Lately, the natural hair movement has received increased media attention. This is great because the movement itself started off as a way for black women (I say “black” and not “African American” because it has become somewhat of an international movement) to love their tresses and challenge the reigning standard of beauty. Maybe challenge is a bit of a strong word . . . represent a different standard of beauty. After all, there is nothing wrong with having straight hair.
The movement was, and still is, necessary. Through a constant barrage of images and sometimes through downright systemic, racist policies, society has taught black women and those around them that there is something wrong with their hair if it doesn’t grow straight down. Much like Dove’s “Love The Skin You’re In” movement, the natural hair movement provided black women with a “Love the Hair That’s There” movement, if you will. Basically, if you didn’t want to put harmful chemicals in your hair anymore (re: relaxer), it provided an avenue to accept your hair without it, whatever it looked like.
Many women who “go natural” report developing a higher self-esteem and confidence in the way they view themselves. This is great. To the naked eye, there couldn’t possibly be anything negative about this movement, right? Wrong.
There is one major problem with the natural hair movement. Whether it was an unwitting happenstance or a conscious effort by some, the natural hair movement has created a monolithic view of what it means to be natural. “Natural hair” is often synonymous with what people know as “curly, mixed hair.” By this I mean an extremely defined, often silky-textured curl that tends to be on the loose end of the spectrum.
This representation is prolific in the media, movies, blog articles, and YouTube. I just recently read an article titled “Twelve Natural Hair Styles for Sumer” and not a single option of the given twelve displayed a black woman (light or dark skinned) with kinky hair. Each lady was light in complexion and had very loose, defined curls. This is not only damaging perception to promote, it is unrealistic.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a wonderful thing that the natural hair movement is getting more traction in mainstream media; however, we’re feeding the wrong wolf. Instead of creating an environment where black women can truly appreciate the hair that grows from their scalp, we’ve created an environment where the “mixed look” is queen and the rest can crawl back into beauty obscurity.
It is important to note that not all light-skinned black women are mixed, not all mixed women have “mixed hair” as described above, and not all mixed black women are fair in complexion—they can be dark, like me. However, these facts do not change the image that is perpetuated in promotion of the natural hair movement.
To an extent, I blame the fixation on hair-typing for this singular view. The most popular hair-typing system is hierarchical and places straight hair at the top as type # 1, while kinky hair is in last place as type #4. A spectrum of defined, curly hair claims types #2 and #3, with looser curls higher on the scale. The vast majority of black women I know have kinky hair with a coarse, rather than silky, texture. This places the majority of women in the natural hair movement at the bottom of scale. It also produces a group fixated on achieving that “defined curl pattern.” It is even more problematic that some women lose self-esteem if their hair doesn’t naturally clump together and achieve the image perpetuated in the media. Basically, we’re in the same boat we were (and in some cases still are in) when the fixation was on straight hair.
There is nothing wrong in wanting to achieve a defined twistout or wash and go, or braidout or what have you. The problem lies in the worth of a person being associated with a hair type. It’s a brand new “good hair/bad hair” dichotomy. We know it’s more than just hair when we keep hearing statements like “the struggle is real” or “natural hair isn’t for me” or “I wish I had that curl pattern.” Or the fact that some women will literally spend 24 hours trying to achieve a style that results in “that defined curl” that their hair doesn’t naturally produce (Guilty! ). And if the style fails, there is no way on earth they’re stepping one foot out the door!
I’m grateful for the growing number of kinky-haired bloggers/vloggers. However, the fact that they are not as popular as the greater number of bloggers/vloggers with looser curl patterns just tells me that the mental damage is already done. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that a vlogger (no matter their hair type) is more popular than another vlogger simply because of presentation. While there is some truth to that, I watch an inordinate amount of natural hair vloggers on YouTube and I have noticed that it is exponentially more difficult for a new vlogger to gain traction if they have kinky hair versus a vlogger with looser curls, even if the loosely curled vlogger’s videos are sub par.
Hopefully, we can steer the natural hair movement back to its original purpose: to love your natural hair, no matter how it grows out of your head and to know you are beautiful all the same. Love the hair that’s there.
*Featured image collage courtesy of contributions from David Castillo Dominici and stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net, as well as Pixaby