By Shatay Speights
When I think of natural hair, and more importantly, embracing my own natural hair, there’s a feeling of pride that is associated with it. Becoming accustomed to wearing my hair in its natural state gives me a sort of connection to the roots of my blackness. For black women in particular, we put so much emphasis on our hair and making sure that it’s on point. Growing up, I watched the women in my life put so much time and effort into making sure that every hair was laid in place (I adapted the same methods myself) and that the overall style was something that made all of their girlfriends fawn over them. There is a sort of freedom in letting your natural hair flourish- having fun with it and learning about it. Our hair literally defies gravity in the way that it reaches skyward and in all directions. Black women have had to tame, tuck away and tie down their hair for so long, it’s refreshing to see more women embracing their natural curls, kinks and coils.
When I think of the natural hair movement, my mind goes back to the 60s and 70s when segregation, the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party were all at-large. If it weren’t for the black and brown women wearing their natural hair as a statement in those days, there wouldn’t be a natural hair movement today. Most of these women had thicker, courser hair and wore afros to make a political statement of freedom.
In the natural hair community today, a common thread exists in actually taking pride in one’s hair. Many black girls were getting relaxers early on in childhood and grew accustomed to straightening their hair, not realizing the damaging effects it was causing. But once they transitioned to the other end of that hair journey and began to embrace natural hair as another option, they experienced a feeling of pride in caring for the crown that grows out of their head.
In mainstream beauty, many images are filtered to us that are focused on a very narrow standard of beauty (mainly Eurocentric), which tends to favor women who look exotic or racially ambiguous and whose hair has a looser curl pattern or longer length. The beauty industry is affecting the way we as black women see our natural hair; often conditioning us to put more emphasis on length (retention) rather than overall health while promoting unrealistic and unattainable images of hair, leading to women manipulating their hair to “fit in” instead of embracing their hair’s own unique curl pattern. As much as the beauty industry takes advantage of our hair aspirations and manipulates who we’re seeing in the media, we are giving the industry its ammunition to do so. We are clicking like on photos on social media, watching videos and hyping up social media influencers and women in general who have the looser curls and longer hair. The beauty industry is paying attention to it all and using it to their financial advantage. At the end of the day, it’s all about dollars and the beauty industry makes money by convincing women that a certain look is the standard. Many women buy into the “standard” idea of beauty and seek out products that are marketed towards that standard, even though those products aren’t realistically meant for them. For example texturism, loosely translated as the preference of one texture or type of natural hair over others, is a real problem that is affecting the natural hair community. The beauty industry is literally profiting off of the idea (and real instances) of women being convinced that something is wrong with the way their hair is naturally, or that it’s unmanageable, or that their hair looks unkept/ nappy. We have to change our language and the overall conversation when it comes to our hair while also understanding the needs of our hair.
When looking at the natural hair community today, it sometimes seems like more of a hierarchy than a safe space. The skew that exists for the type of hair that is favorable (a looser curl pattern or longer hair) causes women who don’t have what’s considered favorable hair to feel overlooked and unrepresented. Media and platforms are saturated with a certain image of what natural hair is. As much as black people aren’t a monolith, our hair is the same way; no two naturalistas are going to have the same struggle when it comes to their hair. It is important to remember to keep in mind the full spectrum of natural hair when it comes to representation and the many types of natural hair that exist. It would be great if more influencers with darker skin, or type 4 hair, or courser, thicker and more coiled hair got more shine. I would love to see these women get more brand partnerships and sponsorships to not only broaden the scope of what natural hair looks like to society but to also be representative of the many types of hair that exist out there. I don’t know about you all, but my natural hair journey isn’t cute! I don’t have elongated curls that cascade in tendrils from underneath a towel or t-shirt; wash days are a tiresome, all day event; my arms are toned more from detangling my thick type 4 hair than any workout; and the many other struggles that I encounter with my natural hair. I love the sense of sisterhood that exists in our community including sharing tips and product favorites with each other for the betterment of our hair. I would just love to see influencers and just women period with thicker, type 4 hair have more of a spotlight in our community and in mainstream beauty.
At the end of the day, those of us within the natural hair community have to refocus the conversation when talking about our hair and really educate ourselves and others on natural hair and how to take care of it. In no way am I shaming women with looser curl patterns or longer natural hair; I love and appreciate all of our hair types. However, it’d be naïve of me to act as if a skew or preference doesn’t exist as far as what kind of natural hair is more favorable or palatable in society. It’ll take time, but I believe that we can begin to shift the negative or damaging attitudes towards natural hair and reclaim the narrative!
What do you all think of the state of the natural hair community? What’s your curl pattern, and do you see and feel yourself represented in media and with influencers? What makes you appreciate your natural hair? Who are your favorite natural hair influencers? Sound off in the comments, and let’s continue the conversation!