curls. Each texture not only looks different, but also needs different products to correctly nourish the hair. Placing your hair in a category makes it easier to handle your hair and choose products that work for you. So, hair typing has benefits in terms of hair health, but it has also pinpointed the hair texture that was continuously left out of the conversation and ostracized: 4c hair. Texturism goes back to slavery, but only now do we have a name for it.
Historically, This Isn’t New: ‘Good Hair’ vs ‘Bad Hair’
Remember when I said that texturism is the sister to colorism? Well, they are both the beloved daughters of racism. Keep in mind that all these ideals stem from white supremacy and that, as a community, Black people were not concerned about the difference in our hair textures until white people caused division. We’ve been pitted against each other since slavery when it comes to skin color, hair texture and other physical features; so, while this issue is within the Black community, the root of it did not begin with us.
Black women have a complicated history with our hair. Seeing that our hair is not naturally straight — but straight hair always seemed to correlate with beauty, success and an overall better life — already caused an insecurity. Numerous methods tried to achieve this ideal: heating up knives or forks to rake through kinks, using thread to pull down our curls and even more ridiculous things. During slavery, the straighter your hair, the higher the chance you had to work within the house instead of the field. Straighter hair did not ultimately save you, but it gave you more of a chance to survive. This relationship between straighter hair, success and mobility echoes throughout American history even today.
Media Representation: Kinky, Curly, Light & Dark
When I think about all the famous Black women in mainstream media, the first thing I notice is hair. When you see these celebrities reaching a certain status, you begin to see more straight hair, wigs, and weaves; everything but their natural kink and curls, and the ones that do embrace natural hair get criticized. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, a dark-skinned woman, is the first person that comes to my mind. Even thinking back to when I was little, watching her get scrutinized made me look at my hair differently. When Douglas was competing in 2012, journalists — and even fellow Black women and men on the internet — commented on how her hair was tied up, or on how the kinks would form around the edges of her hair and the nape of her neck. Her texture of hair? 4c. They focused so much on that instead of her talent that when I look at her Instagram or any campaigns she’s in now — all I see is straight hair.
Straighter hair did not ultimately save you, but it gave you more of a chance to survive.
Celebrities praised for wearing their natural hair tend to be lighter, bringing back the house slave, field slave mentality. Celebrities like Yara Shahidi, Tracee Ellis-Ross, Alicia Keys and Zendaya have all received praise for embracing their natural hair and the beauty of their texture, all while being lighter-skinned and having 3a or 3b hair types. Companies like SheaMoisture, Carol’s Daughter and others have been criticized for only praising women with light skin and loose curls, while excluding women with darker skin and kinkier textures. Do we all have the same hair? Of course not, but women with darker skin tones typically have type 4 hair, and they make up too much of the natural hair movement and hair care industry to go unrepresented in everyday media and advertisements.
Even when I look back on my life, I’ve always straightened my hair in those big life moments like graduations, picture days or interviews where the managers might have not been Black. It took me years to even notice that I kept trying to conform to this ideal of having “good hair,” but it also took time for me to realize that it was ingrained in me growing up.
Texturism is still an issue because it is so deeply rooted in our culture that we unfortunately can’t stop it in a day.
From the Inside of the Party
It’s not all love on the inside of the party. Texturism is still an issue because it is so deeply rooted in our culture that we unfortunately can’t stop it in a day. Growing up, comments about my hair would differ depending on how it was styled. I never wore my natural hair until I reached around the seventh grade; so prior to that, I always got compliments on my hair because it was straight. “Are you mixed with anything?” “Do you have Indian in you?” “Your hair is so long and silky, mine is so nappy!” “Your hair is beautiful.” “Your kids are going to have some pretty hair.” It was never-ending, from friends, family, teachers and even strangers. At some points, I only saw myself as beautiful when my hair was straight and done, because that was the only time I would get compliments. When I finally did go natural, the backhanded compliments and bad experiences I’ve had because of my 4b-4c hair became too many to count. It’s sad to say, but it often comes from women who are supposed to be my allies. I’ve had to stop going to hair salons because I can’t seem to find someone to handle my texture anymore, which has led to bad salon experiences that left me traumatized, and a hair job that I ended up hating anyways.
Where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, even within Black spaces, we still must constantly fight to be included. Representation, education about Black hair, self-reflection and correction are the first steps to flip the ongoing narrative. Women like Issa Rae, Gabrielle Union, Lupita Nyong’o and Taraji P. Henson are dark-skinned, Black women in mainstream media who push back, wear their natural hair and embrace the beauty in their tighter textures, despite what the media might say. We need more of it, but for that to happen, the spaces must exist where there can be more than five famous darker skinned women with tighter curls. Sometimes, taking a look at what ideals have been passed down to you during your childhood will give you insight on why you might feel a certain way about your hair, and where to start changing your mindset.